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Photograph of Richard E. Heckert
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Oral history interview with Richard E. Heckert

  • 1994-Dec-13

Oral history interview with Richard E. Heckert

  • 1994-Dec-13

The interview begins with Richard E. Heckert discussing his family background and childhood as the son of a Miami University of Ohio professor of education. Throughout the interview, he refers to his brother Winfield, a significantly older DuPont executive who influenced his interest and education in chemistry. The interview traces Heckert's early education and training, from high school and Miami University to Army work as a chemist at Oak Ridge, where management experience influenced his pursuit of a business career. He discusses safety considerations and atomic bomb work and reflects on dropping the bomb and developing atomic energy. Next the interview turns to Heckert's graduate career at the University of Illinois, his interest in organic chemistry, work and relationship with mentor Harold Snyder, and considerations in selecting a research chemist position at DuPont.

The majority of the interview details Heckert's experience and rise through management at DuPont: early work with TCNE and tricyanovinyl compounds for dyeing; and various positions at DuPont's Spruance, Clinton, and Circleville plants and in the Film and Plastics Departments. Heckert describes management lessons emphasizing safety practices, customer relations, and decisions on dealing with product developments such as Corfam. After focusing on promotions to vice president, senior vice president and executive committee member, Heckert discusses the reasons and strategies for reducing R&D and details problems with dyes, CFCs, and TEL, emphasizing DuPont's responsibility to consider trade-offs and costs in environmental decisions. Next Heckert summarizes his involvement with environmental concerns and legislation. The final section focuses on Heckert's career as president, COO, and CEO; discussions touch on the division of labor within top management and the Board, Ed Jefferson's role, company growth and acquisitions including Conoco. Heckert describes his marketing emphasis as CEO, changes in relationships between operating departments and executive committee members, DuPont's role in global ventures, hiring from outside the company, and desire for a smooth transition to Woolard. Closing comments touch on scientific innovation, promoting creativity in personnel, major changes in the industry, chemical innovation, and the SCI award.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 53 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 0123

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 13, 1924
  • Oxford, Ohio, United States
  • January 03, 2010
  • Meeteetse, Wyoming, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1944 Miami University of Ohio BA
1947 University of Illinois at Chicago MS Organic Chemistry
1949 University of Illinois at Chicago PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

  • 1949 to 1954 Research Chemist
  • 1954 to 1957 Film Department Supervisor, Cellophane Research & Development Lab Assistant Manager, Cellophane Research and Development Lab
  • 1957 Technical Superintendent, Spruance Cellophane Plant, Virginia
  • 1957 to 1958 Technical Superintendent, Clinton Cellophane Plant, Iowa
  • 1958 to 1963 Assistant Manager/Plant Manager, Circleville Mylar Plant, Ohio
  • 1963 to 1965 Supporting Research Director/Director, Research and Development Division
  • 1965 to 1967 Assistant General Manager, Film Department
  • 1967 to 1969 Assistant General Manager, Plastics Department
  • 1969 to 1972 General Manager, Fabrics and Finishes Department
  • 1972 to 1973 Vice President
  • 1973 to 1981 Director, Senior Vice President, Executive Committee Member
  • 1981 President, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Committee Vice Chair
  • 1981 to 1985 Vice Chairman
  • 1986 to 1987 Deputy Chairman, Board of Directors
  • 1987 to 1989 Chairman, Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award
1984 Honorary ScD, Miami University
1988 Honorary ScD, University of Delaware
1988 Honorary Doctor of Business Administration, Goldey Beacom College
1989 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

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PDF — 407 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

6 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads