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Headshot of John W. Johnstone
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Oral history interview with John W. Johnstone

  • 1997-Feb-11

Oral history interview with John W. Johnstone

  • 1997-Feb-11

John W. Johnstone begins the interview with a description of his childhood days in the boroughs of New York City. While in high school, he was encouraged by John McManus to study chemistry. After graduating from Far Rockaway High School, Johnstone attended Hartwick College, receiving a B.A. in chemistry and physics in 1954. He sought a career in the petrochemicals industry.

After interviewing with several companies, Johnstone's physics professor set up an interview for a sales assistantship with Oldbury Electrochemical Company. He began working there in 1954. When Hooker Chemical Company acquired Oldbury Electrochemical Company in 1957, Johnstone joined the staff of Hooker. Johnstone rose through the ranks at Hooker from a sales representative to Group Vice President in Niagara Falls. While employed by Hooker, he attended the Harvard Advanced Management Program. Occidental Petroleum acquired Hooker in the early 1970s, and in 1975, Johnstone made the difficult decision to join Airco, Inc. He served as president of their alloys division until 1979 when he left Airco, Inc. to join the Olin Corporation. While with Olin Corporation, Johnstone worked for successful re-engineering and expansion of the company. He developed the Olin Moral Rock and Responsible Care programs in order to address rising environmental concerns. Johnstone concludes his interview with a discussion of the future of research and development in the chemical industry, reflections on winning the 1996 Chemical Industry Medal, and thoughts on his family.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 46 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 G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0156

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • November 19, 1932
  • Brooklyn, New York, United States
  • March 27, 2011
  • Palm City, Florida, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1954 Hartwick College BA Chemistry and Physics
1970 Harvard University Advanced Management Program

Professional Experience

Hooker Chemicals & Plastics Corp.

  • 1954 to 1957 Sales Reresentative, Oldbury Electrochemical Company, New York, NY
  • 1957 to 1963 Sales Representative, Cincinnati, OH
  • 1963 to 1965 District Sales Manager, Philadelphia, PA
  • 1965 to 1968 Industry Marketing Manager, Niagara Falls, NY
  • 1968 to 1970 Manufacturing, Sales and Marketing Manager, Tacoma, WA
  • 1970 to 1971 Assistant General Manager, Electrochemicals Division, Niagara Falls, NY
  • 1971 to 1973 Vice President, Electrochemicals Division, Niagara Falls, NY
  • 1973 to 1975 Group Vice President, Niagara Falls, NY

Airco, Inc.

  • 1976 to 1979 President, Airco Alloys Division

Olin Corporation

  • 1979 to 1980 Vice President and General Manager, Industrial Products and Senior Vice-President, Chemical Group
  • 1980 to 1983 Corporate Vice President and President, Chemical Group
  • 1983 to 1985 Executive Vice President
  • 1985 to 1987 President
  • 1988 to 1996 President, CEO and Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award
1990 Honorary DSc, Hartwick College
1995 Silver Beaver Award, Boy Scouts of America
1996 Winthrop-Sears Medal, Chemists' Club
1996 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

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PDF — 277 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