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Photograph of Gordon Cain
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Oral history interview with Gordon A. Cain

  • 1992-Feb-18

Oral history interview with Gordon A. Cain

  • 1992-Feb-18

Gordon A. Cain begins the interview by discussing his early influences from the chemical and engineering disciplines. He next recounts his undergraduate education at Louisiana State University during the Great Depression. He describes his first jobs in the chemical industry and his first patents. He enlisted during World War II as a captain and served in the Pacific with an Army heavy mortar company. After the war he worked in scientific intelligence in Germany.

Returning to the United States, Cain shifted the direction of his career away from chemical engineering and into management, consulting and ownership of various chemical and high technology concerns. Cain then discusses his experiences as head of Vista, Cain Chemical and the Sterling Group and the impact of venture capital and leveraged buyouts on his career and on the chemical industry. He describes his philosophy and standards for running these large companies, including employee ownership and the Deming system. Cain concludes the interview with a discussion of his family and hobbies and an analysis of the changing business climate.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 50 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 0101

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Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 31, 1912
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States
  • October 22, 2002
  • Houston, Texas, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1933 Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, La.) BS Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Louisiana Power & Light Company

  • 1933 to 1935 Test Engineer

Freeport Sulphur Company

  • 1935 to 1941 Chemical Engineer
  • 1946 to 1949 Chemical Engineer

Merck & Company Inc.

  • 1941 to 1942 Senior Design Engineer

United States. Army

  • 1942 to 1946 Captain

Standard Perlite Company

  • 1949 to 1950 Vice President

Westvaco Mineral Products Division

  • 1951 to 1955 Assistant to the President

Petro-Tex Chemical Corporation

  • 1955 to 1964 Vice President
  • 1976 to 1980 Chairman

Continental Oil Company

  • 1964 to 1970 General Manager, Petrochemical Department

Atec, Inc.

  • 1970 to 1976 Chairman

PASA Petroquimica Argentina

  • 1970 to 1976 Director

Computer Application Technology

  • 1970 to 1976 Chairman

Iotron Group

  • 1970 to 1976 Chairman

Alaska Interstate Co.

  • 1980 to 1982 Chairman

Vista Chemical Company

  • 1982 to 1986 Chairman

The Sterling Group

  • 1982 to 1987 Chairman of the Board

Sterling Chemicals

  • 1986 to 1987 Chairman of the Board

Cain Chemical, Inc.

  • 1987 to 1988 Chairman

Atlantic Coast Airlines, Inc.

  • 1991 to 1993 Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award
1988 Winthrop-Sears Medal, Chemical Industry Association
1990 John Fritz Medal, United Engineering Trustees, Inc.

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PDF — 251 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