Oral history interview with Charles W. Tobias

Oral history interview with Charles W. Tobias

  • 1995-May-15

Charles Tobias begins this interview with a description of his extended family in Hungary and their interest in engineering. He remembers his early childhood and education in Hungary and the influence of his family and high school chemistry teacher in his selection of chemical engineering as a career. Next, Tobias discusses his education at the University of Technical Sciences in Budapest. Throughout this section he points out the strengths and weaknesses of his education and compares the U.S. and Hungarian systems. Tobias continues by recalling his initial desire to join his brother in graduate research in the U.S. and the intermediary time spent in wartime Hungary as a chemical engineer and, later, as a researcher. Next, he describes the legal and logistical problems he faced in leaving post war Hungary to join his brother at Berkeley. In remembering his initial visits to Berkeley, he fondly remembers the help of John Lawrence, W.M. Latimer and others. He discusses his early research interests and contact with students as a teacher and research advisor. He finishes the first day of interviewing with an overview of the changes within his department during the 1960s.

On the second day of interviewing, Tobias starts by describing his initial attraction to The ECS through student readings of the society's journal. He recalls his interest in reviving the local Berkeley section and meeting colleagues who would play a role throughout his career. As he describes his leadership in reorganizing the tone and structure of The ECS and the Theoretical Division, he emphasizes the roles played by others who joined with him. Moving on to his presidential activities, he touches on several changes within the society and the emphasis he placed on both professional conduct and attracting and supporting young society members. He also discusses the development of electrochemical engineering as a field, and the roles played by him, his students, and the society within that development. He finishes the interview with a brief comment on the role of intuition in science.

Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 62 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 02, 1920
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • March 03, 1996
  • Orinda, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 Budapesti Műszaki Egyetem Diploma Chemical Engineering
1946 Budapesti Műszaki Egyetem PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

United Incandescent Lamp and Electrical Company, Ltd.

  • 1942 to 1947 Development Engineer

Budapesti Műszaki Egyetem

  • 1945 to 1946 Instructor of Physical Chemistry

University of California, Berkeley

  • 1947 to 1960 Instructor of Chemical Engineering
  • 1960 to 1991 Professor of Chemical Engineering
  • 1967 to 1972 Chair, Chemical Engineering Department
  • 1991 to 1996 Professor Emeritus

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  • 1954 to 1978 Principal Investigator
  • 1978 to 1991 Faculty Senior Scientists
  • 1991 to 1995 Senior Faculty Scientist/Chemical Engineer


Year(s) Award
1965 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1972 Acheson Award, Electrochemical Society
1977 Honorary Member, Electrochemical Society
1982 Henry B. Linford Award, Electrochemical Society
1983 Alpha Chi Sigma Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1990 Vittorio De Nora Diamond-Shamrock Award, Electrochemical Society
1991 Berkeley Citation for Distinguished Achievement, University of California, Berkeley
1991 Honorary Member, Hungarian Chemical Society
1991 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1992 Golden Diploma, Technical University of Budapest
1992 Honorary Doctors Degree, Technical University of Budapest
1993 Honorary Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Cite as

Charles W. Tobias, interviewed by James J. Bohning in Orinda, California on May 15, 1995. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0146. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/pk02cb92t.

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PDF — 332 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

10 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads