Oral history interview with Herman Mark

Oral history interview with Herman Mark

  • 1986-Feb-03 (First session)
  • 1986-Mar-17 (Second session)
  • 1986-Jun-20 (Third session)

In this first of three interviews Herman Mark starts with his study of relatively stable free radicals under the direction of Wilhelm Schlenk, first in Vienna and then in Berlin. After a post doctoral period at the University of Berlin, Mark was invited by Haber to join the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute at Dahlem. There, Mark collaborated with Polanyi and other colleagues in using x-ray diffraction to establish the crystal structures of small organic molecules and metals. This work as extended to naturally occurring organic materials such as cellulose and silk. As a consequence, Mark was able to play an important role at the critical 1926 meeting in Dusseldorf, which brought together Staudinger and the opponents of the macromolecular hypothesis.
Mark's next move was to I.G. Farben, where he established a polymer laboratory. That was also where he first collaborated with Kurt Meyer, with whom he published the pioneering x-ray crystallographic structure of cellulose. Mark describes the laboratories, research directions, and colleagues during his stay at Ludwigshafen. The worsening political climate in Germany prompted Mark to accept a chair at his alma mater. Back in Vienna, he set up the first comprehensive polymer research and teaching institute. Mark concludes this interview by describing the circumstances of an approach from the Canadian International paper Company and his decision to leave Austria.
The second interview details his experiences in the Canadian paper industry and his early ventures into publishing with the first of the Polymer Monograph series. Mark explains how he was able to resume an academic career by starting the polymer program at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute which soon would become world renowned. Mark tells of his part in the formation of the literature of polymer science and technology: journals, monographs, reference books and encyclopedias. Finally Mark refers to his more recent research interests and describes the changes in research funding that have taken place during the past four decades.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 117 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

About the Interviewers

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.

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Physical location

Oral history number 0030

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Interviewee biographical information

  • May 03, 1895
  • Vienna, Austria
  • April 06, 1992
  • Austin, Texas, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1921 Universität Wien PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin

  • 1921 to 1922 Instructor in Organic Chemistry

Kaiser Wilhelm-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften

  • 1922 to 1926 Research Fellow

Karlsruhr Technical University

  • 1927 to 1932 Associate Professor

I.G. Farben Industrie

  • 1927 to 1928 Research Chemist
  • 1928 to 1930 Group Leader
  • 1930 to 1932 Assistant Research Director

Universität Wien

  • 1932 to 1938 Professor of Chemistry and Director, First Chemical Institute

Canadian International Paper Company

  • 1938 to 1940

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

  • 1940 to 1942 Adjunct Professor
  • 1942 to 1964 Professor
  • 1961 to 1964 Dean of Faculty
  • 1965 to 1987 Dean and Professor Emeritus

University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Polymer Research Institute

