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James D. Idol

  • Born: August 7, 1928, Harrisonville, Missouri

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0122
Interview Date: December 8, 1994
Location: Rutgers University,
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 45
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

James D. Idol begins his interview with a description of his childhood in Harrisonville, Missouri. His interest in chemistry was encouraged by neighbors and by friends. He attended William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where he studied chemistry under Professor Frank Edson and graduated with an A.B. in 1949. He immediately went on to graduate school at Purdue University, where he studied under Dr. Earl McBee. His interest in industrial chemistry led him to minor in chemical engineering. Upon receiving his Ph.D. in 1955, he went to work for Standard Oil of Ohio, where he soon pioneered an economically advantageous process for the production of acrylonitrile. He then served as part of the team that developed a plant in Lima, Ohio for the commercial production of acrylonitrile in a record-breaking three years. He then turned his attention to novel uses for acrylonitrile, which led to Barex® resin, among other things. In 1977, he moved on the Ashland Chemical, where he occupied a position that combined management and scientific duties. At Ashland, he developed the propylene-CO process for methyl methacrylate. His career in industry ended in 1988 when he was invited to become a professor at Rutgers University and head of the Center for Packaging Science and Engineering. He pays special attention to individuals who have influenced him throughout his life, and he concludes with some personal insights on the meanings of innovation, teamwork, and research in science and technology.


1949 A.B., Chemistry, William Jewell College
1952 M.S., Chemistry/Organic, Purdue University
1955 Ph.D., Chemistry/Organic, minor Chemical Engineering, Purdue University

  Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO)

1955 - 1956 Project Associate

Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO)

1956 - 1960 Project Leader

Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO)

1960 - 1963 Research Associate

Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO)

1963 - 1965 Section Supervisor

Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO)

1965 - 1968 Research Supervisor

Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO)

1968 - 1977 Research Manager

Ashland Chemical Company of Ashland Oil, Inc.

1977 - 1979 Research Manager

Ashland Chemical Company of Ashland Oil, Inc.

1979 - 1988 Vice President and Research Director

Rutgers University

1988 Distinguished Professor; Director, Center for Packaging Science and Engineering; Deputy Director, National Center for Plastics Recycling Research


1965 Modern Pioneer Award, National Association of Manufacturers
1968 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1971 Citation for Achievement, William Jewell College
1974 Joseph P. Stewart Distinguished Service Award, American Chemical Society
1975 Creative Invention Award, American Chemical Society
1976 Special Merit Award, Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO) Board of Directors
1978 Life Fellow, American Institute of Chemists
1979 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
1980 Honorary D.Sc., Purdue University
1986 Member, National Academy of Engineering
1988 Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science
1988 F. G. Ciapetti Award and Lectureship, Catalysis Society of North America
1991 Rutgers University Diploma of Recognition, Distinguished/Named Chairs
1994 American Management Association Council Service Award
1996 National Historic Chemical Landmark Designation to SOHIO Acrylonitrile Process

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Childhood in Harrisonville, Missouri. Family and early influences. Childhood interest in chemistry. Experience at Harrisonville High School.

College Education 4

William Jewel College. Undergraduate influences and experiences. Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Purdue University. Study of halogen chemistry under Earl McBee. Thesis and teaching experience.

Career at Standard Oil of Ohio 10

Recruitment by Everett Hughes. Influence of Dr. Franklin Veatch. Organization and dynamics of Veatch's research group. Research leading up to the development of a new acrylonitrile process. Commercialization of the process. Uses developed for acrylonitrile. Influence of Dr. Henry Gray. Position of polymer chemistry in academia.

Move to Ashland Chemical 31

Combination of management and scientific opportunities. Propylene-CO process for methyl methacrylate and its economic advantages. Other projects at Ashland.

Professorship at Rutgers University 32

Packaging schools at Rutgers and elsewhere. Need to acknowledge packaging engineering as an engineering field.

Conclusion 33

Personal meaning of scientific innovation. Thoughts on scientific teamwork and heritage. Professional contacts and associations. Concerns about downsizing. Reflections on winning the Perkin Medal. Thoughts about development of new technology.

Notes 38

Index 39

  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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