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Carl S. Marvel

Carl S. Marvel

Carl Marvel (right) and his colleague and friend Wallace Carothers caught this muskelunge on a fishing trip to Squaw Lake in Wisconsin, circa 1935. Carl Marvel Archives, CHF Collections.

  • Born: September 11, 1894, Waynesville, Illinois
  • Died: January 4, 1988

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0003
Interview Date: July 13, 1983
Location: Wilmington, Delaware
Interviewers: Leon B. Gortler and Charles C. Price
No. of pages: 56
Minutes: 150

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview, Carl Marvel speaks about his life and career as a chemist. He begins by recalling his youth on a farm and his early education. Considerations of his undergraduate days at Illinois Wesleyan College and of his graduate studies at the University of Illinois follow. Marvel then describes his first teaching job at Illinois, his colleagues, and the operation of the chemistry department. In the central portion of the interview, Marvel provides extended discussion of his consulting work for DuPont, his direction of the federal government's program on synthetic rubber during World War II, and his research on anti-malarial and chemical warfare agents. He then talks about his postwar research in polymer chemistry. Marvel concludes with an appraisal of his contributions to chemistry and remarks about his family, hobbies, and involvement with the American Chemical Society.


1915 A.B. and M.S., Chemistry, Illinois Wesleyan University
1916 M.A., Chemistry, University of Illinois
1920 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

Du Pont

1928 - 1988 Consultant

United States Rubber Reserve Corporation

1941 - 1944 Director, synthesis program

National Research Council

1944 - 1946 Chairman, panel to synthesize anti-malarial drugs

National Advisory Health Council

1945 - 1947 Consultant

National Science Foundation

1952 - 1954 Consultant

National Research Council

1954 - 1964 Consultant

University of Illinois

1920 - 1921 Instructor, Department of Chemistry

University of Illinois

1921 - 1923 Associate, Department of Chemistry

University of Illinois

1923 - 1927 Assistant professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Illinois

1927 - 1930 Associate professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Illinois

1930 - 1953 Professor of Organic Chemistry

University of Illinois

1953 - 1961 Research professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Illinois

1961 - 1988 Emeritus research professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Arizona

1961 - 1988 Professor, Department of Chemistry


1938 Elected to of National Academy of Sciences
1944 Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society
1945 President, American Chemical Society
1946 Honorary D. Sc. degree, Illinois Wesleyan University
1950 Willard Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society
1955 Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists
1956 Joseph Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society
1963 Honorary D. Sc. degree, University of Illinois
1964 International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
1965 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry
1967 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemistry
1970 Dr. honoris causa, University of Louvain

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Youth 1

Life in Waynesville, Illinios. Parents' influence. Schooling at a private academy. Family's financial situation.

Undergraduate Education at Illinois Wesleyan CollegeYouth 3

Atmosphere at a small school. Science courses. Decision to attend graduate school. Influential professors. Research on turbidity of beer. Completion of master's degree. State of chemistry during World War I.

Graduate Education at the University of Illinois 6

Synthesis work. Manufacture of chemical compounds. Production of octane. Coursework and textbooks. Bacteriology work. Faculty members and graduate students. Atmosphere in Illinois' Department of Chemistry. Departmental seminars. Influence of Karl Ziegler's work. Polymer research.

Teaching at the University of Illinois 12

First teaching job. Industrial orientation of chemistry. Kharasch and the University of Chicago. Several job offers. Duties as an instructor. Illinois during the 1920s. Robert Woodward. Colleagues. E. P. Kohler. Graduate students. How Illinois' chemistry department interacted with other chemistry departments. Research conditions and funding.

Industrial Consulting and Research 25

Retained by Du Pont. Work with different divisions within Du Pont. Polymer chemistry. Chemists active in the 1930s. Changes in consulting work. Growth of biochemistry. The development of physical organic chemistry.

Research during World War II 30

The National Defense Research Committee. Research on chemical warfare agents. Establishment of synthetic rubber program at Illinois. Chemists involved in rubber research. The One Essential Ingredient (OEI) in synthetic rubber. Malaria research. Draft deferments. Postwar inspection of German synthetic rubber research.

Postwar Research 37

Position on National Science Foundation review board. Polymer research for air force. Research on polybenzimidazole. Development of polymer chemistry. Faculty members at Illinois. Position at the University of Arizona.

Reflections 41

Important contributions to chemistry. Bird watching. Work with the American Chemical Society. Professional awards. Prospects for chemistry today. Discussion about family members.

Index 51

  About the Interviewer

Leon B. Gortler

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds A.B. and M.S. degrees from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.

Charles C. Price

Charles C. Price was a chemist who received his bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College in 1934 and his Ph.D. degree from Harvard University two years later. He taught at the University of Illinois, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Pennsylvania. His research focused on the mechanisms of organic reactions and the synthesis of organic compounds. Price published almost 300 articles, wrote seven books, and edited several chemical journals. He also consulted extensively and was president of the American Chemical Society.

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