MadSci Network: Science History

Re: What might wood alcohol have been used for at the turn of the century?

Date: Mon Oct 18 09:52:38 1999
Posted By: Enrico Uva, Secondary School Teacher Chemistry, Physical Science
Area of science: Science History
ID: 939905197.Sh

Wood alcohol, or methyl alcohol ( CH3OH ), is a common solvent and reagent 
in organic chemistry and has been since the late 1800's when the science 
of organic chemistry really took off. 
As a solvent it has been used to separate some mixtures in chromatography. 
It's also been used to extract many natural products such as the common 
red, purple and blue pigments(anthocyanins) found in apples, purple 
cabbage and flowers.
As a reagent it has been commonly used to make fragrant compounds such as 
esters, which are typically made from carboxylic acids and alcohols. To 
make oil of wintergreen ( an ingredient found in Ben Gay and many other 
products)regular alcohol will not do. You need the smaller methyl group 
found in wood alcohol, and that synthetic technique is over a century old.

Enrico Uva

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