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Oral history interview with Robert D. Kennedy

  • 1997-Feb-04

Oral history interview with Robert D. Kennedy

  • 1997-Feb-04

Robert Kennedy begins the interview with a discussion of his family and growing up in Pittsburgh and New York. Kennedy initially considered a career in journalism, but his family persuaded him to pursue engineering. He entered Cornell University as a mechanical engineering major, receiving his BS in 1955. After graduation, Kennedy was offered several jobs in his field. He chose to work for Union Carbide Corporation due to his interest in Union Carbide's metallurgical industries; he worked in this area for twenty years. He began a management career with Union Carbide in the company's European division in Geneva, Switzerland. Upon his return to the United States seven years later, Kennedy became head of Linde Air Products Company, a division of Union Carbide. After the Bhopal incident, Kennedy adjusted his corporate management style as Union Carbide found itself in a transitional phase. The company embarked on a massive restructuring program. As CEO of Union Carbide, Kennedy helped to rebuild the image of chemical industry by serving as a representative with the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA). He helped to instill the Responsible Care program into CMA's agenda. He concludes the interview with reflections on education and thoughts on his family.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 27 pages
  • 01:50:00
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 G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0154

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • November 08, 1932
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
  • April 03, 2021
  • New Canaan, Connecticut, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1955 Cornell University BS Mechanical Engineering

Professional Experience

Union Carbide Corporation

  • 1955 to 1956 Edgewater Research Laboratory, National Carbon Division
  • 1956 to 1963 Sales and Marketing, National Carbon Division
  • 1963 to 1971 Marketing Management, National Carbon Division
  • 1971 to 1975 European Products Director, National Carbon Division
  • 1975 to 1977 Senior Vice President, Union Carbide, Europe
  • 1977 to 1982 President, Linde Division
  • 1981 to 1982 Senior Vice President
  • 1982 to 1985 Executive Vice President
  • 1985 to 1986 President and COO, Chemicals and Plastics
  • 1985 Member, Board of Directors
  • 1986 to 1995 President and CEO
  • 1986 to 1995 Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award
1991 International Palladium Medal, Société de Chimie Industrielle, American Section
1995 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
1998 Henry Laurence Gantt Medal, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

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PDF — 178 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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads