New Search

Calvin S. Fuller

Calvin Fuller

CHF Collections, Photograph by Jim Bohning

  • Born: May 25, 1902, Chicago, Illinois
  • Died: October 28, 1994, Vero Beach, Florida

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0020
Interview Date: April 29, 1986
Location: Vero Beach, Florida
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 56
Minutes: 180

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview Dr. Fuller traces his early years and the development of his interests in radio and in chemistry. Encouraged by an outstanding high school teacher, Fuller won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. Economic pressures forced him to break studies for periods of employment in the analytical laboratories of the General Chemical Company and as a photoengraver at the Chicago Tribune, but Fuller persists and completes his doctorate under W. D. Harkins. Dr. Fuller enlivens the interview with recollections of Harkins and Julius Stieglitz. Appointment as a research chemist under R. R. Williams at Bell Laboratories introduces Calvin Fuller to the infant science of synthetic polymers and to x­ray crystallography. World War II sees Fuller in Washington, D.C., heading polymer chemistry research as part of the synthetic rubber program. On return to Bell Laboratories after the war, Fuller decides to move to solid state chemistry and describes his work on semiconductors, leading to the development of the photovoltaic cell.


1926 B.S., Chemistry, University of Chicago
1929 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of Chicago

  Professional Experience

General Chemical Company

1920 - 1922 Analyst

Chicago Tribune

1924 - 1930 Analyst

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1930 - 1942 Physical Chemist

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1942 - 1944 Chief, Polymer Research, Office of the Rubber Director

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1944 - 1950 Plastics Chemist

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1950 - 1967 Chemical Physicist

United States Department of Defense

1945 - 1950 Consultant, Research and Development Board


1956 John Scott Medal, City of Philadelphia
1963 John Price Wetherill Medal, Franklin Institute
1964 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1981 Krupp Prize
1985 Photovoltaic Founders Award, IEEE

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Background of the Fuller and Souther families. Early interest in radio encouraged by uncle. Schooling in Chicago and developing liking for chemistry at high school. Influence of a physics teacher and scholarship to the University of Chicago.

Employment in the Chemical Industry and University Studies 5

Routine chemical analysis. Two year period of undergraduate study. Return to General Chemical Company, transfer to the Chicago Tribune. Summer classes at the University of Chicago; lectures from visiting scientists. Continuation as graduate student. W. D. Harkins as research advisor for project on magnetic susceptibility.

Bell Laboratories 20

Interview by R. R. Williams and position at Bell Labs. Effects of the Depression. Initial assignment on wire insulation and early polymer chemistry research. Synthesis and x-ray crystallography. Bell Laboratories organization in the thirties. Development of polymeric materials, especially in electrical applications.

Washington, D.C. and the Synthetic Rubber Program 31

Personalities and organization in the Rubber Program. Debye and early Gordon Conferences. Alleged novel rubber processes; a trip to Hollywood movie set, and a 'polyisoprene' synthesis. Further governmental responsibilities.

Return to Bell Laboratories 41

Organizational changes. Decision to move from polymer science to solid state chemistry. Diffusion in crystals. The photovoltaic cell. Work with Chapin and Pearson.

Notes 49

Index 51

  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.

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.