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Malcolm M. Renfrew

  • Born: October 12, 1910, Spokane, Washington
  • Died: October 12, 2013, Moscow, Idaho

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0076
Interview Date: August 13, 1987
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 51
Minutes: 120

  Abstract of Interview

Malcolm Renfrew grew up in the Northwest. Despite an early interest in music, drama and the arts, Renfrew studied chemistry at the University of Idaho, in part, influenced by a chemist uncle. After serving as a teaching assistant in both physics and chemistry and completing a Masters thesis, he joined George Glockler at Minnesota for research on Raman spectroscopy. He recalls contemporaries at both Moscow and Minneapolis, as well as a summer spent on the road with a tent show. When Renfrew joined the Arlington laboratories of du Pont, he was much involved with plastics development, especially of Teflon, and he recalls the enthusiastic interest aroused by the disclosure of its properties at an ACS meeting in 1946. Malcolm Renfrew has long had a special interest in health and safety in the chemical environment, and he recounts laboratory accidents during the development of PTFE. After moving to General Mills and then to Spencer Kellogg, ascending the research management ladder, Renfrew went back to his alma mater in 1959 as head of physical science. He completes the interview with an account of his return to teaching.


1932 B.S., Chemistry, University of Idaho
1934 M.S., Chemistry, University of Idaho
1938 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Minnesota

  Professional Experience

University of Idaho

1932 - 1933 Fellow in Physics

University of Idaho

1933 - 1935 Teaching Assistant in Chemistry

University of Minnesota

1935 - 1937 Teaching Assistant in Chemistry

University of Minnesota

1935 - 1938 DuPont Fellow

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1938 - 1944 Research Chemist, Plastics Department, Arlington, N.J.

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1946 - 1946 Supervisor of Process Development, Plastics Department, Arlington, N.J.

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1946 - 1948 Supervisor of Product Development, Plastics Department, Arlington, N.J.

General Mills, Inc.

1949 - 1952 Head of Chemical Research Department

General Mills, Inc.

1952 - 1953 Director of Chemical Research

General Mills, Inc.

1953 - 1954 Director of Chemical Research and Development

Spencer Kellogg and Sons, Inc., Buffalo, New York

1954 - 1958 Director of Research and Development

University of Idaho

1959 - 1976 Professor of Chemistry

University of Idaho

1959 - 1967 Head of Physical Science Department

University of Idaho

1968 - 1973 Head of Chemistry Department

University of Idaho

1976 Professor Emeritus

University of Idaho

1977 - 1978 Executive Vice President, Idaho Research Foundation, Inc.

University of Idaho

1978 - 1986 Patent Director, Idaho Research Foundation, Inc.


1976 Honorary D.Sc. University of Idaho
1976 Norris Award, Northeastern Section, American Chemical Society
1977 University of Idaho Alumni Hall of Fame
1977 College Chemistry Teacher Award, Manufacturing Chemists Association
1977 University of Minnesota Alumni Achievement Award
1985 Division of Chemical Health and Safety Award, American Chemical Society
1986 Mosher Award, Santa Clara Valley Section, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Family background and growing up in Idaho and Washington. Early interests in music and drama. Influence of a chemist uncle.

University of Idaho 3

Chemistry studies under Von Ende and Cady. Effects of the Depression. Research for M.S. degree. Colleagues at Idaho. Summer with tent show.

University of Minnesota 13

Teaching assistant in chemistry; chlorine incident. Raman spectroscopy with Glockler. Contemporaries.

DuPont Arlington Laboratories 17

Plastics development. Brooklyn seminars. Teflon and wartime needs. Laboratory accidents. Unveiling of Teflon at ACS meeting. Photopolymerization studies.

General Mills Company and Spencer Kellogg & Sons 34

Reactive polyamide resin research. Move to Kellogg, new research laboratory.

Return to University of Idaho 37

Head of physical science, recruitment of new faculty. Teaching responsibilities. Laboratory safety concerns. ACS activities; column in the Journal of Chemical Education.

Addenda 41

Notes 45

Index 47

  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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