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Herman Mark

Herman Francis Mark

Herman Francis Mark in 1986 displaying Hermann Staudinger’s rigid-rod model of macromolecules, CHF Collections. Photograph by Jim Bohning

  • Born: May 3, 1895, Vienna, Austria
  • Died: April 6, 1992, Austin, Texas

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0030
Interview Dates: February 3, 1986 and March 17, 1986 and June 20, 1986
Location: Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, New York
Interviewers: James J. Bohning and Jeffrey L. Sturchio
No. of pages: 117
Minutes: 570

  Abstract of Interview

In this first of three interviews Herman Mark starts with his study of relatively stable free radicals under the direction of Wilhelm Schlenk, first in Vienna and then in Berlin. After a post­doctoral period at the University of Berlin, Mark was invited by Haber to join the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute at Dahlem. There, Mark collaborated with Polanyi and other colleagues in using x-ray diffraction to establish the crystal structures of small organic molecules and metals. This work was extended to naturally­occurring organic materials such as cellulose and silk. As a consequence, Mark was able to play an important role at the critical 1926 meeting in Düsseldorf, which brought together Staudinger and the opponents of the macromolecular hypothesis.

Mark's next move was to I.G. Farben, where he established a polymer laboratory. That was also where he first collaborated with Kurt Meyer, with whom he published the pioneering x­-ray crystallographic structure of cellulose. Mark describes the laboratories, research directions, and colleagues during his stay at Ludwigshafen. The worsening political climate in Germany prompted Mark to accept a chair at his alma mater. Back in Vienna, he set up the first comprehensive polymer research and teaching institute. Mark concludes this interview by describing the circumstances of an approach from the Canadian International paper Company and his decision to leave Austria.

The second interview details his experiences in the Canadian paper industry and his early ventures into publishing with the first of the Polymer Monograph series. Mark explains how he was able to resume an academic career by starting the polymer program at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, which soon became world-renowned. The wartime years brought new projects and young faculty to Brooklyn. Mark briefly describes this period before going on to the immediate post-war era and the later expansion of the Polymer Research Institute, which forms the introductory section of the final interview. In this interview, Mark tells of his part in the formation of the literature of polymer science and technology: journals, monographs, reference books and encyclopedias. Mark's many international collaborations are outlined, spanning a pre­war expedition to a Caucasian glacier to a demonstration of the nylon rope trick to Emperor Hirohito. Finally, Mark refers to his more recent research interests and describes the changes in research funding that have taken place during the past four decades.


1921 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Vienna

  Professional Experience

University of Berlin

1921 - 1922 Instructor in Organic Chemistry

Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Fiber Chemistry, Berlin-Dahlem

1922 - 1926 Research Fellow

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

1927 - 1932 Associate Professor

I. G. Farbenindustrie

1927 - 1928 Research Chemist

I. G. Farbenindustrie

1928 - 1930 Group Leader

I. G. Farbenindustrie

1930 - 1932 Assistant Research Director

First Chemical Institute, University of Vienna

1932 - 1938 Professor of Chemistry and Director

Canadian International Paper Company, Hawkesbury, Ontario

1938 - 1940 Director

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1940 - 1942 Adjunct Professor

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1942 - 1964 Professor

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1961 - 1964 Dean of Faculty

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1965 - 1992 Dean and Professor Emeritus

