Oral history interview with James F. Roth

Oral history interview with James F. Roth

  • 1996-Jan-23

James Roth begins this interview by discussing the origins of his interest in research and physical chemistry as well as the impacts of growing up in the Bronx, New York, attending the Bronx High School of Science, and serving in Iwo Jima at the age of nineteen. Next he examines his early intellectual strengths and proclivities and his undergraduate and graduate school work. He describes his early position with the Franklin Institute and his work there on solid propellants and photochemical smog. Then he discusses his move to General Aniline & Film Corporation, where he developed a safe process to produce synthetic rubber. He next discusses his move to Monsanto Company, where he developed heterogeneous catalyst characterization. Roth describes his work under Dr. Leo Spillane and the development of a technology that used noble metal catalysts to produce biodegradable linear olefins from linear paraffins. He also examines his discovery of a low-pressure technology for carbonylating methanol to acetic acid using a rhodium carbonyl iodide catalyst, and his work in homogeneous catalysis. In the process he expounds his views on successfully getting a plant from the pilot stage to full production stage. He touches on the patent competition between Monsanto and other companies, and airs his views on a successful patent process. He then discusses his move to Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., and his creating a world-class laboratory there. Finally, he ends the interview by reflecting on the learning curve for developing technology; the need for empowerment of chemists; and the chemical industry, its future, and the industrial parameters chemists need to achieve their full potential.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 56 pages
  • 03:09:00
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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0128
Physical container
  • Shelfmark QD22.R684 A5 1995

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • December 07, 1925
  • Rahway, New Jersey, United States
  • December 07, 2021
  • Warminster, Pennsylvania, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1947 West Virginia University AB Chemistry
2016 University of Maryland, College Park PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, Pa.)

  • 1951 to 1954 Senior Research Chemist
  • 1959 to 1960 Manager, Chemistry Laboratory

Lehigh Paint and Chemicals, Inc.

  • 1954 to 1956 Chief Chemist

General Aniline & Film Corporation

  • 1956 to 1959 Research Chemist

Monsanto Chemical Company

  • 1960 to 1964 Research Specialist in Heterogenous Catalysis
  • 1964 to 1967 Scientist
  • 1967 to 1973 Manager of Catalysis Research
  • 1973 to 1977 Director of Catalysis Research
  • 1977 to 1980 Director, Process Sciences, Corporate Research Laboratory


Year(s) Award
1950 to 1951 National Institutes of Health Fellowship
1986 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1988 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
1991 Houdry Award, Catalysis Society
1991 ACS Award in Industrial Chemistry

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PDF — 588 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

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads