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October 10, 2012

History’s Assholes: Fred Koch

Welcome once again to History’s Assholes, the column that travels back in time to flush out the assholes who made the world what it is today. This time on History’s Assholes, we look at Fred Koch, unique American asshole.

A harbinger of everything that would deeply suck in the coming century, Fred C. Koch was born in 1900 in Texas, a state that has given America some of its most spectacular assholes. After graduating from MIT with a degree in chemical engineering, Koch quickly realized the best path to assholery in America lay not in chemistry but in business. Accordingly, he and a fellow asshole formed the Winkler-Koch Engineering Company. Their specialty: “cracking.”

Despite its name, cracking in the 1920s was neither the complicated chemical process of converting cocaine into crack nor the act of pulling one’s undies out of one’s hiney (made popular years later by tennis star Rafael Nadal). Rather, cracking was a chemical process that efficiently turned crude oil into gasoline.

Thanks in part to cracking and other petroleum technologies, Henry Ford’s gasoline engine got the upper hand on Thomas Edison’s electric engine, leading to a world of smog, global climate change, terrorism, large-scale warfare and that dick in the Hummer who won’t let you into his lane on the Watterson during rush hour.

When Koch tried to market his cracking technique, the largest American oil companies sued him for patent infringement because, as Koch quickly learned, that’s how free-market businesses roll. Unable to gain access to American markets, Koch took his cracking expertise across the pond to the Soviet Union, where he found a friend in Joseph Stalin.

In the Soviet Union, Koch built petroleum plants and trained Soviet workers and made millions of dollars. A lesser asshole might have retired and proudly reflected on becoming an accomplished asshole in such a short amount of time. But Koch was only getting started.

In 1940, he co-founded Wood River Oil & Refining Co. in Wichita, Kansas, which is today Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the U.S. In addition to petroleum, Koch Industries eventually branched out into just about any business that could damage the environment, including chemicals, minerals, fertilizers, paper, cattle, formaldehyde and asphalt. From Brawny paper towels to Stainmaster carpets to anhydrous ammonia, if it’s fucking up our planet, chances are it’s got Koch Industries somewhere in its pedigree.

Ever the back-stabber, Koch decided communism wasn’t so great after all. In 1958, he co-founded the John Birch Society, one of the country’s most popular right-wing hate groups. Besides communism, Birchers hated blacks, Jews, Asians, feminists and taxes. They didn’t even like Ike! (Cartoon characters that they were, Birchers at least made great fodder for Mad Magazine and “Laugh-In” — The Onion and “Daily Show” of their day.) If the Bircher views sound familiar — sort of like the views wafting from under a tri-corner hat — you’re jumping ahead.

In 1967, at the tender age of 67, Fred Koch left this mortal coil, assured of his place as one of history’s assholes. But even Fred Koch couldn’t have known the true extent of his assholian legacy. That’s because back in the 1930s, Fred Koch had lain repeatedly with Mary Robinson Koch, and the results of that demon coupling were Frederick, Charles, David and William Koch, known to the world today as (cue ominous organ music) the Koch brothers. Each is well on his own way to a future place in the History’s Assholes Hall of Shame.

The two middle brothers, Charles and David, are the crazy ones. The other two, Frederick and William, are the loony ones. They are all billionaires and they are all doing what billionaires do when the least of their brethren are suffering: lobbying the government for tax cuts for the rich, opposing climate regulation, fighting social services for the needy, and fighting health care reform. (William Koch, arguably the least evil of the brothers, is nevertheless a poster boy for billionaires behaving badly: While Americans struggle to put food on the table, he is constructing his own private 50-building old-West town in Colorado that will not be open to the public, according to The Denver Post.)

Out of an empire built with the help of communists, we now have a libertarian conspiracy convincing America that pollution is good, that health care is only for the rich, and that President Obama is a socialist, thanks to Fred Koch, truly one of history’s assholes.

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