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Manson Benedict

  • Born: October 9, 1907, Lake Linden, Michigan
  • Died: September 18, 2006, Naples, Florida

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0088
Interview Date: January 24, 1991
Location: Naples, Florida
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 87
Minutes: 293

  Abstract of Interview

Manson Benedict begins the interview with a discussion of his
family background, including the highlights of his father's career
in chemistry. He recalls how his early enthusiasm for chemistry
was promoted both by his father's work and his summer jobs with
Calumet and Hecla Copper Company. He then tells of his
dissatisfaction with his Cornell University education, his year at
National Aniline, and his decision to enroll at the University of
Chicago to obtain a broader liberal education during which he
explored economics and socialism. After a colorful description of
a summer's work on a fruit farm in Washington state, Benedict
describes his enrollment in a graduate physical chemistry program
at MIT. He then discusses his National Research Fellowship at
Harvard and his decision to work at Kellogg, where he developed the
Benedict-Webb-Rubin equation. He describes his significant role in
the Manhattan Project, and touches on his subsequent appointment to
the Atomic Energy Commission. He concludes with his return to MIT
to develop a nuclear engineering curriculum, the accomplishment of
which he is most proud.


1928 B. Chem. Cornell University
1931 University of Chicago
1932 M.S., Physical Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1935 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

National Aniline and Chemical Co.

1929 - 1930 Research Chemist

National Aniline and Chemical Co.

1937 - 1938 Research Chemist

Harvard University

1935 - 1936 National Research Council Fellow

Harvard University

1936 - 1937 Research Associate in Geophysics

M. W. Kellogg Company

1938 - 1943 Research Chemist

Hydrocarbon Research, Inc.

1946 - 1951 Director Process Development

U.S. Atomic Energy Commission

1948 - 1958 Reactor Safeguard Committee (later Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards)

U.S. Atomic Energy Commission

1951 - 1952

Chief, Operational Analysis Staff

U.S. Atomic Energy Commission

1958 - 1968 General Advisory Committee

National Research Corporation

1951 - 1957

Scientific Advisor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1951 - 1969 Professor of Nuclear Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1958 - 1971 Head, Nuclear Engineering Department

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1969 - 1973 Institute Professor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1973 Institute Professor Emeritus

Advisory Council on Radiation Protection, Massachusetts

1964 - 1988 Member

Federal Energy Administration

1973 - 1975 Energy Research and Development Advisory Council


1947 William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1963 Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1966 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
1966 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1968 Robert E. Wilson Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1969 Arthur Holly Compton Award, American Nuclear Society
1972 Enrico Fermi Award, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
1975 John Fritz Medal, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1976 National Medal of Science
1976 Founders Award, National Academy of Engineering
1983 Glenn Seaborg Award, International Platform Association

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family, Childhood, and Early Education 1

Parents attend Cornell University. Father discovers process for copper extraction. Exposure to chemistry through summer jobs at Calumet and Hecla Copper Company.

Cornell University 3

Enrolls in academically limited chemistry program. Frustrated by research supervisor's inflexibility. Summer jobs at Camulet and Hecla.

National Aniline and Chemical Company 8

Works on the nitro and indigo benches. The Great Depression heightens realization that he lacks a liberal arts education to deal with social problems.

University of Chicago 10

Enrolls in philosophy program with hope to discover a personal philosophy. Studies literature, economics, and other disciplines which he finds useful later in life. Takes advantage of Chicago's cultural offerings. Makes several close friends. Explores socialism and union organizing. Hitchhikes to Washington to work for a summer on a friend's family's fruit farm while resolving indecision over his career path.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 25

Enrolls in graduate program in physical chemistry. Works on temperature measurement methods. Marries a fellow physical chemist.

Harvard University 29

Receives National Research Fellowship. Wife receives Ph.D. and works at Harvard Medical School. Studies PVT properties of nitrogen and argon. Appointed to the Harvard Committee on Geophysical Research to study solubility relations of aqueous solutions at high temperatures.

National Aniline and Chemical Company 34

Studies kinetics of oxidation of benzene to maleic anhydride.

M. W. Kellogg Company/Polymerization Process Corporation (POLYCO) 37

Develops Benedict-Webb-Rubin equation of state for gases and continuous flow calorimeter. Works on separation of hydrogen from gas mixtures.

Manhattan Project 46

Works for Kellex, a subsidiary of Kellogg, as head of process development. Charged with developing gaseous diffusion cascade and designing a plant for separating uranium at Oak Ridge. Also involved in building and operating the plant.

Hydrocarbon Research, Inc. 54

When the war ends, decides to remain with colleagues from Oak Ridge rather than return to a more limited position at Kellogg. Obtains patents for mass diffusion and gas absorption. Works on extraction of deuterium.

Atomic Energy Commission 57

Member of the Reactor Safeguard Committee. Connections lead to return to MIT.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 60

Organizes nuclear engineering courses within chemical engineering department. Separate nuclear engineering department is established. Serves as department head for thirteen years. Opportunities for graduates expand as time progresses. Works on General Advisory Committee of Atomic Energy Commission. Wishes to be remembered for his role in educating others.

Notes 69

Index 72

  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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