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What was the best available lubricant before the introduction of gasoline-based lubricants?



  A bottle of 19th-century sperm oil
National Museum of American History

Answer: Spermaceti

In the 19th century, long before the advent of highly refined gasoline-based and synthetic-based lubricants, was pressed for high-quality machinery lubricants. The most appreciated natural lubricant was the waxy substance from spermaceti organ of the sperm whale. The substance contained therein ̵

1; technically a kind of wax and not a real oil – was a surprisingly good lubricant because it was thin, not solidified or dried out, metals did not corrode, withstand high temperatures and even had a low freezing temperature.

Because of all these desirable properties, spermaceti (also referred to as sperm machine oil) has been used in a wide variety of applications over the last two hundred years, including lubricating sewing machines, locomotives and later motor vehicle transmissions. Although it has long since fallen out of favor as a lubricant for general use, it remains a critical component in some more hi-tech areas, including aerospace engineering. NASA has not yet found any lubricant that works in both the deep cold of space and spermaceti, and has been used to lubricate a variety of NASA projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Curiosity Rover.


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