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Hoyt C. Hottel

Hoyt C. Hottel

CHF Collections

  • Born: January 15, 1903, Salem, Indiana
  • Died: January 5, 2000

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0025
Interview Dates: November 18, 1985 and December 2, 1985
Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 480

  Abstract of Interview

Hoyt C. Hottel begins the first interview with a description of his childhood and education in Indiana, Missouri, and later Illinois, where his father was a salesman in the rubber industry. He praises his early schooling and various teachers and subjects at Hyde Park High School. Hottel discusses his entry into Indiana University's chemistry program at age 15 and courses and professors there, before turning to graduate work in chemical engineering at MIT with Walter Whitman; and relationships with Tom Sherwood, Warren K. Lewis, and Robert T. Haslam. His experiences at MIT's chemical engineering practice school-including work at a Bethlehem Steel plant, Pennobscot Chemical Fire Company, Revere Sugar Company and Merrimack Chemical Company-led to work as assistant director at the steel plant and influenced later research directions. Hottel next describes his interest in radiation from gases in relation to industrial furnace design; his decision to pursue doctoral research on flame propagation in hydrogen oxygen mixtures; the reasons he postponed writing his dissertation; and subsequent appointments as fuel and gas engineering assistant professor, Fuels Research Laboratory acting director, and division of industrial cooperation assistant director. As a central part of this interview, Hottel details his experiences while advising U.S. armed forces and national committees during WWII, including work on flamethrowers, incendiary bombs, smoke obscuration, napalm, and fire warfare. He closes the first interview with a discussion of his post-war career at MIT, work on turbine combustion and peacetime fire research at the Bureau of Standards.

Hottel opens the second interview with a review of his early experiences as a graduate student and young professor at MIT; he comments on early research, interdepartmental relations, the development of the fuel and gas engineering program, consulting work for private industry, and supervision of graduate students and their research. He briefly discusses his research involving rocket combustion, gas turbines, and Project Meteor, before describing the details of MIT's solar energy research and opinions on solar energy in general. He touches on involvement with the International Flame Foundation before closing the interview with discussion of post-retirement activities, including teaching combustion and radiative transfer courses and co-authoring a book on new energy technology.


1922 A.B., Chemistry, Indiana University
1924 S.M., Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1924 - 1925 Assistant Director, School of Chemical Engineering Practice, Buffalo Station

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1926 - 1927 Research Associate

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1927 - 1927 Research Associate in Applied Chemistry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1928 - 1928 Research Associate in Fuel and Gas Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1928 - 1931 Assistant Professor of Fuel and Gas Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1931 - 1932 Associate Professor of Fuel and Gas Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1932 - 1934 Acting Director, Fuels Research Laboratory

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1932 - 1936 Assistant Director, Division of Industrial Cooperation and Research

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1932 - 1941 Associate Professor of Fuel Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1934 - 1968 Director, Fuels Research Laboratory

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1938 - 1964 Chairman, Solar Energy Research Committee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1938 - 1944 Gas Turbine Committee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1941 - 1965 Professor of Fuel Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1945 - 1950 Project Meteor Steering Committee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1965 - 1968 Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1968 Professor Emeritus

National Research Council

1931 - 1935 Committee on Heat Transmission

National Research Council

1956 - 1967 Chairman, National Academy of Sciences and Committeee on Fire Research

National Research Council

1971 - 1973 NRC-NAE Panel on Coal Gasification Technology

National Research Council

1975 - 1978 Ad Hoc Panel on Advanced Power Cycle

National Research Council

1976 - 1980 Committee on Chemistry of Coal Utilization

National Research Council

1980 - 1982 Committee on Assessment of Industrial Energy Conservation Program

National Research Council

1985 - 1988 Panel for Fire Research

National Defense Research Committee

1942 - 1945 Section Chief on Fire Warfare

National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

1942 - 1946 Gas Turbine Subcommitee

Armed Forces Special Weapons Project

1946 - 1956 Chairman, Thermal Panel

American Flame Research Committee of the International Flame Foundation

1952 - 1973 Chairman

Combustion Institute

1954 - 1964 Vice President

National Bureau of Standards

1965 - 1969 Advisory Panel, Research Division

National Bureau of Standards

1976 - 1980 Ad Hoc Evaluation Panel for Energy Conservation Program

National Academy of Engineering Task Force on Energy

1974 - 1974 Review Committee

National Academy of Sciences Advisory Group on Arid Zone Problems in Brazil

1974 - 1975 Member

Workshop Conference on Analytical Methods of Fire Safety for Buildings

1987 Member


1946 United States Medal for Merit
1946 King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom, Great Britain
1947 William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1960 Sir Alfred Egerton Gold Medal, The Combustion Institute
1960 Melchett Medal, Institute of Fuel, Great Britain
1963 Elected, National Academy of Sciences
1966 Max Jakob Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and American Society of Mechanical Engineering
1967 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1972 Fellow, American Insitute of Chemical Engineers
1974 Elected, National Academy of Engineering
1975 Farrington Daniels Award, International Solar Energy Society
1975 Esso Energy Award shared with Dr. H. Tabor, Royal Society (London)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Influence of grade and high school teachers. Chemistry major at Indiana University. Interest in rubber chemistry.

Graduate Education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6

Chemical engineering major at MIT. Master's thesis on rubber additives. Experiences at three stations of the School of Chemical Engineering Practice. Year as assistant to Bill Ryan at Buffalo station of Practice School. Doctor's thesis on combustion. Paper on heat transfer in furnaces. Paper on combustion and heat transfer with Robert T. Haslam.

Early Career at MIT 16

Appointment as assistant professor in fuel and gas engineering at MIT. Acting director, Fuels Research Laboratory. Assistant director, division of industrial cooperation.

World War II 18

Work on flamethrowers, incendiary bombs and smoke obscuration during World War II. Fire Warfare section chief for National Defense Research Committee. Development of Napalm. Bomb testing on mock Japanese and German villages at Dugway Proving Grounds. Trip to England to exchange information on fire warfare.

Post-War Career at MIT 35

Work on gas turbine combustion. Involvement in establishing Fire Center at the Bureau of Standards.

Further Details of Experiences at MIT 42

Review of experiences at the School of Chemical Engineering Practice. Early involvement in industrial furnace design. Interdepartmental relations at MIT. Development of fuel and gas engineering at MIT. Work on solution of exhaust-gas carbon monoxide problem for General Motors. Review of graduate students and theses.

Further Details of Wartime Experiences 53

Wartime research on rocket combustion and gas turbines. Involvement with Project Meteor and the Armed Forces Special Weapons project.

Further details of Career at MIT 58

Solar energy research as chairman of solar energy committee. Construction of solar houses. Funding of solar energy project. Opinions on the viability of solar energy. Involvement in the International Flame Foundation.

Post-retirement Work 66

Half-time courses in combustion and radiative transfer at MIT. Book on new energy technology with Jack Howard. Review of MIT colleagues.

  About the Interviewers

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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