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Joseph Labovsky

Portrait of Joseph Labovsky
  • Born: September 10, 1912, Kiev, Ukraine
  • Died: March 24, 2013

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0148
Interview Date: July 24, 1996
Location: Wilmington, Delaware
Interviewer: John Kenly Smith
No. of pages: 53
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Joseph Labovsky opens the interview with a discussion of his childhood in Ukraine and his family experiences there after his father emigrated to the United States in 1914. Labovsky moved with his mother and siblings to Komarine, a village adjacent to Chernobyl on the Dnieper River, where the family survived the Communist Revolution, civil war, famine, and a pogrom which killed fifteen of the twenty Jewish families there. In 1922, Labovsky's father was able to locate the family and make arrangements for a safe escape through Eastern Europe to the United States. Labovsky describes childhood interactions with the Polish and Red Armies in Komarine; impressions of settling in Wilmington, Delaware, where his father was a successful tailor; resuming his early education; and learning English. Next, Labovsky discusses his high school graduation and his father's successful efforts to secure him a job at DuPont, where he began working as lab assistant for Dr. Wallace Carothers' research group. He reflects upon his experiences and perceptions of early nylon work. Labovsky also looks back on his relationships with other scientists, particularly his mentor Carothers who directed him towards a DuPont college scholarship. In 1930, Labovsky began training at Bliss Electrical College but transferred after one year to the Pratt Institute, where he earned a degree in industrial chemical engineering. In 1934, he graduated and, after struggling in the Depression-era job market, happily accepted an offer to return to Carothers' research group and nylon development work. The interview continues as Labovsky details both the research group's work testing polymers and discovering polymer 66, and differences in the work environments under Carothers and, later, George Graves. After a discussion of work to develop the fiber 66 commercial process, Labovsky shares recollections of Carothers and the circumstances surrounding his untimely death in 1937. Throughout the second half of the interview, he chronicles the commercial development and success of nylon, providing details on spinning, drawing, quality control, and commercial processing. Labovsky describes problems and solutions in the history of nylon, including his War Production Award and three-part "A" bonus for reducing nylon waste through procedures to repair spinnerets during the Korean War. He describes his career path from laboratory technician to process control foreman to management training specialist for DuPont International--emphasizing the importance of troubleshooting, problem solving, and standard practice procedures throughout. The interview closes with comments on safety in nylon production and DuPont's overall safety record.


1931 Master Electrician Bliss Electrical College, Takoma Park, Maryland
1934 B.S., Industrial Chemical Engineering, Pratt Institute
1936 Chemistry, Psychology, and German (evening school), University of Pennsylvania

  Professional Experience

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1930 - 1930 Summer Chemist's Helper, Experimental Station, Wilmington, Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1934 - 1937 Laboratory Technical Assistant, Dr. Carothers's Research Group, Experimental Station, Wilmington, Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1937 - 1938 Foreman, Nylon Semi-Works, Experimental Station

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1938 - 1939 Shift Supervisor, Nylon Pilot Plant, Experimental Station

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1939 - 1941 Process Control Foreman, Seaford, Delaware, Nylon Plant

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1941 - 1955 Quality Control Supervisor, Spinneret Laboratory Supervisor, and Textile Area Supervisor, Martinsville, Virginia, Nylon Plant

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1955 - 1963 Training Supervisor, Textile Research Laboratory, Tyvek® Development Group, Chestnut Run Laboratory, Wilmington, Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1963 - 1969 Management Training Specialist, DISA (DuPont International), Geneva, Switzerland

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1969 - 1975 Training and Industrial Relations Supervisor, Chestnut Run Laboratory, Wilmington, Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1975 Retired

SNIA Viscosa

1975 - 1979 Consultant, SNIA Viscosa, Italy

SNIA Viscosa

1975 - 1979 Consultant, SNIA Viscosa, Ireland


1975 - 1979 Consultant, Montefibre, Italy


1975 - 1979 Consultant, Montedison, Italy

Diamond Shamrock

1975 - 1979 Consutlant, Diamond Shamrock, France

Diamond Shamrock

1980 - 1985 Retired


1985 - 1995 Consultant, NILIT, Ltd., Israel


1996 Retired


1941 War Production Board Commendation
1997 Wilmington High School, Graduate Wall of Fame

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood in Ukraine and United States 1

Early life in Ukraine. Father leaving Russia for United States. Family's experiences during World War I, Communist Revolution, and Russian Civil War. Family surviving pogrom. Family rejoining father in United States, settling in Wilmington, Delaware. Additional memories of Ukraine. Early schooling in United States and graduation from Wilmington High School.

Early Career at DuPont and College Education 13

Working for DuPont, assisting Dr. Wallace Carothers with laboratory work during the Depression. Setting up equipment for experiments, other responsibilities. Discussions with Carothers about music and literature. Receiving scholarship fund from Lammot duPont, president of DuPont. Enrolling in Bliss Electrical College. Studying industrial chemical engineering and graduating from Pratt Institute. Returning to work with Dr. Carothers' research group.

Development of Nylon 19

Working with Dr. D. D. Coffman, testing polymers. Polymer 66 discovered and developed. Working with Dr. Paul J. Flory. Changes in work atmosphere with Dr. George Graves supervising research group. Dr. Carothers' trip to London for Michael Faraday Society Lecture. Creation of manufacturing group to develop Fiber 66 commercial process. Friction between manufacturing and research groups. Recollections of Dr. Carothers' life and death. Challenges in manufacturing nylon. Discussion of nylon spinning, drawing, and quality control testing. Effects of World War II and getting nylon to commercial production. First commercial nylon plant opening in Seaford, Delaware.

Later Career at DuPont 35

Assignment to plant process control. Transfer to DuPont's second nylon plant in Martinsville, Virginia. Problems encountered in making nylon—including sizing and personnel problems—and solutions. Writing troubleshooting manual. Receiving War Production Award. Production problems during Korean War. Three-part "A" Bonus for repairing damaged spinnerets and promotion to production area manager. Transfer to DuPont International (DISA) in Geneva, Switzerland. Comments on safety in nylon production.

  About the Interviewer

John Kenly Smith

John Kenly Smith, Jr., is an associate professor of history at Lehigh University, where he has been a faculty member since 1987. He coauthored Science and Corporate Strategy: DuPont R&D, 1902–1980, published in 1988. He served with the DuPont R&D History Project from 1982 to 1986 and was Newcomen Fellow in Business History at Harvard Business School from 1986 to 1987. He received the Newcomen Prize in Business History for Best Book Published in America and is on the editorial board of American Chemical Society Books.

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