This interview describes Dr. Edgar W. Spanagel's life, focusing on his contributions to nylon research at the DuPont Company. Although his father died when he was fourteen, leaving his mother alone with four children, Spanagel was able to save enough from after-school jobs to fund his first year of study at Lawrence College. At Lawrence, he took his first chemistry class and, after a successful semester, decided upon a chemistry major. Supporting himself with various jobs at night and in the summers, Spanagel completed college in four years and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He accepted a job teaching chemistry labs at Lawrence for two years and then applied for scholarships to graduate school. With the help of Stephen Darling, an organic chemistry professor at Lawrence, Spanagel secured a scholarship to McGill University, where he worked under Darling's former colleague, Charles F. H. Allen. Spanagel completed his dissertation on anhydroacetone benzil in 1933.
At that point, Allen contacted Wallace Carothers, whom he had known at Harvard University, and Spanagel was interviewed at DuPont. He accepted a position as Research Chemist in Carothers' research group and began work on large ring compounds, first for use in perfumes and then making polymer. In 1934, Donald Coffman made polymer from aminocaproic acid, and soon, the research group focused on polyamide preparation and 66 polyamide. Spanagel worked with 66 salt, discovered by Wesley R. Peterson, and eventually introduced autoclaves to prevent the loss of diamine and maintain high molecular weights in polyamide production. To prevent discoloration of polymer, the group used silver-lined and then stainless steel autoclaves. After production was scaled up, Spanagel was moved to the semiworks for several months, solving equipment problems before returning to the research laboratory to develop a yarn size for use with full fashion knitting machines to produce women's stockings. His development of a boric-modified size for yarn was essential to stocking production at the Seaford nylon plant, where Spanagel later moved as plant technical superintendent. The latter part of his career was spent in management positions dealing primarily with nylon, cellophane and Mylar film. In the interview's closing section, Spanagel discusses his relationships with supervisors, Carothers and George Graves, colleague Paul Flory, and his views on research vs. management careers.
Edgar W. Spanagel, interviewed by Smith, John K. (John Kenly) in Wilmington, Delaware on May 9, 1997. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0158. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/w3763797q.
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