  • 1946 to 1964 Director


Year(s) Award
1928 Hertz Medal, Germany
1933 Austrian Academy, member
1934 Bucharest Academy, member
1934 Exner Medal, Austria
1936 Chemical Society of Madrid, member
1937 Chemical Society of Bucharest, member
1937 Austrian Society of Textile Chemists and Colorists, member
1937 Austrian Society for X-Ray Research, member
1937 Medal of the Austrian Society of Textile Chemists and Colorists
1938 Budapest Academy, member
1943 New York Academy of Science, member
1944 American Institute of Physics, member
1947 Royal Institution of Great Britain, member
1947 Max Planck Society, member
1948 Harrison Howe Award, American Chemical Society
1948 Franqui Medaille, Belgium
1949 American Leather Society, member
1949 Amsterdam Academy, member
1950 Honorary degree, University of Liège, Belgium
1950 Vienna Physical Chemistry Society, member
1950 Textile Institute of Great Britain, member
1950 Indian Academy of Sciences, member
1951 Austrian Association of Paper Chemists, member
1952 Austrian Society for Wood Research, member
1952 National Institute of Science of India, member
1953 Weizmann Institute of Science, member
1953 Honor Scroll of the American Institute of Chemists
1953 Legion d'Honneur
1953 Honorary degree, University of Uppsala, Sweden
1954 Honorary degree, Free University of Berlin, West Germany
1954 Medal of Honor, Milan Polytechnic Institute
1954 Italian Chemical Society, member
1955 Honorary Fellow, University of Vienna
1955 Honorary degree, Technical University of Berlin, West Germany
1955 Golden Honor Medal, University of Vienna
1955 Trasenster Medal, Association of Belgian Engineers
1956 Honorary degree, Lowell Technological Institute
1956 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member
1960 Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society
1960 Honorary degree, Technical University of Munich, West Germany
1961 Distinguished Service Medal, Syracuse University
1961 National Academy of Science,member
1962 Phi Lamba Upsilon Honorary Chemical Society, member
1962 International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
1962 Gold Medal, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science
1962 Honorary degree, Gutenberg University, Mainz, West Germany
1964 Honorary degree, Karl Franzens University, Graz, Austria
1965 Honorary degree, Technische Hochschüle, Vienna, Austria
1965 Honorary degree, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
1965 Honorary degree, Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia
1965 Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1965 Olney Medal, American Chemical Society
1965 Plastics Institute of America, member
1965 Austrian Society for Plastics Technology, member
1965 The Fiber Society, member
1966 Soviet Academy of Sciences, member
1966 Austrian Honor Cross in Science and Arts
1966 Cresson Medal
1968 Swinburne Medal, Plastics Institute of Great Britain
1968 International Academy of Wood Science, member
1970 City of Vienna Prize for Natural Sciences
1970 Distinguished Service Award, Polytechnic Chapter Sigma Xi
1971 The Franklin Institute, member
1971 Honorary degree, Jassy University, Rumania
1972 Society of Polymer Science of Japan, member
1972 Scientific Achievement Medal Award, City College Alumni Association
1972 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1973 Indian Chemical Society, member
1973 Honorary degree, Universidad Autonoma Madrid, Spain
1974 Croatian Society of Plastics Engineers, member
1975 Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society
1975 Austrian Grand Silver Medal with Star
1975 150th Anniversary Prize, Aachen and Munich Insurance Association
1975 Honorary degree, Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
1976 Honorary degree, Long Island University, New York
1976 Honorary degree, Montan University, Leoben, Austria
1976 Plastics and Coatings Award, American Chemical Society
1976 Harvey Prize, Israeli Technion
1976 Plastics Hall of Fame, member
1977 The Chemists Club, member
1977 The New York Academy of Sciences, member
1977 Distinguished Service Award, Polytechnic University of New York
1978 Humboldt Prize
1978 Plastics Vision" Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
1978 Chemical Society of Japan, member
1978 American Institute of Chemists, member
1979 Yugoslav Society of Plastics and Rubber Engineers, member
1979 Indian Society for Polymer Science, member
1979 The Royal Institute of Chemistry, member
1979 Wolf Prize, Israel
1979 Honorary degree, University of Nottingham, Great Britain
1980 Honorary degree, University of Vienna, Austria
1980 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry, Great Britain
1980 National Medal of Sciences
1980 Jabotinsky Centennial Medal, Israel
1980 Silver Medal, International Commission for Fiber Science Research, France
1980 Colwyn Medal, Plastics and Rubber Institute, Great Britain
1980 Gesellschaft für Chemiewirtschaft, Vienna
1981 American Society for Testing Materials, member
1982 Gold Award, Society for Plastics Technology, Vienna
1982 Polymer Education Award, American Chemical Society
1982 Honorary degree, University of Massachusetts
1984 30th Anniversary Lecture Medal, Milan Polytechnic Institute
1985 Gold Merit Medal, International Center for Research on Synthetic Fibers
1985 The Textile Institute of Great Britain, Honorary Fellowship
1986 Mayor's Award of Honor for Science and Technology, City of New York
1987 Bronze Medal, Universite Claude Bernard, Lyon
1987 Medal of the City of Lyon, France
1987 Bronze Medal, Conseil Général du Rhône, France
1987 Mayor's award of Honor for Science and Technology, City of Vienna

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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

19 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads