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H. Eugene McBrayer

  • Born: January 19, 1932, Birmingham, Alabama

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0144
Interview Date: May 11, 1995
Location: Mercer Island, Washington
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 41
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

Eugene McBrayer begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and early education in Birmingham, Alabama. His father was a small gasoline distributor for Amoco, and McBrayer helped with the business. His parents encouraged him to treat his education seriously, so he spent much of his time studying. This work paid off when he was offered an academic scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Though he had intended to study metallurgy, McBrayer soon became a chemical engineering major, earning his B.S. in 1954. The summer between his junior and senior years was spent working for Exxon's Baton Rouge, Louisiana refinery, and McBrayer decided that he wanted to work for Exxon after graduation. Because of his high grades and previous good work, he received an offer from Exxon, which he accepted. He moved quickly through the management ranks and, in 1964, was sent to New York City to work for Exxon Enterprises. In 1979, he moved again, to Exxon Chemical Corporation, becoming Vice President. Six years later, he became President and began to restructure the company. During his years at Exxon Chemical, McBrayer was heavily involved in environmental issues; he helped to set up Clean Sites, Inc. and has been active in the Chemical Manufacturers Association Responsible Care program. In 1992, the same year that he was awarded the Chemical Industry Medal, McBrayer retired from Exxon Chemical. McBrayer concludes the interview with his hopes for the future of the chemical industry.


1954 B.S., Chemical Engineering, Vanderbilt University

  Professional Experience

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1953 - 1953 Junior Chemical Engineer

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1954 - 1955 Chemical Engineer, Process Engineering Department

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1955 - 1957 Supervisor, Chemical Technical Service

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1957 - 1959 Division Foreman

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1959 - 1962 Assistant Division Head, Technical Division

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1962 - 1962 Head, Technical Division

Esso Standard, Baton Rouge Refinery

1963 - 1963 Head, Operating Division

Humble Oil and Refining Company

1963 - 1964 Head, Refinery Coordination Department

New Investments Department

1964 - 1965 Assistant Manager

Exxon Enterprises

1965 - 1977 President

Exxon Nuclear Company

1977 - 1979 Chief Executive Officer

Exxon Chemical Company

1979 - 1986 Executive Vice President

Exxon Chemical Company

1986 - 1992 President

Exxon Chemical Company

1992 Retired


1992 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. Father's career in gasoline distribution. Influence of parents. Importance of education.

College Years 3

Scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Decision to study chemical engineering. Summer work at Exxon's Baton Rouge Refinery.

Early Career 5

Returning to Exxon. Decision not to pursue advanced degree. Rapid advancement at Baton Rouge Refinery. Competition at Exxon. Division of Exxon's chemical company from oil company.

Research and Development 12

Clinton facility. Attempts to increase R&D at Exxon. Importance of researchers. Encouraging innovation.

Diversification of Exxon 18

Moving to New York. Development of Vydec and low-cost fax machine. Exxon Nuclear Company. Belief in nuclear energy. Exploring uranium. Work with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Public disenchantment with nuclear energy. Importance of diversification.

Later Career 21

Working with Edwin Holmer. Matrix management system. Involvement in Chemical Manufacturers Association. Development of Responsible Care. Organizing Clean Sites, Inc. Environmental work with the Conservation Foundation.

Conclusion 31

Retirement. Involvement with Hercules. Final thoughts on the chemical industry.

Notes 37

Index 38

  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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