Oral history interview with Wilbur I. Kaye

Oral history interview with Wilbur I. Kaye

  • 2002-Feb-11 (First session)
  • 2002-Feb-27 (Second session)

Kaye describes his early interest in science, and specifically, instrumentation. He discusses his decision to study at the University of Illinois, and his own academic experience there as a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry. Kaye was then recruited to Tennessee Eastman Company, where he set up a physics laboratory, by Dr. William Hincke. Initially, a PerkinElmer, Inc. spectrophotometer was the sole piece of instrumentation in Kaye's lab, but he soon procured more instruments, such as a Baird Corporation Model AB2 and Beckman Instruments, Inc. DU spectrophotometer.

Having joined the Tennessee Eastman division of Eastman Kodak Company near its inception, Kaye relates the history of the company to the explosion of instrumentation research, and analysis in scientific research. Near the end of his tenure at Tennessee Eastman, Kaye was one of the first scientists to publish work in the United States on gas chromatography. Kaye began modifying the DU spectrophotometer while at Tennessee Eastman, and took this work with him on his move to Beckman Instruments. Kaye's modification to the DU became known as the Beckman DK spectrophotometer, which contributed to the competition and friction between former employee Howard H. Cary and owner of Beckman Instruments, Arnold O. Beckman. Kaye discusses the difference between DK1 and DK2, the DU and the DK, and addresses the Beckman line of infrared spectrophotometers. During the company's shift into clinical instruments, Kaye developed a glucose analyzer, which James C. Sternberg continued work on once the company withdrew support. Kaye developed the DKU, which combined aspects of both infrared and ultraviolet instrumentation. In addition to pointing out some of the history of Beckman Instruments in the second half of the interview, Kaye describes the interface between administration and research components of the company.

Place of interview
Original file type MP3, PDF
  • 39 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Related URL
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Gerald E. Gallwas was a member of the original team in the mid 1960s that founded and managed the growth of what became the clinical diagnostic business of Beckman Instruments. As the business grew, he served in many roles from new product development to directing clinical field trials in the United States, Europe, and Japan. This led to an extensive involvement with professional and trade organizations as well as regulatory agencies. He retired after thirty years of service as director of program management overseeing new product development programs.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • January 28, 1922
  • Pelham Manor, New York, United States
  • November 27, 2006
  • La Jolla, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 Stetson University BS Chemistry
1945 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • 1942 to 1945 Graduate Assistant

Tennessee Eastman Company

  • 1945 to 1949 Research Chemist
  • 1949 to 1955 Research Chemist

Beckman Instruments, Inc.

  • 1956 to 1968 Director of Research, Scientific Instruments Division
  • 1968 to 1973 Director of Scientific Research, Corporate Research
  • 1973 to 1980 Senior Scientist
  • 1980 to 1987 Principle Staff Scientist


Year(s) Award
1959 President, Optical Society of America, Southern California Section
1984 Fellow, Beckman Instruments, Inc.
1987 Honorary Member, Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1991 Wilbur I. Kaye Laser Analytical Laboratory dedicated

Cite as

Kaye, Wilbur I. (Wilbur Irving), interviewed by Gerald E. Gallwas and Arnold Thackray in La Jolla, California on February 27, 2002. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0232. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/p8418p298.

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PDF — 197 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

6 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads