Oral history interview with Calvin S. Fuller

Oral history interview with Calvin S. Fuller

  • 1986-Apr-29
Photograph of Calvin S. Fuller
CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning

In this interview Dr. Fuller traces his early years and the development of his interests in radio and in chemistry. Encouraged by an outstanding high school teacher, Fuller won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. Economic pressures forced him to break studies for periods of employment in the analytical laboratories of the General Chemical Company and as a photoengraver at the Chicago Tribune, but Fuller persists and completes his doctorate under W. D. Harkins. Dr. Fuller enlivens the interview with recollections of Harkins and Julius Stieglitz. Appointment as a research chemist under R.R. Williams at Bell Laboratories introduces Calvin Fuller to the infant science of synthetic polymers and to xray crystallography. World War II sees Fuller in Washington, D.C., heading polymer chemistry research as part of the synthetic rubber program. On return to Bell Laboratories after the war, Fuller decides to move to solid state chemistry and describes his work on semiconductors, leading to the development of the photovoltaic cell.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 55 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

Oral history number 0020

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 25, 1902
  • Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • October 28, 1994
  • Vero Beach, Florida, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1926 University of Chicago BS Chemistry
1929 University of Chicago PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

General Chemical Company (New York, N.Y.)

  • 1920 to 1922 Analyst

Chicago Tribune (Firm)

  • 1924 to 1930

Bell Telephone Laboratories

  • 1942 to 1944 Physical Chemist
  • 1944 to 1950 Plastics Chemist
  • 1950 to 1967 Chemical Physicist

Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Office of Rubber Reserve

  • 1942 to 1944 Chief, Polymer Research

United States. Department of Defense

  • 1945 to 1950 Consultant, Research and Development Board


Year(s) Award
1956 John Scott Medal, City of Philadelphia
1963 John Price Wetherill Medal, Franklin Institute
1964 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1981 Krupp Prize
1985 Photovoltaic Founders Award, IEEE

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PDF — 291 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