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Edward Donley

  • Born: November 26, 1921, Highland Park, Michigan

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0130
Interview Date: January 26, 1995
Location: Belleair, Florida
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 43
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Edward Donley describing his early years growing up on his family's farm and attending a one-room schoolhouse. After graduating from high school, Donley joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and, after applying to several colleges, attained a scholarship to Lawrence Technological University in Detroit, Michigan. As a senior working towards a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, Donley began mechanical drafting work part-time for Detroit's newly established Air Products Company. Donley describes his college education during the war and compares his life- long experiences with Lawrence Tech and Air Products, watching both institutions develop from fledgling to flourishing. During Donley's early career, Air Products work involved military contracts to develop portable units for extracting oxygen from the air. With the cancellation of military contracts after World War II, the company declined and Donley went to work temporarily for Continental Aviation and Engineering Company, returning after Air Products moved to Emmaus, Pennsylvania, to rebuild, Donley recalls his professional development as a manager and engineer, and his close relationship with mentor Leonard Pool. As Air Products grew through the contributions of Pool, Carl Anderson, and others, Donley rose through the ranks to take on increasing responsibility, eventually playing a large role in developing liquid oxygen plants first to fulfill Air Force contracts and later for commercial production. Donley next details Air Products' involvement with hydrogen for ammonia production, and eventually with liquid hydrogen. He describes the recruitment and contribution of several engineers and managers, the change in Air Products' work environment from family to professional emphasis, and the reasons and strategy of the company's move into the chemical business. In the final section of the interview, Donley examines his presidency, beginning with Pool's gradual transfer of responsibility, the origins and emphasis of Air Products' environmental division, and the institution of the matrix management system. He discusses his views on the role of engineering in long-term planning and the importance of recruitment, career development, and safety programs; he also describes several important individuals who contributed to Air Products' later development, he closes with comments on American educational reform and entrepreneurial efforts, scientific innovation, changes in management agendas over the years, and federal regulation of business.


1943 B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Lawrence Technical University
1959 Advanced Management Program Harvard University

  Professional Experience

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1943 - 1946 Draftsman

Continental Aviation

1946 - 1949 Engineer

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1949 - 1951 Engineer

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1951 - 1952 Engineering Manager

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1952 - 1954 Sales Engineer

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1954 - 1959 Vice President of Sales

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1959 - 1966 Vice President and General Manager

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1966 - 1966 Executive Vice President

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1966 - 1978 President

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1973 - 1986 Chief Executive Officer

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1978 - 1986 Chairman of the Board

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1986 - 1992 Chairman, Executive Committee

American Standard, Inc.

1992 - 1994 Chairman of the Board


1977 Doctor of Industrial Management, Lawrence Technological University
1978 Honor Award, Commercial Development Association
1978 Doctor of Commercial Science, Villanova University
1978 Doctor of Laws, Lehigh University
1979 Doctor of Humane Letters, Muhlenberg College
1980 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry
1980 Doctor of Laws, Allentown College
1980 Doctor of Science, Cedar Crest College
1981 Doctor of Commercial Science, Drexel University
1984 Doctor of Humane Letters, Wilkes College
1986 Doctor of Humane Letters, Lafayette College
1987 Doctor of Laws, Moravian College
1987 Doctor of Humanities, Lawrence Technological University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Life on family farm during Depression. One-room schoolhouse and small local high-school education. Work for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

College Education 4

Scholarship from Lawrence Technological University. Part-time work for Air Products. Early years at Lawrence Tech. Military deferment. Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree.

Early Career at Air Products 8

Discussion of origins of Air Products. Heading engineering department during World War II. Loss of wartime government contracts. Interim job with Continental Aviation & Engineering Company. Air Products' move from Tennessee to Pennsylvania to rebuild, and Donley's return. Relationship with Leonard Pool. Management classes at Harvard Business School. Discussion of Leonard Pool's family background. Carl Anderson's role in the development of Air Products. Discussion of rise through management positions. Development of liquid oxygen plants for air force and adaptation and commercialization of production operations.

Later Career at Air Products 16

Air Products license of ammonia production. Government contract to produce liquid hydrogen. Recruitment of engineers to develop new technology. Move into chemicals business. Acquisition of Houdry Process Corporation.

Air Products Presidency 24

Succeeding Leonard Pool as president of Air Products. Origins of environmental systems division. Introduction of matrix management. Institution of management reforms. Renewal of career development program. Safety priorities. Creation of corporate science center. Views on the future of American entrepreneurial efforts.

Notes 37

Index 38

  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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