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Photograph of Hoyt C. Hottel
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Oral history interview with Hoyt C. Hottel

  • 1985-Nov-18 (First session)
  • 1985-Dec-02 (Second session)

Oral history interview with Hoyt C. Hottel

  • 1985-Nov-18 (First session)
  • 1985-Dec-02 (Second session)

Hoyt C. Hottel begins the first interview with a description of his childhood and education in Indiana, Missouri, and later Illinois, where his father was a salesman in the rubber industry. He praises his early schooling and various teachers and subjects at Hyde Park High School. Hottel discusses his entry into Indiana University's chemistry program at age 15 and courses and professors there, before turning to graduate work in chemical engineering at MIT with Walter Whitman; and relationships with Tom Sherwood, Warren K. Lewis, and Robert T. Haslam. His experiences at MIT's chemical engineering practice school-including work at a Bethlehem Steel plant, Pennobscot Chemical Fire Company, Revere Sugar Company and Merrimack Chemical Company-led to work as assistant director at the steel plant and influenced later research directions.

Hottel next describes his interest in radiation from gases in relation to industrial furnace design; his decision to pursue doctoral research on flame propagation in hydrogen oxygen mixtures; the reasons he postponed writing his dissertation; and subsequent appointments as fuel and gas engineering assistant professor, Fuels Research Laboratory acting director, and division of industrial cooperation assistant director. As a central part of this interview, Hottel details his experiences while advising U.S. armed forces and national committees during WWII, including work on flamethrowers, incendiary bombs, smoke obscuration, napalm, and fire warfare. He closes the first interview with a discussion of his post-war career at MIT, work on turbine combustion and peacetime fire research at the Bureau of Standards. Hottel opens the second interview with a review of his early experiences as a graduate student and young professor at MIT; he comments on early research, interdepartmental relations, the development of the fuel and gas engineering program, consulting work for private industry, and supervision of graduate students and their research. He briefly discusses his research involving rocket combustion, gas turbines, and Project Meteor, before describing the details of MIT's solar energy research and opinions on solar energy in general. He touches on involvement with the International Flame Foundation before closing the interview with discussion of post-retirement activities, including teaching combustion and radiative transfer courses and co-authoring a book on new energy technology.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 95 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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0025

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 15, 1903
  • Salem, Indiana, United States
  • August 18, 1998
  • Winchester, Massachusetts, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1922 Indiana University, Bloomington AB Chemistry
1924 Massachusetts Institute of Technology SM Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1924 to 1925 Assistant Director, School of Chemical Engineering Practice, Buffalo Station
  • 1926 to 1927 Research Associate
  • 1927 Research Associate in Applied Chemistry
  • 1928 Research Associate in Fuel and Gas Engineering
  • 1928 to 1931 Assistant Professor of Fuel and Gas Engineering
  • 1931 to 1932 Associate Professor of Fuel and Gas Engineering
  • 1932 to 1934 Acting Director, Fuels Research Laboratory
  • 1932 to 1934 Assistant Director, Division of Industrial Cooperation and Research
  • 1932 to 1941 Associate Professor of Fuel Engineering
  • 1934 to 1968 Director, Fuels Research Laboratory
  • 1938 to 1964 Chairman, Solar Energy Research Committee
  • 1938 to 1944 Gas Turbine Committee
  • 1941 to 1945 Professor of Fuel Engineering
  • 1945 to 1965 Project Meteor Steering Committee
  • 1965 to 1968 Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • 1968 Professor Emeritus

National Research Council (U.S.)

  • 1931 to 1935 Committee on Heat Transmission, National Research Council
  • 1956 to 1967 Chairman, National Academy of Sciences—National Research Council Committeee on Fire Research
  • 1971 to 1973 NRC-NAE Panel on Coal Gasification Technology
  • 1975 to 1978 Ad Hoc Panel on Advanced Power Cycle
  • 1976 to 1980 Committee on Chemistry of Coal Utilization, National Research Council
  • 1980 to 1982 Committee on Assessment of Industrial Energy Conservation Program
  • 1985 to 1988 Panel for Fire Research

United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development. National Defense Research Committee

  • 1942 to 1945 Section Chief on Fire Warfare

United States. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

  • 1942 to 1946 Gas Turbine Subcommitee

Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (U.S.)

  • 1946 to 1956 Chairman, Thermal Panel

American Flame Research Committee of the International Flame Foundation

  • 1952 to 1973 Chairman

Combustion Institute

  • 1954 to 1964 Vice-President,

United States. National Bureau of Standards

  • 1965 to 1969 Advisory Panel, Research Division
  • 1976 to 1980 Ad Hoc Evaluation Panel for Energy Conservation Program

National Academy of Engineering

  • 1974 Task Force on Energy, Review Committee

National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)

  • 1974 to 1975 Advisory Group on Arid Zone Problems in Brazil


Year(s) Award
1946 United States Medal for Merit
1946 King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom, Great Britain
1947 William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1960 Sir Alfred Egerton Gold Medal, The Combustion Institute
1960 Melchett Medal, Institute of Fuel, Great Britain
1963 Elected, National Academy of Sciences
1966 Max Jakob Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and American Society of Mechanical Engineering
1967 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1972 Fellow, American Insitute of Chemical Engineers
1974 Elected, National Academy of Engineering
1975 Farrington Daniels Award, International Solar Energy Society
1975 Esso Energy Award shared with Dr. H. Tabor, Royal Society (London)
1987 Workshop Conference on Analytical Methods of Fire Safety for Buildings

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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

16 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads