John Wotiz begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Wotiz first developed an interest in chemistry from his tutor. After graduating high school, Wotiz attended Technical University of Prague, emphasizing chemical engineering. Due to the rising threat of Nazi invasion, Wotiz and his brother left Czechoslovakia for the United States in 1939. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Wotiz received scholarship to attend Furman University, where he completed his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1941. Wotiz then attended the University of Richmond, receiving his master's degree in chemistry in 1943. While working towards his Ph.D., Wotiz served in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service.
After receiving his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Ohio State University in 1948, Wotiz accepted an instructor position with the University of Pittsburgh. He remained there for nine years, leaving in 1957 to become a research supervisor at Diamond Alkali Company. He returned to academic life in 1962 by becoming professor and chemistry department chairman at Marshall University. There, Wotiz worked to improve the chemistry curriculum and to build a research-oriented program. In 1967, Wotiz assumed the chemistry department chairmanship at Southern Illinois University, where he would remain for the rest of his career. In 1969, Wotiz made an extended study of chemistry education in the Soviet Union under an exchange arrangement between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. Later, he visited other East European, Asian, and Pacific Rim countries.
Wotiz had a deep interest in the history of chemistry. As a result, he wrote and published a directory of international chemistry museums, and beginning in 1971, he organized and conducted widely attended chemical history tours throughout Europe. Wotiz was a long-time member of the HIST division of the American Chemical Society [ACS], and served as its chairman in 1980. Wotiz performed extensive research on the life and theories of F. August Kekule, publishing the acclaimed The Kekule Riddle in 1993. Extending his interest in the history of chemistry, Wotiz, with ACS, began to explore the idea of establishing a national center for chemical history. Wotiz concludes the interview with a discussion of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, reflections on winning the Dexter Award, and thoughts on his family.
John H. Wotiz, interviewed by Herbert T. Pratt in Newcastle, Delaware on August 8, 2000. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0197. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/08612p84t.
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