But there were many technical difficulties to overcome. Holmes also needed—or at least would very much have appreciated—sophisticated gadgetry of a sort that could make very fine measurements from tiny samples, and as we have seen it was all he could do to get a simple adding machine. So it was quite an achievement when in 1946 he was able to announce with some confidence that the Earth was at least three billion years old and possibly rather more. Unfortunately, he now met yet another formidable impediment to acceptance: the conservativeness of his fellow scientists. Although happy to praise his methodology, many maintained that he had found not the age of the Earth but merely the age of the materials from which the Earth had been formed.
It was just at this time that Harrison Brown of the University of Chicago developed a new method for counting lead isotopes in igneous rocks (which is to say those that were created through heating, as opposed to the laying down of sediments). Realizing that the work would be exceedingly tedious, he assigned it to young Clair Patterson as his dissertation project. Famously he promised Patterson that determining the age of the Earth with his new method would be "duck soup." In fact, it would take years.
Patterson began work on the project in 1948. Compared with Thomas Midgley's colorful contributions to the march of progress, Patterson's discovery of the age of the Earth feels more than a touch anticlimactic.