Oral history interview with Edgar W. Spanagel

Oral history interview with Edgar W. Spanagel

  • 1997-May-09

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.

Place of interview
Original file type MP3, PDF
  • 27 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

John Kenly Smith, Jr., is an associate professor of history at Lehigh University, where he has been a faculty member since 1987. He coauthored Science and Corporate Strategy: DuPont R&D, 1902–1980, published in 1988. He served with the DuPont R&D History Project from 1982 to 1986 and was Newcomen Fellow in Business History at Harvard Business School from 1986 to 1987. He received the Newcomen Prize in Business History for Best Book Published in America and is on the editorial board of American Chemical Society Books.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • July 25, 1905
  • LeRoy, Wisconsin, United States
  • November 03, 2004
  • Wilmington, Delaware, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 Lawrence College (Appleton, Wis.) BA Chemistry
1933 McGill University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Lawrence College (Appleton, Wis.)

  • 1928 to 1930 Chemistry Instructor

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

  • 1933 to 1941 Research Chemist, Experimental Station
  • 1941 to 1943 Technical Superintendent, Nylon Plant
  • 1942 to 1944 Testing - DELETE THIS
  • 1943 to 1947 Research Manager, Nylon Research Lab
  • 1947 to 1950 Assistant Director, Cellophane Research
  • 1950 to 1958 Assistant Director of Production, Film Department
  • 1958 to 1965 Director of Manufacturing

Cite as

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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PDF — 135 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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads