Oral history interview with Edward Donley

Oral history interview with Edward Donley

  • 1995-Jan-26

The interview begins with Edward Donley describing his early years growing up on his family's farm and attending a one-room schoolhouse. After graduating from high school, Donley joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and, after applying to several colleges, attained a scholarship to Lawrence Technological University in Detroit, Michigan. As a senior working towards a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, Donley began mechanical drafting work part-time for Detroit's newly established Air Products Company. Donley describes his college education during the war and compares his life- long experiences with Lawrence Tech and Air Products, watching both institutions develop from fledgling to flourishing.

During Donley's early career, Air Products work involved military contracts to develop portable units for extracting oxygen from the air. With the cancellation of military contracts after World War II, the company declined and Donley went to work temporarily for Continental Aviation and Engineering Company, returning after Air Products moved to Emmaus, Pennsylvania, to rebuild, Donley recalls his professional development as a manager and engineer, and his close relationship with mentor Leonard Pool. As Air Products grew through the contributions of Pool, Carl Anderson, and others, Donley rose through the ranks to take on increasing responsibility, eventually playing a large role in developing liquid oxygen plants first to fulfill Air Force contracts and later for commercial production. Donley next details Air Products' involvement with hydrogen for ammonia production, and eventually with liquid hydrogen. He describes the recruitment and contribution of several engineers and managers, the change in Air Products' work environment from family to professional emphasis, and the reasons and strategy of the company's move into the chemical business.

In the final section of the interview, Donley examines his presidency, beginning with Pool's gradual transfer of responsibility, the origins and emphasis of Air Products' environmental division, and the institution of the matrix management system. He discusses his views on the role of engineering in long-term planning and the importance of recruitment, career development, and safety programs; he also describes several important individuals who contributed to Air Products' later development, he closes with comments on American educational reform and entrepreneurial efforts, scientific innovation, changes in management agendas over the years, and federal regulation of business.

Property Value
Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 43 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.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • November 26, 1921
  • Highland Park, Michigan, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1943 Lawrence Technical University BS Mechanical Engineering
1959 Harvard University Advanced Management Program

Professional Experience

Air Products and Chemicals, inc.

  • 1943 to 1946 Draftsman
  • 1949 to 1951 Engineer
  • 1951 to 1952 Engineering Manager
  • 1952 to 1954 Sales Engineer
  • 1954 to 1959 Vice President of Sales
  • 1959 to 1966 Vice President and General Manager
  • 1966 Executive Vice President
  • 1966 to 1978 President
  • 1973 to 1986 Chief Executive Officer
  • 1978 to 1986 Chairman of the Board
  • 1986 to 1992 Chairman of the Board, American Standard, Inc.

Continental Aviation

  • 1946 to 1949 Engineer

American Standard, Inc.

  • 1992 to 1994 Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award
1977 Doctor of Industrial Management, Lawrence Technological University
1978 Honor Award, Commercial Development Association
1978 Doctor of Commercial Science, Villanova University
1978 Doctor of Laws, Lehigh University
1979 Doctor of Humane Letters, Muhlenberg College
1980 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry
1980 Doctor of Laws, Allentown College
1980 Doctor of Science, Cedar Crest College
1981 Doctor of Commercial Science, Drexel University
1984 Doctor of Humane Letters, Wilkes College
1986 Doctor of Humane Letters, Lafayette College
1987 Doctor of Laws, Moravian College
1987 Doctor of Humanities, Lawrence Technological University

Cite as

Edward Donley, interviewed by James J. Bohning in Belleair, Florida on January 26, 1995. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0130. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/h989r4056.

  Export citation (RIS) ?

This citation is automatically generated and may contain errors.

PDF — 243 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

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads