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Sidney Edelstein

Sidney M. Edelstein

Portrait of Sidney Edelstein

  • Born: January 22, 1912, Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Died: September 18, 1994

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0075
Interview Dates: August 31, 1987 and February 24, 1988
Locations: New Orleans, Louisiana; and West Palm Beach, Florida
Interviewers: Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 90
Minutes: 360

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview Sidney Edelstein begins with his family life in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and includes his early education and experiences at the Baylor School in Chattanooga. He describes his undergraduate career at MIT, his interest in cellulose chemistry, and recalls his first employment at the Dixie Mercerizing Company in the midst of the Depression. The interview continues with Edelstein's early entrepreneurial activities, and his term as an AATCC Research Associate. The formation of Lamede, Inc., and Edelstein's position as research director at Hart Chemical Company are discussed in detail. Edelstein continues with his work with the Army Quartermaster Corps during World War II, and difficulties with the Sylvania Industrial Company.

The second section of the interview begins with the formation of the Dexter Chemical Corporation, and continues with the company's development, first products, sales figures, subsidiaries, and international operations. Edelstein explains his interest in the history of dyestuffs, including the articles he wrote, and the benefit of history to the textile industry. The interview continues with Edelstein's key role in the history of the American Chemical Society Division of the History of Chemistry, and focuses on the personalities and operations in the early days of the Division. The origin of the Dexter Award is described, and the first recipients discussed. The interview concludes with Edelstein's philanthropic activities, and the Edelstein Center at the Hebrew University.


1932 B.S., Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

Dixie Mercerizing Company

1932 - 1935 Textile Microscopist and Research Chemist

American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists, University of Chattanooga

1935 - 1938 Research Associate

Lamede, Inc.

1938 - 1939 Vice President and Director of Research

Hart Products Corporation

1939 - 1945 Vice President and Director of Research

Dexter Chemical Corporation

1945 - 1985 President

Dexter Chemical Corporation

1985 - Present Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer


1956 Honorary D.Sc. degree, Lowell Technological Institute
1959 Fellow, Textile Institute (Great Britain)
1960 Fellow, Society of Dyers and Colourists (Great Britain)
1970 Honorary citizen of Biella and Venice, Italy
1987 Honorary Ph.D., Hebrew University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Parents and family situation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Grandfather's immigration and origin of Edelstein. Mother's family. Mother's creative cooking. Grammar school. Baylor School. Mother's Reform Judaism and father's Orthodox beliefs. Early chemistry experiments.

Baylor school 3

Early trouble as student. Works to get good grades. Headmaster Alex Guerry. Interest in reading. College boards. Summer physics course. MIT application. Sister. Keys to chemistry laboratory. Laboratory explosion in making fireworks.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6

Summer trigonometry course. Joins fraternity. Charge account at Harvard Coop. Attitude of MIT professors. Home brew. Making wine and liqueurs. Meets future wife. Marriage in 1931.

MIT Professors and Research 9

Chemical engineering. Warren K. Lewis. Cellulose lecture. History of chemistry course with Tenney L. Davis. James Flack Norris. Norbert Wiener. Miles Sherrill. Senior year research on colloidal properties of cellulose in strong alkali. Importance of work to mercerizing process. Chemical cotton. Study of viscosity changes in cellulose solutions. Cellulose particles from ball mill. New form of cellulose. Senior research published. Cellulose as food item. American Viscose cellulose research.

Dixie Mercerizing Company 13

Move to Chattanooga. MIT course in textile microscopy. Difficulties in finding job during Depression. Laboratory on textile microscopy at Dixie Yarn Company. Making cotton look like rayon. Dye house. Mercerizing department. Color matching. Offers courses in textile microscopy and textile fibers. Quick-aging process for moonshine whiskey. Corn and athlete's foot medicine. Formation of chemical society.

Research Associate at the University of Chattanooga 16

American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists support of textile projects. AATCC Associate to study mercerizing. Develops standard test for mercerization. Testing lanolin samples for fatty acids. Use of tripoli to coagulate lanolin. Lamede, Inc. Partnership with L. F. Lamoreaux. Patent difficulties.

Hart Products Corporation 21

Searching for a job. Sylvania Industrial Corporation. Rejection by Sylvania of application for cellulose research. Director of Research at Hart Products. Owner's apartment. Plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Threatens to quit. Develops mercerizing system.

World War II 23

Assists Army Quartermaster Corps in quality control and mercerizing tests. Tricot fabric and mosquito netting. Zinc oxide and caustic soda. Rayon floc. Cellulose patents on viscosity control, solubility, and modifications. Edelstein process for cellulose solutions facilitates tricot fabric processing. Camouflage material. Sylvania and the Lilienfeld process. Patent infringements and Sylvania board chairman Emmerich.

Other Hart Products Activities 27

Celludye Corporation. Profits from cellulose patents. Catalytically-activated caustic (CAC) in tank car lots. Decision to leave Hart. Formation of Dexter Chemical Corporation.

Origin of Dexter Chemical Corporation 31

Partnership with Joseph Evans. Incorporation. First employees. Basis for operations of company. Selection of company name. Mercerizing chemicals. Problems with purchasing cresylic acid. Early financial aspects.

Development of Dexter Chemical Corporation 38

Involvement as president and technical director. Technical salesmen. Public relations. Phosphated surfactants (Strodex). Application to textiles and pulp and paper industry. Competition. Early sales figures. Expansion into new territories. Uron resins. Diversification.

Subsidiaries and International Operations 45

Leo Goldberg. Ventures in South America and Mexico. Sales in Israel. Dexter Chemical International. Dexter Chemical of Israel. Elimination of foreign subsidiaries. Current expansion into biochemicals. Structure of company foundation. Cross-fertilization between different industries.

History of Dyestuffs 52

MIT course in the history of chemistry. Importance of the history of dyeing to the textile industry. Articles in American Dyestuff Reporter. Benefit of history articles to Dexter Chemical Corporation. The use of history in science. Dyes in the textiles from the Bar Kochba Caves. Expeditions to Mexico.

American Chemical Society Division of the History of Chemistry 59

Edgar Fahs Smith Collection, University of Pennsylvania. Eva Armstrong. Herbert Klickstein. Divisional meeting in Philadelphia. Offers to serve as secretary of the Division. Chymia. Article on Priestley. Activities as Secretary. Wyndham Miles. Sister Saint John Nepumocene.

The Dexter Award 62

Origin. Ralph Oesper. Transfer of Divisional records to new secretary. Selection of Dexter Award recipients. Dexter Prize in the History of Technology. Williams Haynes. Eva Armstrong. Denis Duveen. Eduard Faber. Martin Levey. Blowpipe of James Curtis Booth.

Philanthropy 71

First trip to Israel. United Jewish Appeal. Yom Kippur War. Donation of library to the Hebrew University. The Sidney M. Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine. Donation of Community Center in Kiriat Shmona. Day Care Centers in Israel. Treatment of psoriasis. Einstein papers at the Hebrew University.

Notes 78

Index 81

  About the Interviewers

Jeffrey L. Sturchio

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an A.B. in history from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

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.

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