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Robert T. Armstrong

Dr. Robert Armstrong

CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning

  • Born: December 27, 1909, Chadron, Nebraska
  • Died: July 14, 1992

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0011
Interview Date: May 1, 1986
Location: Highland Beach, Florida
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 24
Minutes: 90

  Abstract of Interview

Dr. Robert Armstrong describes his childhood in Nebraska and Arizona and how he managed to support himself through undergraduate and graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He remembers the faculty at MIT and the support some of his teachers gave him during his stay there. After completing his graduate research, Armstrong moved to the U.S. Rubber Company, where he coupled investigations of rubber vulcanization with pioneering research on radical polymerization. Early on, Armstrong recognized the value of systematic studies of copolymerization. During World War II, he was persuaded to work at the North American Rayon Company. Soon after the war ended, Armstrong started his career at the Celanese Corporation, which lasted until his retirement. He describes his functions as he progressed up the corporate ladder and also outlines his involvement with the establishment of the Research Triangle Institute.


1931 S.B., Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1935 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1928 - 1935 Assistant Chemist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1935 - 1937 Instructor, Organic Chemistry

U.S. Rubber Company, Passiac, NJ

1937 - 1941 Chemist

U.S. Rubber Company, Passiac, NJ

1941 - 1944 Group Leader

North American Rayon Corporation, Elizabethton, Tennessee

1944 - 1946 Research Chemist

Celanese Corporation of America

1946 - 1949 Group Leader

Celanese Corporation of America

1949 - 1950 Technical Superintendent

Celanese Corporation of America

1951 - 1952 Director, Technical Control

Celanese Corporation of America

1952 - 1953 Associate Director of Research

Celanese Corporation of America

1953 - 1956 Technical Director, Textile Division

Celanese Corporation of America

1956 - 1966 Vice-President, Technical Director

Celanese Corporation of America

1966 - 1975 Senior Vice-President, Research

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Born in Nebraska, family moved to Arizona soon after. Father's failed attempt as a banker. Mother as teacher in small rural school. Agricultural prep school after mother's death.

Undergraduate Education 3

Enters MIT, choice of chemistry as major. Recollections of faculty. Support by part-time work. Undergraduate research and experimental work. Effect of the Depression.

Graduate Studies 7

Infrared and Raman spectroscopy of cyclopropane. Instructor at MIT.

U.S. Rubber Company 8

Key researchers in U.S. Rubber Research Laboratory. Study of rubber vulcanization and of polymerization. Initiation of copolymerization mechanisms pursued by Mayo, Walling and Lewis.

North American Rayon Company 12

Circumstances of move during WWII, conditions at plant.

Celanese Corporation 14

Establish quality control functions. Move to research laboratories at Summit, N.J. and then to Charlotte technical director, textile division. Role in formation of Research Triangle Institute. Transfer to head office, New York and progress to Senior Vice-President, Research.

Notes 20

Index 21

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was 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 has 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 the foundation’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. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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