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Russell E. Marker

  • Born: March 12, 1902, Hagerstown, Maryland
  • Died: March 3, 1995, Wernersville, Pennsylvania

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0068
Interview Date: April 17, 1987
Location: Pennsylvania State University,
Interviewer: Jeffrey L. Sturchio
No. of pages: 45
Minutes: 180

  Abstract of Interview

Russell Marker begins the interview by describing his childhood in a farming community in Maryland, his early schooling, and his growing interest in organic chemistry while a student at the University of Maryland. He then talks about his first jobs at the Naval Powder Factory and the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, where he devised the octane rating system. Marker then discusses his subsequent move to the Rockefeller Institute. He elaborates on his interest in synthesizing human hormones from plants, resulting in a fellowship at Penn State and his first travels to Mexico to examine indigenous plant life. Marker then describes his laboratory work and business ventures in Mexico, including his role in forming the companies Syntex and Botanica-Mex. Marker concludes by discussing his leaving chemical research and newfound interest in silver reproduction.


1923 B.S., Chemistry, University of Maryland
1924 M.S., Chemistry, University of Maryland
1925 Completed thesis requirements for Ph.D. University of Maryland

  Professional Experience

Naval Powder Factory, Indian Head, Maryland

Naval Powder Factory, Indian Head, Maryland - 1926 Chemist

Ethyl Gasoline Corporation

1926 - 1928 Chemist

Rockefeller Institute

1928 - 1935 Chemist

Pennsylvania State University

1935 - 1936 Fellow, Department of Chemistry

Pennsylvania State University


Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

Pennsylvania State University

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry

Pennsylvania State University

1942 - 1942

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Syntex S.A.

1944 - 1945 Partner

Botanica-Mex S.A.

1945 - 1946 Owner

Hormosynth S.A.

1946 - 1949 Consultant


1969 Honorary Member, Mexican Chemical Society
1984 The Russell Marker Lectures in the Chemical Sciences, Pennsylvania State University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family, Childhood and Early Education 1

Born and raised in Hagerstown, Maryland, the oldest of three children. Father works on different farms until he can afford his own. Two years of schooling before high school. No chemistry or physics as high school student because only commercial courses are offered.

University of Maryland 2

University of Maryland looking for students after World War I. Enrolled in summer classes by father. Receives good grades and is accepted as a full-time student. Develops interest in organic chemistry and laboratory work. Receives fellowship for his graduate work. Completes thesis requirements for Ph.D. but does not complete necessary academic courses.

First Job Experiences and Marriage 4

Accepts position with the Naval Powder Factory. Stays for seven months while searching for other employment. Marries in 1925. Employed by the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation in Yonkers, NY - works on organometallics and octanes. Meets P.A. Levene from his association with Frank Whitmore. Is asked to produce a compound for the Rockefeller Institute. Offered position there as an organic chemist.

The Rockefeller Institute and Penn State 9

Investigates the Walden inversion. Develops strong interest in hormones and is awarded a research grant at Penn State. Becomes full professor. Travels to Europe for first time, meets fellow chemists. Begins work with pregnanediol. Reaction of other organic chemists. Marker Degradation.

Mexico 17

Problems in assembling equipment and chemicals. Initial work involves local plant life, including Dioscoreas. Dangers of living and working in Mexico during World War II. Develops relationship with Park, Davis Company.

Formation of Syntex and Botanica-Mex 23

Meets Federcio Lehmann and Emerik Somlo of Laboratorios Hormona. Formation of Syntex to produce progesterone. Cheated out of money by Somlo. Formation of Botanica- Mex. Workers encounter many security problems. Becomes affiliated with the Richter family. Problems with production; steady travel back to Mexico becomes necessary. Botanica-Mex sold to SmithKline & French.

Publication of Papers and Awards 30

Publishes papers on sterols while still in Mexico. Summary paper of work on steroidal sapogenins is published. Training of Ph.D. and postdoc students. Advantages of working with sterols. Awarded at the meeting of the Chemical Congress in Mexico.

Retirement from Chemical Research 33

Classified work for the United States and Mexico. Develops interest in silver reproduction. Divides time between Mexico, State College and Europe. Describes pieces of silver collection.

Notes 38

Index 41

  About the Interviewer

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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