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Photograph of John H. Wotiz
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Oral history interview with John H. Wotiz

  • 2000-Aug-07 (First session)
  • 2000-Aug-08 (Second session)
  • 2000-Aug-10 (Third session)

Oral history interview with John H. Wotiz

  • 2000-Aug-07 (First session)
  • 2000-Aug-08 (Second session)
  • 2000-Aug-10 (Third session)

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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 151 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Herbert T. Pratt, a member of CHF’s Heritage Council, is a professionally certified chemical engineer and DuPont Company retiree who also holds a master’s degree in history. Herb has been a collector of early chemistry books and related materials for more than 40 years, gathering a collection that now includes more than 3,800 titles. Herb is the recipient of such awards as ASTM’s Funk W. Reinhart award for “outstanding and unusual contributions to terminology standardization,” the Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Olney Medal for “outstanding contributions in the field of textile chemistry,” and its Chapin Award for “dedicated service to the organization.”

Institutional location

Oral history number 0197

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Interviewee biographical information

  • April 12, 1919
  • Ostrava
  • August 21, 2001
  • Morehead, Kentucky, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Furman University BS Chemistry
1943 University of Richmond MS Chemistry
1948 Ohio State University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Richmond

  • 1941 to 1943 Department of Chemistry, Assistant

Ohio State University

  • 1943 to 1944 Department of Chemistry, Assistant
  • 1946 to 1947 Department of Chemistry, Research Fellow

University of Pittsburgh

  • 1948 to 1953 Instructor of Chemistry, Assistant Professor
  • 1954 to 1957 Associate Professor of Chemistry

Diamond Alkali Company

  • 1958 to 1962 Group Leader, Senior Group Leader

Marshall University

  • 1962 to 1967 Professor of Chemistry and Department Chairman

Southern Illinois University (System)

  • 1967 to 1989 Professor and Department Chairman
  • 1989 Professor Emeritus

National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)

  • 1969 to 1974 Exchange professor, various Far East and European countries


Year(s) Award
1982 Dexter Award, American Chemical Society, History of Chemistry Division
1982 Gold Medal, Vysoká Škola Báňská, Ostrava, Czech Republic
1998 Doctorem Honoris Causa, Ostrava Technical University, Czech Republic

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PDF — 2.1 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

13 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads