Oral history interview with Keith R. McKennon

Oral history interview with Keith R. McKennon

  • 1995-Mar-30

Keith McKennon begins this interview by discussing the origins of his interest in research and chemistry and the impact of growing up in Pendleton, Oregon, and attending Oregon State University. He then describes his early career at Dow Chemical Company and his decision to leave Dow for a sales position with Shell Chemical Company. Next, McKennon explains the process development and sales work he undertook upon his return to Dow and the research management strategies he employed as he later moved through Dow's management ranks. In recalling his decision to change career directions and take a position as a Director of Government Relations and Public Issues, McKennon views external influences on the chemical industry and the impact of environmental activism. He examines his relationship with Paul Oreffice, the change from Zoltan Merszei to Oreffice, and his own turn -- dealing with public concern about dioxin in Agent Orange, and later, at Dow Corning, with the silicon implant affair. Finally, he ends the interview by reflecting on the chemical industry, its future, and the need for quality research management.

Property Value
Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 34 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.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • December 25, 1933
  • Condon, Oregon, United States
  • September 14, 2013
  • Scottsdale, Arizona, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1955 Oregon State University BS Agricultural Chemistry

Professional Experience

Dow Chemical Company

  • 1955 to 1956 Research Chemist, Special Assignments Program
  • 1956 to 1961 Research Chemist, Pusher Project, Western Division
  • 1962 to 1967 Sales and Development, Pusher Project
  • 1967 to 1968 Field Sales Manager, Secondary Oil Recovery Department (Houston)
  • 1968 to 1969 R&D Director, Secondary Oil Recovery Department (Walnut Creek)
  • 1969 Development Manager, Process Chemicals (Midland)
  • 1971 Business Manager, Environmental Control Systems
  • 1971 to 1974 Business Manager, Highway Products
  • 1974 to 1976 Business Manager, Construction Materials/Styrofoam
  • 1976 to 1978 Director of Government Relations and Public Issues, Plastics Department
  • 1978 Director of Public Affairs, Dow USA
  • 1978 to 1985 Director of Public Affairs, Dow
  • 1978 to 1990 Member, Management Committee, Dow USA
  • 1980 to 1983 Vice President, Dow
  • 1983 to 1992 Member, Board of Directors, Dow
  • 1983 Group Vice President, Product Department Management, Dow USA
  • 1983 to 1987 Group Vice President
  • 1985 to 1987 Director, Research and Development, Dow
  • 1987 to 1990 President, Dow USA
  • 1990 to 1992 Executive Vice President for Technology

Shell Chemical Company

  • 1961 to 1962 Salesman

Dow Corning Corporation

  • 1992 to 1993 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award
1991 Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary Clubs
1992 Distinguished Citizen Award, Boy Scouts of America
1994 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

Cite as

Keith R. McKennon, interviewed by James J. Bohning in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 30, 1995. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0142. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/1v53jz09q.

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PDF — 271 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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads