New Search

Robert W. Allington

Portrait of Robert W. Allington
  • Born: September 18, 1935, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Died: March 26, 2006, Lincoln, Nebraska

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0225
Interview Date: November 13, 2001
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Interviewers: Arnold Thackray and John R. Van Ness
No. of pages: 67
Minutes: 251
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Robert W. Allington begins the interview with a sketch of his family history. His father, a scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture, and later at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), encouraged Allington's interest in science. During his adolescence, Allington developed his skills in electronics through building radios, among other things, and by working as a television repairman. He worked as an intern at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory on the SAGE air defense computer in the spring of 1955. Near the conclusion of the internship Allington was diagnosed with polio, and throughout the interview describes the effect of the disease on his life. While still in the hospital, he met his future business partner, Jacob Schafer, an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jobs repairing scientific equipment evolved into projects to fulfill requests from his clients for novel instrumentation. This led Allington to become an entrepreneur. He completed his master's degree in electrical engineering at UNL, having taken an unusually large number of chemistry courses for an electrical engineer. Allington abandoned his original intention of a career in academic research to found Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco). Originally creating specialized instruments on request, the company gradually evolved into two major divisions, separation and environmental instrumentation. Robert Allington remained active in the research and innovation behind product development even as chief executive officer of his company. He concludes the interview by sharing recollections of his personal life and briefly discussing his future plans.


1959 B.S., Electrical Engineering, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
1961 M.S., Electrical Engineering, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  Professional Experience

M & M TV Clinic

1952 Repairman

Lincoln TV Center

1953 Repairman

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

1953 - 1955 Electronic Development Technician, Agricultural Engineering Department

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1955 Intern, Lincoln Laboratory

Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco, Inc.)

1958 Founded Instrumentation Specialties Company

Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco, Inc.)

1959 - Present Chairman of the Board

Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco, Inc.)

1959 - 1996 President

Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco, Inc.)

1961 - Present Chief Executive Officer


1959 National first prize for article in engineering student periodical, Engineering College Magazine Association and McGraw-Hill Publishing Company
1959 National Science Foundation Fellowship
1960 First prize for undergraduate research paper, American Institute of Electrical Engineers

Registered Professional Engineer

1970 Accredited Professional Chemist
1972 Handicapped Nebraskan of the Year
1975 Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award, Professional Engineers of Nebraska
1978 Distinguished Service Award, Lincoln Kiwanis Club
1978 IR-100 Award, Research and Development Magazine
1985 National Small Business Person of the Year, U.S. Small Business Administration
1985 Honorary D. Sc., University of Nebraska
1985 IR-100 Award, Research and Development Magazine
1985 Honorary D. Sc., Chemistry, University of Nebraska
1986 Lincoln Jaycees Outstanding Chief Executive Award
1986 Support of Research Award, Sigma Xi
1988 Business Leadership Award, University of Nebraska
1989 Friend of Science Award, The Nebraska Academy of Sciences, Inc.
1991 Executive of the Year, Research and Development Magazine
1993 Outstanding Alumnus Award, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, College of Engineering
1998 Entrepreneur of the Year, Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship, College of Business Administration, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
1999 Alumni Achievement Award, University of Nebraska
2005 Pittcon Heritage Award, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family History and Early Life Experiences 1

Allington family history, illustrated with anecdotes about grandfather and father. Father's work with U.S. Department of Agriculture on an antibody to Virus X. Early penchant for electronics and interest in chemistry. Social experiences in grade school and junior high. Work as a television repairman.

Internship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 13

Acquiring internship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Spring 1955. Work at Lincoln Laboratory on SAGE air defense computer. Descriptions of government research, with details of computer's capabilities and features. Development of polio and its impact on life at school.

Origins of Future Entrepreneurship from Instrument Repair Work 17

Meeting future business partner Jacob Schafer. Brother's skills as a machinist, and woodworker. Artistically inclined. Religion in the Allington family. Beginnings of the Instrumentation Specialties Company. Creating a customer base and hiring new employees. Developing new products.

Education and Continuing Development of Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco) 24

Work on master's thesis. Development of ruminant pressure apparatus, thus generating sufficient profit to begin full-time business. Starting a career with own company instead of planned career in academic research. Breadth of electronic engineering curriculum at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Growth, Change, and Product Development at Isco 28

Personnel changes at Isco and shift in company objectives. Development of environmental instruments. The competitive field of liquid chromatography. Expansion of premises, issuing of public stock, and improved inventory control. Description of the hydrogen sulfide process analyzer and supercritical fluid extraction products. Consolidating the two operational divisions both operationally and physically.

Further Personal and Professional Recollections 38

Home life with dog, Steinmetz, and marriage. Reminiscing about owning a Mercedes-Benz Model 600. Community service and purchase of a historic home for restoration. Professional focus on innovation and research. Increasing the competitiveness of separation instrumentation at Isco. Plans for retirement, further reminiscences about cars, and current work.

Notes 54

Index 55

  About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

John R. Van Ness

John R. Van Ness is vice president for administration of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He received Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.A. from Colorado College, Colorado Springs. Van Ness has held several executive positions at colleges in the Philadelphia area, most recently as associate vice president for development at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In addition, he is a noted scholar of Hispanic history and culture in the American Southwest, a series editor at the University of New Mexico Press, and the author of four books. He has won several grants, honors, and awards for his scholarship, and has been included in Who’s Who in America. He is also on the board of directors of the Mexican Cultural Center in Philadelphia, and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible tax-deductible gift online.