Oral history interview with John D. Baldeschwieler

  • 2003-Jun-13
John D. Baldeschwieler
CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas A. Lockard

John D. Baldeschwieler begins the interview with a discussion of his family and childhood interests. He was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 14 November 1933. He attended a public school in Cranford, New Jersey, before moving on to college at Cornell University, where he majored in chemical engineering. Baldeschwieler found the chemical engineering program challenging, but despite the 80 percent dropout rate for the program, he graduated at the top of his class. Afterwards, he attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving his PhD in physical chemistry in 1959. Baldeschwieler had been in the ROTC program at Cornell University, but his service in the Army was deferred after he graduated because of an abundance of officers in the Army at that time; however, he was in the Army Reserves while he attended Berkeley. It was while at Berkeley that Baldeschwieler was introduced to infrared spectroscopy. Having served in the military, Baldeschwieler was hired as a chemistry lecturer and instructor at Harvard University. He became an assistant professor in 1962, and remained at the University until 1965, when he moved to Stanford University. Though he had been working in the field of nuclear-magnetic resonance at Cornell, Baldeschwieler decided to change his focus to ion-cyclotron resonance when he moved to Stanford. He became a full professor at Stanford in 1967, and remained with the University until 1971. From 1971 to 1984, Baldeschwieler worked in various important government positions, including the deputy director position for the Office of Science and Technology, and the coordinator position for the Chemical Catalysis Program in the U.S.–U.S.S.R. Commission on Science and Technology. Baldeschwieler began his relationship with Caltech during that time period as well. In 1973, he became chairman of Caltech's Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division, and a full professor at the Institute. In 1981, Baldeschwieler undertook his first commercial endeavor with the creation of Vestar, Inc. Thus began his work on a string of entrepreneurial ventures, which has included Combion, Inc., Epic Therapeutics, Inc., GeneSoft, Inc., and many others. In 1999 and 2000, Baldeschwieler was responsible in part for the creation of the Athenaeum Fund and Pasadena Entretec; two organizations established to fund and support young entrepreneurs from Caltech. Baldeschwieler concludes the interview with his thoughts on entrepreneurship and his experiences in the business world.

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