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Oral history interview with Ernest H. Volwiler

  • 1986-Aug-18

Oral history interview with Ernest H. Volwiler

  • 1986-Aug-18

Ernest Volwiler begins this interview by briefly discussing his early years in Ohio, leading to college study at Miami University, where he first became interested in chemistry. He remembers the influence of faculty there and his wish to undertake graduate studies at the University of Illinois. He recounts the circumstances of his decision to proceed to the Ph.D. program after completion of his Master's degree. Research work with Roger Adams and the summer organic chemicals production enterprise helped to introduce Volwiler to drug synthesis. His long career with Abbott Laboratories started in organic synthesis, including some plant production responsibilities. Volwiler recalls Dr. Abbott as well as some of his fellow workers in the laboratories in the 1920s and 1930s. World War II saw the production of penicillin and company expansion. Volwiler was a member of the pharmaceutics investigating team sent to Germany immediately after the end of the war and he describes his experiences there. Post-war advancement led Volwiler to the presidency of Abbott Laboratories, and he discusses how he trimmed the production line and initiated development into new areas. His ACS activities culminated in his election as Society President in 1950. Volwiler ends his interview with Bohning by reflecting on the nature of the modern pharmaceutical industry.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 38 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 0050

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 22, 1893
  • Hamilton, Ohio, United States
  • October 03, 1992
  • Lake Forest, Illinois, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1914 Miami University of Ohio BA Chemistry
1916 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign MA Chemistry
1918 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Reilly Township Public School

  • 1910 to 2017 Teacher

Miami University of Ohio

  • 1913 to 1914 Teaching Assistant

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • 1914 to 1917 Teaching Assistant
  • 1915 Chemist in charge
  • 1916 to 1917 Chemist in Charge, Organic Chemical Manufacture (summer)
  • 1917 to 1918 Fellow in Chemistry

Abbott Laboratories

  • 1918 to 1920 Research Chemist
  • 1920 to 1930 Chief Chemist
  • 1930 to 1933 Director of Research
  • 1933 to 1946 Vice President, Research and Development
  • 1946 to 1950 Executive Vice President
  • 1950 to 1958 President and General Manager
  • 1951 to 1961 President, Abbott Laboratories Fund
  • 1958 Chairman of the Board
  • 1958 to 1961 President, The Abbott Foundation
  • 1958 to 1961 Chairman of the Board, Abbott Laboratories International Co.
  • 1958 to 1961 Chairman of the Board, Abbott Laboratories Universal, Ltd.
  • 1961 Consultant


Year(s) Award
1940 Modern Pioneers Award
1946 DSc (Honorary), Miami University
1947 Honor Scroll Award, American Institute of Chemists
1949 DSc (Honorary), Northwestern University
1951 Centennial Award, Northwestern University
1953 LLD (Honorary), Coe College
1954 LLD (Honorary), Knox College
1954 DSc (Honorary), Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science
1954 Chemical Industry Award
1955 Industrial Research Award
1958 D Med Sc (Honorary), Southwestern at Memphis
1958 D Sc (Honorary), St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences
1958 Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society
1958 Citation of Honor, Indiana Technical College
1959 Sesquicentennial Award, Miami University
1959 D Sc (Honorary), University of Illinois
1960 Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists
1977 DHL (Honorary), Lake Forest College
1986 Inventors Hall of Fame

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PDF — 185 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

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads