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Oral history interview with J. Roger Hirl

  • 1999-Jan-29

Oral history interview with J. Roger Hirl

  • 1999-Jan-29

J. Roger Hirl begins the interview with a discussion of his early life and education. Hirl grew up in Iowa and Minnesota. After graduating from high school, Hirl attended the University of Iowa, earning his B.L.S. in liberal studies in 1957. While he was still in school, Hirl was drafted to serve in the Korean War, returning to the University of Iowa two years later. His early focus in college was pre-med, but he soon switched to business and liberal arts. Hirl worked for Skelly Oil Company both during school and after graduation.

In 1961, he joined Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, working in field sales. Six years later, he became a temporary assistant product manager in New York; this experience confirmed his desire to move into management at Olin. He continued to rise in sales management, moving from New York to Connecticut to Texas. He eventually became senior vice president of Olin Chemicals, a position he held until 1983, when he accepted an offer from Occidental Chemical Corporation [OxyChem]. At Olin, Hirl was active in the litigation regarding DDT sediments and mercury emissions; as president of OxyChem, he became involved in the Love Canal situation. This interest in environmental concerns led him to become active in Responsible Care. Hirl also sought to improve OxyChem's safety record, and initiated special training programs. He discusses his view of chemical industry, his opinions on the future of chemical innovation, and OxyChem's involvement in the Asian market. Hirl concludes the interview with his reflections on winning the Chemical Industry Medal, a description of his family, his civic interests, and his views on attracting people to the chemical industry.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 29 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 0177

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Interviewee biographical information

  • April 01, 1931
  • Bettendorf, Iowa, United States
  • January 08, 2017
  • Dallas, Texas, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1957 University of Iowa BLS Liberal Arts

Professional Experience

Olin Corporation

  • 1960 to 1967 Field sales, Blockson Chemical Company (Olin-Matheison Chemical Corporation)
  • 1967 to 1968 Assistant Product Manager
  • 1968 to 1970 Product Manager, Organic Chemicals
  • 1970 to 1973 Regional Manager, Sales, Houston Division
  • 1973 to 1976 Sales Manager, Industrial Products
  • 1976 to 1977 Director of Marketing, Industrial Products
  • 1977 to 1978 Vice-president and General Manager, Industrial Chemicals Division
  • 1978 to 1979 Vice-president and General Manager, Industrial Chemicals Division
  • 1980 to 1983 Senior Vice-president, Chemicals Group

Occidental Chemical Corporation

  • 1983 to 1991 President
  • 1991 President and Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award
1991 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Canisius College
1992 Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, St. John's University
1994 Individual Award for Philanthropy, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
1996 Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, Niagara University
1997 Chemical Industry Award, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

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PDF — 196 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