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Paul J. Flory Papers

  • 1931–1984
  • American
    Created and used by Paul Flory
  • 38 linear feet
    Papers, photographs
  • Gift of Emily Flory
  • 85:5
  • Copyright restrictions may apply (contact CHF archivist).


Includes correspondence and working papers related to Flory’s published articles. Also contains research notes, course lectures, and source material for texts.

Background note

Paul J. Flory was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1974 largely for his work in the area of the physical chemistry of macromolecules. He was immensely important in the field of polymer chemistry, yet in his own lifetime he found interest in this area of research waning. Several of his theories, which have been accepted and acclaimed since the 1950s, came under fire from a new generation of researchers in the last years of his life. In short, Paul Flory became a victim of his own success, though he never viewed himself that way. A fierce polemicist, Flory used his formidable skill at mathematics and his razor-sharp wit to dismiss his would-be detractors, usually—though not always—triumphing over them.

Paul J. Flory was born in Sterling, Illinois, in 1910. He was a clergyman’s son. He attended Manchester College, an institution for which he retained an abiding affection. He did his graduate work at Ohio State University, earning his Ph.D. in 1934.

Flory went to work as a newly minted Ph.D. for the DuPont Company. He was assigned to the Central Research Department where he worked for Wallace H. Carothers. This early experience with practical research instilled in Flory a lifelong appreciation for the value of industrial application. Though Flory would gain fame as a theoretician, his work with the Air Force Office of Strategic Research and his later support for the Industrial Affiliates program at Stanford University demonstrated his belief in the need for theory and practice to work hand-in-hand.

Following the death of Carothers in 1937, Flory made his first foray into the academic world as a member of the University of Cincinnati’s Basic Science Research Laboratory. In 1940 he returned to the ranks of industrial chemists as an employee of the Standard Oil Development Company. There he worked on the all-important problem of inventing a synthetic rubber. In 1943 he moved over to the Research Laboratory of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. After the war Flory taught at Cornell University from 1948 until 1957, when he became executive director of the Mellon Institute. In 1961 he joined the chemistry faculty at Stanford, where he would remain until his retirement.

Among the high points of Flory’s years at Stanford were his receipt of the National Medal of Science (1974), the Priestley Award (1974), the J. Willard Gibbs Medal (1973), the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry (1969), and the Charles Goodyear Medal (1968). He also traveled extensively, including working tours to the U.S.S.R. and the People’s Republic of China.

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