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Oral history interview with James D. Idol

  • 1994-Dec-08

Oral history interview with James D. Idol

  • 1994-Dec-08

James D. Idol begins his interview with a description of his childhood in Harrisonville, Missouri. His interest in chemistry was encouraged by neighbors and by friends. He attended William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where he studied chemistry under Professor Frank Edson and graduated with an A.B. in 1949. He immediately went on to graduate school at Purdue University, where he studied under Dr. Earl McBee. His interest in industrial chemistry led him to minor in chemical engineering. Upon receiving his Ph.D. in 1955, he went to work for Standard Oil of Ohio, where he soon pioneered an economically advantageous process for the production of acrylonitrile. He then served as part of the team that developed a plant in Lima, Ohio for the commercial production of acrylonitrile in a record-breaking three years. He then turned his attention to novel uses for acrylonitrile, which led to Barex® resin, among other things. In 1977, he moved on the Ashland Chemical, where he occupied a position that combined management and scientific duties. At Ashland, he developed the propylene-CO process for methyl methacrylate. His career in industry ended in 1988 when he was invited to become a professor at Rutgers University and head of the Center for Packaging Science and Engineering. He pays special attention to individuals who have influenced him throughout his life, and he concludes with some personal insights on the meanings of innovation, teamwork, and research in science and technology.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 45 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

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0122

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 07, 1928
  • Harrisonville, Missouri, United States
  • June 15, 2015
  • Columbus, Ohio, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1949 William Jewell College AB Chemistry
1952 Purdue University MS Chemistry/Organic
1955 Purdue University PhD Chemistry/Organic, minor Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company (Ohio)

  • 1955 to 1956 Project Associate
  • 1956 to 1960 Project Leader
  • 1960 to 1963 Research Associate
  • 1963 to 1965 Section Supervisor
  • 1965 to 1968 Research Supervisor
  • 1968 to 1977 Research Manager

Ashland Chemical Company

  • 1977 to 1979 Research Manager
  • 1979 to 1988 Vice President & Research Director

Rutgers University

  • 1988 Distinguished Professor
  • 1988 Director, Center for Packaging Science and Engineering
  • 1988 Deputy Director, National Center for Plastics Recycling Research


Year(s) Award
1965 Modern Pioneer Award, National Association of Manufacturers
1968 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1971 Citation for Achievement, William Jewell College
1974 Joseph P. Stewart Distinguished Service Award, American Chemical Society
1975 Creative Invention Award, American Chemical Society
1976 Special Merit Award, Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO) Board of Directors
1978 Life Fellow, American Institute of Chemists
1979 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
1980 Honorary D Sc. , Purdue University
1986 Member, National Academy of Engineering
1988 Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science
1988 F. G. Ciapetti Award and Lectureship, Catalysis Society of North America
1991 Rutgers University Diploma of Recognition, Distinguished/Named Chairs
1994 American Management Association Council Service Award
1996 National Historic Chemical Landmark Designation to SOHIO Acrylonitrile Process

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PDF — 487 KB

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

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads