Oral history interview with Haldor F. A. Topsøe

Oral history interview with Haldor F. A. Topsøe

  • 1999-Apr-19
Photograph of Haldor Topsøe
Science History Institute Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

Born in Copenhagen, he grew up in Denmark, and was very involved in his father's Samfundshjælpen, which taught him the importance of collaboration between social classes. Topsøe studied at the Technical University, taking numerous courses in physics, chemistry, and chemical engineering. When he married in 1936, he became involved in his father-in-law's activities in teaching young people to run businesses. As a chemical engineer, and later, a businessman, Topsøe gained an interest in the relationship between economics and science. He discusses his firm's involvement in catalysis, how Haldor Topsøe A/S began, and the scientific research that had previously been done on catalysis. Topsøe further discusses the transfer of technology to India and the Third World, the impact of the Green Revolution on chemical industries, and his company's work in refining. He concludes with comments on the future of innovation.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 33 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

About the Interviewers

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Leo Slater was the 2001–2002 John C. Haas Fellow and a senior research historian at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, where he also served as Director of Historical Services from 1997 to 2000. A former research chemist at the Schering-Plough Research Institute, he received his doctorate in History from Princeton University in 1997.

Physical location

Oral history number 0180

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 24, 1913
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • May 20, 2013
  • Denmark


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1936 Danish Technical University MS Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Aarhus Oliefabrik A/S

  • 1936 to 1939

Haldor Topsøe A/S

  • 1939 to 2013 Founder


Year(s) Award
1944 G. A. Hagemann Medal
1968 Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, Aarhus University
1969 Honorary Doctor of Technology, Danish Technical University
1982 C. F. Tietgen Medal
1984 Queen's Medal for Meritorious Services
1985 Royal Academy of Sciences Gold Medal
1986 Honorary Doctor of Technology, Chalmers University
1988 Odre National de la Légion d'Honneur
1989 Francis New Memorial Medal
1991 The Hoover Medal
1996 Order of Intellectual Capacity, Morocco
1997 Eminent Chemical Engineer Award, Delhi, India
2016 The Chemists' Club's Winthrop-Sears Medal

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PDF — 352 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