Polymer Research Institute

1946 - 1964 Director


1928 Hertz Medal, Germany
1933 Austrian Academy, member
1934 Bucharest Academy, member
1934 Exner Medal, Austria
1936 Chemical Society of Madrid, member
1937 Chemical Society of Bucharest, member
1937 Austrian Society of Textile Chemists and Colorists, member
1937 Austrian Society for X-Ray Research, member
1937 Medal of the Austrian Society of Textile Chemists and Colorists
1938 Budapest Academy, member
1943 New York Academy of Science, member
1944 American Institute of Physics, member
1947 Royal Institution of Great Britain, member
1947 Max Planck Society, member
1948 Harrison Howe Award, American Chemical Society
1948 Franqui Medaille, Belgium
1949 American Leather Society, member
1949 Amsterdam Academy, member
1950 Honorary degree, University of Liège, Belgium
1950 Vienna Physical Chemistry Society, member
1950 Textile Institute of Great Britain, member
1950 Indian Academy of Sciences, member
1951 Austrian Association of Paper Chemists, member
1952 Austrian Society for Wood Research, member
1952 National Institute of Science of India, member
1953 Weizmann Institute of Science, member
1953 Honor Scroll of the American Institute of Chemists
1953 Legion d'Honneur
1953 Honorary degree, University of Uppsala, Sweden
1954 Honorary degree, Free University of Berlin, West Germany
1954 Medal of Honor, Milan Polytechnic Institute
1954 Italian Chemical Society, member
1955 Honorary Fellow, University of Vienna
1955 Honorary degree, Technical University of Berlin, West Germany
1955 Golden Honor Medal, University of Vienna
1955 Trasenster Medal, Association of Belgian Engineers
1956 Honorary degree, Lowell Technological Institute
1956 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member
1960 Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society
1960 Honorary degree, Technical University of Munich, West Germany
1961 Distinguished Service Medal, Syracuse University
1961 National Academy of Science,member
1962 Phi Lamba Upsilon Honorary Chemical Society, member
1962 International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
1962 Gold Medal, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science
1962 Honorary degree, Gutenberg University, Mainz, West Germany
1964 Honorary degree, Karl Franzens University, Graz, Austria
1965 Honorary degree, Technische Hochschüle, Vienna, Austria
1965 Honorary degree, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
1965 Honorary degree, Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia
1965 Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1965 Olney Medal, American Chemical Society
1965 Plastics Institute of America, member
1965 Austrian Society for Plastics Technology, member
1965 The Fiber Society, member
1966 Soviet Academy of Sciences, member
1966 Austrian Honor Cross in Science and Arts
1966 Cresson Medal
1968 Swinburne Medal, Plastics Institute of Great Britain
1968 International Academy of Wood Science, member
1970 City of Vienna Prize for Natural Sciences
1970 Distinguished Service Award, Polytechnic Chapter Sigma Xi
1971 The Franklin Institute, member
1971 Honorary degree, Jassy University, Rumania
1972 Society of Polymer Science of Japan, member
1972 Scientific Achievement Medal Award, City College Alumni Association
1972 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1973 Indian Chemical Society, member
1973 Honorary degree, Universidad Autonoma Madrid, Spain
1974 Croatian Society of Plastics Engineers, member
1975 Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society
1975 Austrian Grand Silver Medal with Star
1975 150th Anniversary Prize, Aachen and Munich Insurance Association
1975 Honorary degree, Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
1976 Honorary degree, Long Island University, New York
1976 Honorary degree, Montan University, Leoben, Austria
1976 Plastics and Coatings Award, American Chemical Society
1976 Harvey Prize, Israeli Technion
1976 Plastics Hall of Fame, member
1977 The Chemists Club, member
1977 The New York Academy of Sciences, member
1977 Distinguished Service Award, Polytechnic University of New York
1978 Humboldt Prize
1978 Plastics "Vision" Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
1978 Chemical Society of Japan, member
1978 American Institute of Chemists, member
1979 Yugoslav Society of Plastics and Rubber Engineers, member
1979 Indian Society for Polymer Science, member
1979 The Royal Institute of Chemistry, member
1979 Wolf Prize, Israel
1979 Honorary degree, University of Nottingham, Great Britain
1980 Honorary degree, University of Vienna, Austria
1980 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry, Great Britain
1980 National Medal of Sciences
1980 Jabotinsky Centennial Medal, Israel
1980 Silver Medal, International Commission for Fiber Science Research, France
1980 Colwyn Medal, Plastics and Rubber Institute, Great Britain
1980 Gesellschaft für Chemiewirtschaft, Vienna
1981 American Society for Testing Materials, member
1982 Gold Award, Society for Plastics Technology, Vienna
1982 Polymer Education Award, American Chemical Society
1982 Honorary degree, University of Massachusetts
1984 30th Anniversary Lecture Medal, Milan Polytechnic Institute
1985 Gold Merit Medal, International Center for Research on Synthetic Fibers
1985 The Textile Institute of Great Britain, Honorary Fellowship
1986 Mayor's Award of Honor for Science and Technology, City of New York
1987 Bronze Medal, Universite Claude Bernard, Lyon
1987 Medal of the City of Lyon, France
1987 Bronze Medal, Conseil Général du Rhône, France
1987 Mayor's award of Honor for Science and Technology, City of Vienna,Austria
1987 Honorary degree, Universite Claude Bernard, Lyon, France
1988 Heyrovsky Medal, Czechoslovak Academy of Science
1988 Goodyear Medal, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Universities of Vienna and Berlin 1

Leading professors at the University of Vienna. Graduate study with Schlenk and move to Berlin with him, along with three colleagues. Berlin as cultural center.

