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Oral history interview with Donald F. Othmer

  • 1986-Apr-02 (First session)
  • 1986-Jun-11 (Second session)
  • 1987-Jan-15 (Third session)

Oral history interview with Donald F. Othmer

  • 1986-Apr-02 (First session)
  • 1986-Jun-11 (Second session)
  • 1987-Jan-15 (Third session)

Donald Othmer begins the interview by sharing memories of his childhood in Omaha, Nebraska, his parents, and his schooling. He tells of his experiences as a student at the Armour Institute, the University of Nebraska, and the University of Michigan. Othmer later describes his years at Eastman Kodak, his accomplishments there and his reasons for leaving to produce his own material. He then discusses the early years at Poly Tech and the students he helped shape. Othmer also talk about his industrial work over the years. He describes his adventures in Burma and his association with the Government during World War II. He continues by recounting his experimental endeavors, his patents, and the inception of the Encyclopedia of Chemical technology. Othmer concludes by discussing the Chemists' Club, his life in Brooklyn, and the past and future of chemistry.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 169 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 0035

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Interviewee biographical information

  • May 11, 1904
  • Omaha, Nebraska, United States
  • November 01, 1995
  • New York City, New York, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1923 Illinois Institute of Technology
1924 University of Nebraska BChE
1925 University of Michigan MCHE
2016 University of Michigan PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Cudahy Packing Company

  • 1924 Chemist

Eastman Kodak Company

  • 1927 to 1931 Chemist and Development Engineer

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

  • 1932 to 1933 Instructor
  • 1933 to 1937 Assistant Professor
  • 1937 to 1961 Professor and Head of Department
  • 1961 to 1988 Distinguished Professor


Year(s) Award
1958 Tyler Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1958 Barber-Coleman Award, American Society for Engineering Education
1962 D Eng (honorary), University of Nebraska
1970 Honor Scroll, American Institute of Chemists
1975 Award of Merit, Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers
1975 Golden Jubilee Award, Illinois Institute of Technology
1977 Chemical Pioneers Award, American Institute of Chemists
1977 D. Eng. (honorary), Polytechnic University
1978 Murphree Exxon Award, American Chemical Society
1978 DEng (honorary), New Jersey Institute of Technology
1978 Professional Achievement Award, Illinois Institute of Technology
1978 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry
1981 Hall of Fame, Illinois Institute of Technology
1987 Mayor's Award of Honor for Science and Technology, New York City
1989 Outstanding Alumnus Award, University of Nebraska
1989 Citation for Improvement of the Quality of Life, Borough of Brooklyn
1989 Award for Significant Contributions to the Polytechnic University
1991 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

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PDF — 1.7 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

20 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads