New Search

Ivan Maxwell Robinson

  • Born: May 26, 1920, Lakeville, Nova Scotia, Canada

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0215
Interview Date: January 24, 2001
Location: Wilmington, Delaware
Interviewer: James G. Traynham
No. of pages: 34

  Abstract of Interview

Ivan Maxwell Robinson begins the interview with a discussion of his family life and education. He was born in the small village of Lakeville, Nova Scotia, where his father ran the general store, and his mother was a school teacher. Around sixth grade, Robinson's family moved to Kentville, Nova Scotia, where Maxwell Robinson attended junior high school and high school. After high school, Robinson earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry, with honors in 1941, from Acadia University. He obtained his master's degree in chemistry from the University of Toronto in 1942, and worked briefly for Canadian Industries Ltd. while studying. After a brief term of service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Robinson returned to college, where he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Purdue University in 1949. Robinson was interviewed by numerous corporations while studying at Purdue University, and decided that DuPont was the best place to do research. Subsequently, he moved his family to Wilmington, Delaware, and joined DuPont as a bench chemist. Robinson worked initially in Frank Gresham's research group trying to make a polyimide from a monoamine. By 1952, he successfully made a high-molecular-weight polyimide from a long-chain diamine. In that same year, Robinson was made a supervisor at DuPont. Robinson's group is credited with numerous chemical innovations, such as coordination polymerization, and copolymers of ethylene-sulfur dioxide. Robinson retired from DuPont as a research chemist in 1981 and joined Indiana University as a visiting scientist. Moreover, Robinson has been teaching genealogy at the Academy of Lifelong Learning for over 10 years. In 2000, Robinson was awarded the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. Robinson concludes the interview with a discussion of Karl Ziegler's and Giulio Natta's work on propylene polymerization, and its relationship to his group's work at DuPont.


1940 B.Sc., Chemistry, Acadia University
1941 B.Sc. (Hon), Chemistry, Acadia University
1942 M.A., Chemistry, University of Toronto
1949 Ph.D., Chemistry, Purdue University

  Professional Experience

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1949 - 1952 Research Chemist

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1952 - 1954 Supervisor

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1954 - 1961 Section Manager

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1961 - 1964 Manager, Technical Sales

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1964 - 1973 Laboratory Director

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1973 - 1975 Research Associate

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1975 - 1981 Research Fellow

Indiana University

1981 Visiting Scientist


2000 Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Education 1

Born in Lakeville, Nova Scotia. Father's general store. Moving to Kentville, Nova Scotia. Grade school and high school experiences. Undergraduate studies at Acadia University. Graduate studies at the University of Toronto. Working on the nitration of hexamethylenetetramine. Marriage to Jeannee. Work at Canadian Industries Ltd. Military service. Studying at Purdue University.

Research at DuPont 4

Moving to Wilmington, Delaware. Attending the World's Fair in 1939. Polyamide research in Frank Gresham's research group. The development of "Polymer E." Frank Gresham's management style. Polyethylene research with Arthur Anderson and N. G. Merckling. Working on coordination polymerization. The dispute over the U.S. patent for polypropylene.

Associates at DuPont 10

Donald H. Payne. Herbert S. Eleuterio. Rudolph B. de Jong. Making the ethylene sulfur-dioxide copolymer. Investigating potentially useful by-products at various DuPont facilities. Amalgamating the chemicals business into another department in 1959. Becoming a research associate in the chemicals, dyes, and pigments department. Working with Jay K. Kochi.

The Tyvek Story 14

DuPont's inability to capitalize on some significant inventions. Dan Strain's reluctance to share Tyvek. Robinson's notes on periodic meetings between the DuPont's groups, involving coordination polymerization. Robinson's thoughts on the organizational structure of DuPont.

Conclusion 17

Thoughts on winning the Lavoisier Medal for Technical Achievement. Participating in the Academy of Lifelong Learning. Robinson's family and hobbies. Brief discussion of the book, Science and Corporate Strategy.

Notes 28

Index 29

  About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible tax-deductible gift online.