Kaiser Wilhelm Institute 3

Conversation with Haber and circumstances of transfer to the Kaiser Wilhelm Textile Institute at Dahlem. Start of x-ray studies. Polanyi and other colleagues. Crystal structures of simple organic molecules and metals. Extension of studies to macromolecular compounds. Collaboration with Colloid Department. International visitors. Test of Compton experiment, contact with Einstein. Contemporary German physical chemistry; quantum theory, wave mechanics. Hungarians in Berlin scientific circles; recollections of Nernst and Haber. Berlin; culture, economy and politics. Research funding and personal finances during hyperinflation. Staudinger and the macromolecular controversy; the Düsseldorf meeting.

I.G. Farbenindustrie 15

Conversation with Meyer and establishment of laboratory at I.G. Farben. Cellulose crystal structure. Dispute with Staudinger on polymer conformation as evidenced by viscosity. Organization and function of Ludwigshafen laboratories; colleagues there. Pilot plant; trouble-shooting. Patents. Awareness of Carother's studies. Synthetic rubber research at I.G. Farben. Styrene monomer synthesis. Publications and contact with academic circles; teaching at Karlsruhe. Standards of laboratory equipment.

Transfer to University of Vienna 29

Conversation with Gaus, Nazi assumption of power in Germany. Offer and acceptance of chair at University of Vienna. Family, and their reaction to move. Faculty at Vienna, new curricula, research projects, graduate students. International contacts; Cambridge Faraday Society Discussion. Meeting with Carothers. Approach by Thorne of Canadian International Paper Company.

Canada 37

Departure from Austria. Nature of Canadian International Paper Company laboratories. Duties as research director.

Publishing 42

Proskauer and Interscience; Polymer Monograph Series. Textile and tire-cord rayon; molecular weight distribution. Large-scale production, statistical sampling for specifications. Relations with DuPont.

Early days at Brooklyn 47

Circumstances of move to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Other academic opportunities, visit to General Electric laboratories. Family vacation in Florida. Shellac Bureau; planning the polymer curriculum at Brooklyn. Research directions. X-ray studies, appointment of Fankuchen. Molecular weight and distribution studies. Appointment of young faculty. Mechanical properties. Prominence of polymer education; part-time graduate students. Publications, seminars, symposia. Effect of World War II. Weasel, DUQC and Habakkuk.

Post-war years at Brooklyn 61

Part in setting-up of Weizmann Institute. Consulting. New research directions; copolymerization, polymer characterization, thermal transitions, crystallization of supercooled polymers.

Expansion of polymer studies at Brooklyn 69

Polymer Research Institute and activities. Expansion into larger facilities. Loss and replacement of faculty. Foundation of Journal of Polymer Science and other publications. Influence of Gordon Conferences and bridging the academic/industry gap. Examples of novel developments introduced at Gordon Conferences. Establishment of encyclopedias. Polymer Monographs. Expansion of polymer journals in U.S. and abroad. Japanese polymer science.

International Activities 86

Pre-war joint venture, H/D ratio in glacial ice. Start of polymer division in IUPAC. Pulp and paper chemistry in forestry division of FAO. Royal demonstration in Japan. UNIDO fiber and plastics teaching institutes. Technology transfer, UNIDO venture in India. Visit to China in 1972.

More Recent Research Programs 91

High performance polymers and composites. Recent funding sources at Polymer Research Institute. Consulting. Experimental methods, transfer of knowledge.

Soviet Contacts 98

Pre-war contacts in Vienna; post-war international visits. The Tashkent boycott; human rights.

Notes 100

Index 104

  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.

Jeffrey L. Sturchio

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an A.B. in history from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

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