Wednesday, 25 May 2005 - 2:25 PM

This presentation is part of: Celebrating Chemists and Chemistry, NJ and Beyond!

Seven Twists of Fate That Propelled the Explosive 1918-1940 Growth of the U.S. Chemical Enterprise

Donald G. Hicks, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Right after 1900, chemists knew little about atoms, chemical bonds, or polymers. Much like today, chemists then had the image problem that their contributions to society were mostly credited to engineers and others. The fledgling U.S. chemical enterprise was a narrowly focused chemical industry with little government or private support for research, and the pharmaceutical and organic chemical industries were non-existent. After World War I a great debate raged among both chemists and the public about whether the U.S. chemical industry should, or was even capable of expanding to produce organic materials. Many Americans thought that only German chemists could make quality organic and pharmaceutical chemicals! But a fiercely patriotic chemist fought the "global economy" ideas of that era, and the protected U.S. chemical industries experienced an explosive 1918-40 expansion to become Wall Street's recession proof darling! The image of chemists and chemistry was at its peak by 1940! All this might never have occurred except for SEVEN UNFORESEEN TWISTS OF FATE, described in this paper, which profoundly influenced both the career of that patriotic chemist as well as the development of the U.S. chemical industries that employ almost a million workers. Although this two-time ACS President was arguably the most important 20th century American born chemist, his name is not among the 250 in the ACS Luminaries of the Chemical Sciences. At the end of the presentation one might say, like famous radio commentator Paul Harvey, "Now you know the rest of the story!"

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