New Search

J. Roger Hirl

  • Born: April 1, 1931, Bettendorf, Iowa

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0177
Interview Date: January 29, 1999
Location: Dallas, Texas
Interviewer: James G. Traynham
No. of pages: 29
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

J. Roger Hirl begins the interview with a discussion of his early life and education. Hirl grew up in Iowa and Minnesota. After graduating from high school, Hirl attended the University of Iowa, earning his B.L.S. in liberal studies in 1957. While he was still in school, Hirl was drafted to serve in the Korean War, returning to the University of Iowa two years later. His early focus in college was pre-med, but he soon switched to business and liberal arts. Hirl worked for Skelly Oil Company both during school and after graduation. In 1961, he joined Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, working in field sales. Six years later, he became a temporary assistant product manager in New York; this experience confirmed his desire to move into management at Olin. He continued to rise in sales management, moving from New York to Connecticut to Texas. He eventually became senior vice president of Olin Chemicals, a position he held until 1983, when he accepted an offer from Occidental Chemical Corporation (OxyChem). At Olin, Hirl was active in the litigation regarding DDT sediments and mercury emissions; as president of OxyChem, he became involved in the Love Canal situation. This interest in environmental concerns led him to become active in Responsible Care. Hirl also sought to improve OxyChem's safety record, and initiated special training programs. He discusses his view of chemical industry, his opinions on the future of chemical innovation, and OxyChem's involvement in the Asian market. Hirl concludes the interview with his reflections on winning the Chemical Industry Medal, a description of his family, his civic interests, and his views on attracting people to the chemical industry.


1957 B.L.S., Liberal Arts, University of Iowa

  Professional Experience

Olin Corporation

1960 - 1967 Field Sales, Blockson Chemical Company (Olin-Matheison Chemical Corporation)

Olin Corporation

1967 - 1968 Assistant Product Manager

Olin Corporation

1968 - 1970 Product Manager, Organic Chemicals

Olin Corporation

1970 - 1973 Regional Manager, Sales, Houston Division

Olin Corporation

1973 - 1976 Sales Manager, Industrial Products

Olin Corporation

1976 - 1977 Director of Marketing, Industrial Products

Olin Corporation

1977 - 1978 Vice President and General Manager, Industrial Chemicals Division

Olin Corporation

1978 - 1979 Vice President of Administration

Olin Corporation

1980 - 1983 Senior Vice President, Chemicals Group

Occidental Chemical Corporation

1983 - 1991 President

Occidental Chemical Corporation

1991 President and Chief Executive Officer



Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Canisius College

1992 Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, St. John's University
1994 Individual Award for Philanthropy, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
1996 Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, Niagara University
1997 Chemical Industry Award, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Early Education 1

Growing up in Iowa. Moving to Minnesota. Working on the farm. Davenport High School. Attending the University of Iowa.

University of Iowa 2

Studying pre-med. Serving in Korea. Interest in business. Degree in liberal studies. Family. Working for Skelly Oil Company.

Olin Corporation 3

Working in sales. Moving to Houston. Beginning in management. Moving up in management. Senior vice president. Decision to leave.

Environmental Concerns 6

EPA litigation on DDT sediments. Lawsuit on mercury emissions. Involvement in Responsible Care. Love Canal.

Occidental Chemical Corporation 9

Emphasis on safety. OSHA Star facilities. Innovative process technology.

Future of the Chemical Industry 14

Chemical innovation. Need to focus on environmental issues. Economic implications.

Conclusion 19

Receiving the Chemical Industry Medal. Honorary degrees. Family. Civic activities. Implications of liberal arts degree. Attracting youth to chemical industries.

Index 26

  About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

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.