Oral history interview with James R. Fair

Oral history interview with James R. Fair

  • 1992-Feb-19

This interview with James R. Fair begins with a discussion of Fair's childhood in the Midwest, highlighting high-school experiences in Little Rock, Arkansas, and early interests in science. Fair attended The Citadel as a chemistry major for two years before transferring to Georgia Institute of Technology, where he studied chemical engineering. He discusses general and chemical engineering programs at Georgia Tech, early interest in unit operations, and effects of World War II on studies and career options. In 1942, he began work with Monsanto Chemical Company, where he advanced through several positions, focusing on work with TNT nitration process, ethylene and styrene, and set-up of a synthetic rubber plant. Fair discusses early involvement with the AIChE in South Texas, Monsanto's post-war entry into petrochemical production based on acetylene and ethylene, and work on an ethylene plant joint venture with Socony Vacuum Oil Company.

In April 1947, Fair witnessed the explosion of the Grandcamp and Monsanto's Texas City polystyrene facility, which killed numerous employees and others and led Monsanto to rebuild and center its petrochemical ventures in Texas City. Fair contributed to redesigning and rebuilding the plant, heading process design of ethylene before taking academic leave to pursue coursework in reactions, separations, thermodynamics, and mathematics at the University of Michigan. He returned to Monsanto and was again involved in ethylene- and acetylene-based work. In 1952, he entered a Ph.D. program at The University of Texas, working with Howard Rase on catalysis and reaction engineering and upon completion accepting a basic research position at Shell Development in Southern California. In 1956, Fair returned to Monsanto to start an engineering research program, doing basic research in chemical engineering and serving as company consultant for ethylene and hydrocarbon pyrolysis. He traces Monsanto's ventures in petrochemicals through the fifties and early sixties to the formation of a corporate engineering department.

From 1964 to 1979, Fair headed corporate Monsanto's technology function and increased involvement with academia, particularly Washington University. In 1979, he took early retirement and accepted an engineering chair at The University of Texas, where he was well received by faculty and students. Throughout the second half of the interview, Fair emphasizes changes in chemical engineering curricula and need for industry/academia collaborations in research and funding. He discusses research collaborations, publications, and efforts to develop and license computer programs for process simulation/computer-aided design. The interview closes with discussion of student research and careers, involvement in the AIChE, consulting activities, and family.

Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 70 pages
Rights In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Related URL
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

Physical location


Cite as

James R. Fair, interviewed by James J. Bohning in University of Texas at Austin on February 19, 1992. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0102. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/k643b218d.

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Transcript (Published Version)

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

9 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads