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Oral history interview with N. Bruce Hannay

  • 1995-Mar-09

Oral history interview with N. Bruce Hannay

  • 1995-Mar-09

The interview begins with Dr. Hannay describing his family background and his early education in Washington state. Both his high school chemistry teacher and his older brother greatly influenced his decision to pursue chemistry and to attend Swarthmore College, where he received a B.A. in chemistry in 1942. With the advent of World War II, Hannay received a student deferment from the draft because his doctoral thesis at Princeton University--involving the measurement of dipole moments--related to the synthetic rubber program.

While still at Princeton, Hugh Taylor involved him in the Manhattan Project and after receiving his Ph.D. in 1944, Hannay took a job with Bell Laboratories, where he continued his work on the Manhattan Project. Once the war ended, Hannay began research on the mechanisms of thermionic emission from oxide cathodes. The invention of the transistor in 1947 led him to focus on silicon, which was deemed more useful in semiconductor research than single crystals of germanium. This work resulted in Hannay's development of a mass spectrograph to analyze solids. Soon after, Bell Labs asked him to coordinate the silicon research. In 1954, Hannay became a research supervisor, and he discovered a preference for management. Following this inclination, he continued on at Bell Labs in various management capacities until his retirement in 1982. This interview concludes with Hannay's brief assessment of the chemical industry and its need for more research autonomy.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 60 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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0137

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • February 09, 1921
  • Mt. Vernon, Washington, United States
  • June 02, 1996
  • Bremerton, Washington, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 Swarthmore College BA Chemistry
1943 Princeton University MA Physical Chemistry
1944 Princeton University PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

  • 1942 to 1960 Research Chemist
  • 1960 to 1967 Chemical Director
  • 1967 to 1973 Executive Director, Research, Material Science and Engineering
  • 1973 to 1982 Vice President, Research and Patents


Year(s) Award
1976 Acheson Medal, Electrochemical Society
1978 Honorary PhD, Tel Aviv University
1979 Honorary DSc, Swarthmore College
1981 Honorary DSc, Polytechnic Institute of New York
1983 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

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PDF — 281 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

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads