Oral history interview with Peter B. Lederman

Oral history interview with Peter B. Lederman

  • 2011-Sep-01 (First session)
  • 2011-Sep-19 (Second session)

Peter B. Lederman was born in Weimar, Germany. When Peter was seven the family left for the United States, spending about six months in England on the way finally settling in New York City. When he entered the University of Michigan he chose as his major cehmical engineering. Despite a rigorous curriculum with few electives, Lederman found time to teach a qualitative analysis lab during his last two years at Michigan, and during his summers he worked on corrosion studies at BOMARC missile project. He was drafted into the Army Petroleum School, where he taught petroleum technology. His prelim for a PhD, on the liquefaction of natural gas, gave him a presentation that then became a publication. His PhD thesis involved using zeolites to separate gases at very low temperatures.

Next Lederman began work on a pilot unit in ethylene-propylene copolymers for Esso Research Laboratories, later moving to Esso's New Jersey laboratories as a process engineer. About to be promoted, he decided to accept an associate professorship at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (Poly). While teaching there he worked on a solid waste management program for the garbage committee of New Providence, New Jersey. This interest eventually branched into a general fascination with environmental issues; while at Poly he obtained a National Science Foundation grant to help disadvantaged students study pollution. Believing that America should have a strong technological foundation, Lederman also became more active in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

Lederman left Poly for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he attempted to combine fragmented areas of pollution. He worked as the director of the Industrial Waste Treatment Research Laboratory until it was moved to Ohio, at which time Lederman spent a year as head of the program in Washington, D.C., before returning to New Jersey. Lederman spent his next four years at Research-Cottrell, developing electrostatic precipitators, negotiating contracts in Japan, and managing crises. Unfortunately, power companies were finding permitting too onerous and were not expanding. Superfund had just been established by statute, and hazardous materials had become a hot issue, so Lederman went to Roy F. Weston, Inc., to consult on hazardous materials. There he was responsible for government contracts, especially technical assistance for emergency response consulting, and strategic policy regarding hazardous materials. Wanting to finish his career in academia, Lederman went to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in the Center for Environmental Engineering and Sciences, in the Office of Intellectual Property, and as Research Professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Policy. He also continued to consult pro bono for the National Research Council. His hazardous materials experience, process engineering, and environmental knowledge in general provided expertise for nuclear and chemical weapons disposal work. After eight years Lederman retired, but he is still on the Science Advisory Board of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. He is still active in AIChE, where he has chaired and served on a number of committees including the Government Relations Committee, working to bring technology into political discussions, and he maintains his own consulting firm.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 115 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 J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.

Jody A. Roberts served as the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.

Sarah L. Hunter-Lascoskie earned a BA in history at the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in public history at Temple University. Her research has focused on the ways in which historical narratives are created, shaped, and presented to diverse groups. Before Sarah joined CHF, she was the Peregrine Arts Samuel S. Fels research intern and Hidden City project coordinator. Sarah worked both in the Center for Oral History and the Institute for Research at CHF and led projects that connected oral history and public history, producing a number of online exhibits that used oral histories, archival collections, and other materials. She also contributed to CHF’s Periodic Tabloid and Distillations.

Physical location

Oral history number 0690

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • November 16, 1931
  • Weimar, Germany
  • June 09, 2020
  • New Providence, New Jersey, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1953 University of Michigan BSE Chemical Engineering
1957 University of Michigan MSE Chemical Engineering
1961 University of Michigan PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Shell Oil Company

  • 1953 Junior Technologist

US Army Petroleum School

  • 1953 to 1955 Instructor

University of Michigan

  • 1955 to 1960 Instructor, Department of Chemical Engineering

General Foods Corporation

  • 1956 Technologist

Esso Research and Engineering Company

  • 1961 to 1963 Chemical Engineer
  • 1963 to 1966 Senior Process Engineer

Columbia University

  • 1965 to 1966 Lecturer

Polytechnic Institute of New York

  • 1966 to 1972 Associate Professor and Administrative Officer of Chemical Engineering

United States. Environmental Protection Agency

  • 1972 to 1975 Director, Industrial Waste Treatment Research Laboratory, Edison, New Jersey
  • 1976 Director, Industrial and Extractive Process Division, Office of Research & Development, Washington, D.C.

Research-Cottrell, inc.

  • 1976 to 1978 Manager, Technical Development
  • 1978 to 1980 Vice President and General Manager, Cottrell Environmental Sciences

Roy F. Weston, Inc.

  • 1980 to 1993 Vice President, Hazardous/Toxic Substance Management and Vice President/Division General Manager

New Jersey Institute of Technology

  • 1993 to 2000 Executive Director, Center for Environmental Engineering and Sciences, Executive Director, Office of Intellectual Property and Research Professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Policy

Peter Lederman & Associates

  • 2000 to 2012 Consultant


Year(s) Award
1976 U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Silver Medal for Superior Service
1987 Lawrence K. Cecil Award of the American Institute of ChemicalEngineers for Contributions to the Environment throughChemical Engineering
1992 Stanley E. Kappe Award, American Academy of Environmental Engineers
1995 Gary Leach Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineersas Chair of the Superfund Task Force
1995 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Environmental DivisionService Award
1996 University of Michigan Engineering Alumni Society, Chemical Engineering Award of Merit
2009 National Associate of the National Academies
2009 American Institute of Chemical Engineers, F. J. & Dorothy Van Antwerpen Award for Service
2010 University of Michigan College of Engineering, Distinguished AlumniService Medal
2011 American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Service to Society Award

Cite as

See our FAQ page to learn how to cite an oral history.

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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads