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Robert W. Allington
Robert W. Allington

Oral history interview with Robert W. Allington

  • 2001-Nov-13

Oral history interview with Robert W. Allington

  • 2001-Nov-13

Robert W. Allington begins the interview with a sketch of his family history. His father, a scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture, and later at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln [UNL], encouraged Allington's interest in science. During his adolescence, Allington developed his skills in electronics through building radios, among other things, and by working as a television repairman. He worked as an intern at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory on the SAGE air defense computer in the spring of 1955. Near the conclusion of the internship Allington was diagnosed with polio, and throughout the interview describes the effect of the disease on his life. While still in the hospital, he met his future business partner, Jacob Schafer, an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jobs repairing scientific equipment evolved into projects to fulfill requests from his clients for novel instrumentation. This led Allington to become an entrepreneur. He completed his master's degree in electrical engineering at UNL, having taken an unusually large number of chemistry courses for an electrical engineer. Allington abandoned his original intention of a career in academic research to found Instrumentation Specialties Company [Isco]. Originally creating specialized instruments on request, the company gradually evolved into two major divisions, separation and environmental instrumentation. Robert Allington remained active in the research and innovation behind product development even as chief executive officer of his company. He concludes the interview by sharing recollections of his personal life and briefly discussing his future plans.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 59 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 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.

John R. Van Ness was the vice president for external relations of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.  He received Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.A. from Colorado College, Colorado Springs.  Van Ness has held several executive positions at colleges in the Philadelphia area, most recently as associate vice president for development at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  In addition, he is a noted scholar of Hispanic history and culture in the American Southwest, a series editor at the University of New Mexico Press, and the author of four books.  He has won several grants, honors, and awards for his scholarship, and has been included in Who’s Who in America.  He is also on the board of directors of the Mexican Cultural Center in Philadelphia, and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0225

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • September 18, 1935
  • Madison, Wisconsin, United States
  • March 26, 2006
  • Lincoln, Nebraska, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1959 University of Nebraska--Lincoln BS Electrical Engineering
1961 University of Nebraska--Lincoln MS Electrical Engineering

Professional Experience

M and M TV Clinic

  • 1952 Repairman

Lincoln TV Center

  • 1953 Repairman

University of Nebraska--Lincoln

  • 1953 to 1955 Electronic Development Technician, Agricultural Engineering Department

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1955 Intern, Lincoln Laboratory

Instrumentation Specialties Company [Isco, Inc.]

  • 1958 Founded Instrumentation Specialties Company
  • 1959 to 2006 Chairman of the Board
  • 1959 to 1996 President
  • 1961 to 2006 Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award
1959 National first prize for article in engineering student periodical, Engineering College Magazine Association and McGraw-Hill Publishing Company
1959 to 1961 National Science Foundation Fellowship
1960 First prize for undergraduate research paper, American Institute of Electrical Engineers
1965 to 2006 Registered Professional Engineer
1970 Accredited Professional Chemist
1972 Handicapped Nebraskan of the Year
1975 Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award, Professional Engineers of Nebraska
1978 Distinguished Service Award, Lincoln Kiwanis Club
1978 IR-100 Award, Research and Development Magazine
1985 National Small Business Person of the Year, U. S. Small Business Administration
1985 Honorary D. Sc. , University of Nebraska
1985 IR-100 Award, Research and Development Magazine
1985 Honorary D. Sc. , Chemistry, University of Nebraska
1986 Lincoln Jaycees Outstanding Chief Executive Award
1986 Support of Research Award, Sigma Xi
1988 Business Leadership Award, University of Nebraska
1989 Friend of Science Award, The Nebraska Academy of Sciences, Inc.
1991 Executive of the Year, Research and Development Magazine
1993 Outstanding Alumnus Award, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, College of Engineering
1998 Entrepreneur of the Year, Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship, College of Business Administration, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
1999 Alumni Achievement Award, University of Nebraska
2005 Pittcon Heritage Award, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

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PDF — 684 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

8 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads