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Roy J. Plunkett

Roy J. Plunkett

Roy J. Plunkett with a cable insulated with Teflon and a Teflon-coated muffin tin. Gift of Roy Plunkett. Courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

  • Born: June 26, 1910, New Carlisle, Ohio
  • Died: May 12, 1994

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0037
Interview Dates: April 14, 1986 and May 27, 1986
Locations: New York, New York; and Philadelphia, New York
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 43
Minutes: 180

  Abstract of Interview

Roy Plunkett starts this conversation with James Bohning by describing his family background. As the family were members of the Church of the Brethren it was natural for Plunkett to attend Manchester College, where Paul Flory was a close friend and near contemporary. Despite the rigors of the Depression, Roy Plunkett was able to complete his chemistry studies at Manchester College and to go to Ohio State University for graduate work in carbohydrate chemistry. An offer from DuPont sent Plunkett to the Jackson laboratories and the refrigerants group where an early assignment was the synthesis of tetrafluoroethylene. Plunkett tells the story of the plugged gas cylinder and his recognition of the unusual properties of the polymer. However, soon after this, Plunkett was moved to tetraethyl lead manufacture; he details his work there and his later career in the Organic Chemicals Department. The interview ends with the recognition of his pioneer work with Teflon and the honors it has brought him. In a brief second interview, Roy Plunkett tells of his common religious background with Paul Flory, their student days at Manchester College and Ohio State University, and their contacts over the years. The conversation ends with further recollections of the circumstances of the initial discovery of tetrafluoroethylene polymerization.

  Education

1932 A.B., Chemistry, Manchester College
1933 M.Sc., Chemistry, Ohio State University
1936 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Ohio State University

  Professional Experience

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1936 - 1939 Research Chemist, Jackson Laboratories

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1939 - 1945 Chief Chemist, Tetraethyl Lead Plant, Chambers Works

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1945 - 1949 Superintendent, Tetraethyl Lead Plant, Chambers Works

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1949 - 1950 Superintendent, Ponsol Colors, Chambers Works

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1950 - 1951 Assistant Manager, Chambers Works

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1952 - 1953 Manager, Chemical Development, Organic Chemicals

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1953 - 1960 Manager, Plants Technology, Organic Chemicals

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1960 - 1970 Director of Research, Freon Products, Jackson Laboratories

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1970 - 1975 Director of Operations, Freon Products Division, Organic Chemicals

  Honors

1951 John Scott Award, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia
1952 D.Sc., Manchester College
1968 D.Sc., Washington College
1969 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1973 Plastics Hall of Fame
1977 D.Sc., Ohio State University
1985 National Inventor's Hall of Fame, U.S. Department of Commerce
1986 Moissan Award, France
1988 John W. Hyatt Award, Society of Plastics Engineers

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Parents and siblings, influence of Church of the Brethren. High school.

Undergraduate Education 3

Manchester College, chemistry faculty. Flory as fellow student. The Depression and financial support.

Graduate Education 4

Ohio State University. Chemistry faculty and colleagues.

DuPont and Fluorocarbons 7

Jackson laboratories, refrigerants research and fluorocarbons. Tetrafluoroethylene, spontaneous polymerization in gas cylinder. Properties of product, early applications.

DuPont and Tetraethyl Lead 16

Transfer to TEL manufacture. Wartime demand. Recognition for Teflon acheivement, later applications.

Later career with DuPont 24

Chambers Works. Organic Chemical and Freons. Family, interests in antiques. Honors.

Second Interview 28

Church of the Brethren. Flory and family. Manchester College and contact with Flory; his early research. Further recollections of TFE polymerization.

Notes 40

Index 41

  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.

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