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Chalmer G. Kirkbride

  • Born: December 27, 1906, near Tyrone, Oklahoma Territory
  • Died: June 15, 1998

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0113
Interview Date: July 15, 1993
Location: Washington, D.C.
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 59
Minutes: 210
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Chalmer Kirkbride begins the interview by describing his family background and childhood in Oklahoma and Kansas. During high school, Kirkbride's interests were influenced by his brother-in-law, a chemist for Sherwin-Williams. Kirkbride studied chemical engineering at the University of Michigan and spent summers working in the oil fields. He was recruited on campus by Standard Oil of Indiana and worked at the Whiting refinery. Kirkbride also worked for the Pan American Transport Company and Magnolia Petroleum Corporation before being appointed as the first distinguished engineering professor at Texas A&M University. In 1947, Kirkbride returned to industry when he was recruited by the Houdry Process Corporation. He became president of Houdry before moving to Sun Oil Company, where he created a commercial development department and began taking an active interest in environmental issues. After his retirement Kirkbride became president of the Cecil County Anti-Pollution league, founded Kirkbride Associates, and participated in board activities at Widener University.


1930 B.S.E., Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan
1930 M.S.E., Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan

  Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company (Indiana), Whiting, Indiana

1930 - 1934 Chemical Engineer, Research Department

Pan American Refining Company (Amoco), Texas City, Texas

1934 - 1941 Director of Technical Services

Chemical Warfare Service

1935 - 1940 Second Lieutenant

Magnolia Petroleum Company (Mobil Oil), Dallas, Texas

1942 - 1944 Chief of Chemical Engineering Development

Texas A&M University

1944 - 1947 Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests

1946 - 1946 Consultant, Secretary of War

Houdry Process Corporation

1947 - 1952 Vice President, Research and Development

Houdry Process Corporation

1947 - 1962 Member, Board of Directors

Houdry Process Corporation

1952 - 1956 President and Chairman of the Board

Catalytic Construction Company

1952 - 1956 Director

Sun Oil Company

1956 - 1960 Executive Director, Research, Engineering, and Patents

Sun Oil Company

1960 - 1970 Vice President, Commercial Development, Research, Engineering, and Patents

Sun Oil Company

1963 - 1970 Member, Board of Directors


1970 - 1974 Consulting Engineer

Federal Energy Administration

1974 - 1974 Petroleum and Chemical Specialist

Kirkbride Associates

1977 - present President


1951 Professional Progress Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1959 Sc.D. (honorary), Beaver College (Arcadia University)
1960 Eng.D. (honorary), Drexel University
1964 Engineer of the Year, Delaware County Chapter, The Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers
1965 Kirkbride Hall of Science and Engineering, Widener University
1967 National Academy of Engineering
1967 Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineering
1968 Distinguished Public Service Award, U.S. Navy
1970 Eng.D. (honorary), Widener University
1970 Engineering Centennial Medal, Widener University
1971 George Washington Award, Philadelphia Engineering Club
1976 Fuels and Petrochemical Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1983 Eminent Chemical Engineer, American Institute of Chemical Engineering

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Childhood 1

Parents settling in Oklahoma Territory. Family move to Caney, Kansas. Early education. High school athletics. High marks in chemistry and math. Family's influence in pursuing higher education, chemistry.

University of Michigan 6

Summer employment in the oil fields. Curriculum, faculty, fellow students.

Standard Oil of Indiana 11

On-campus recruitment. Work at Whiting refinery. First assignments. Papers on heat transfer and vertical tubes. Learning process engineering.

Pan American Petroleum Transport Company and Magnolia Petroleum Corporation 16

Move to Texas City. Meeting wife. Commission to Chemical Warfare Service. Making toluene. Marriage. Move to Dallas.

Texas A & M University 23

Thoughts on engineering and the humanities. Appointment as first distinguished professor in engineering. Research projects. Publications. Bikini atomic bomb tests.

Houdry Process Corporation 28

Recruitment by Art Pew and Art Danner at AIChE meeting. Director of research position. Co-workers. Connection with Sun Oil. Presidency. Patent infringement suit with Mobil Oil.

Sun Oil Company 36

Creation of commercial development department. Transition from technical to administrative work. Puerto Rico Project to manufacture lubricating oils. Environmental concerns. Oceanography work.

Cecil County Anti-Pollution League 42

Retirement from Sun. Presidency of Anti-Pollution League opposing B. F. Goodrich acrylonitrile plant on C&D Canal. Consulting contracts. Association with Widener University.

Notes 50

Index 52

  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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