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Harold E. Thayer

  • Born: March 3, 1912, Rochester, New York
  • Died: August 23, 1998

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0120
Interview Date: December 1, 1994
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 35
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

The interview begins as Harold Eugene Thayer recalls his family background and growing up in Rochester, New York, during the early Depression. He remembers the strong influence of his mother and his decision to attend MIT, where he pursued a course combining chemical engineering and business administration. As the interview continues, Thayer describes his first job, training in sales at American Cyanamid and his decision to leave for a position with Mallinckrodt Chemical Works. At Mallinckrodt, Thayer became involved in work for the War Production Board and then the Manhattan District, where he managed much of the company's uranium processing. The central portion of the interview focuses on Thayer's long-standing outspokenness in management discussions, his relationship with Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr., and his rise through management to presidency of the company. As president, Thayer was responsible for Mallinckrodt's strong growth, accomplished primarily by structural reorganization, developing the company's niche in the diagnostic products market, and making key successful acquisitions. While the interview highlights Thayer's views on the importance of teamwork, selflessness, and integrity throughout the company's work, it also examines some management mistakes and problems over the years. Concluding comments describe Thayer's community affairs work, his views of government regulation and chemical innovation, and his pride in receiving the Society of Chemical Industry Medal.


1934 B.S., Chemical Engineering Administration, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

American Cyanamid Company, Calco Division

1934 - 1939 Engineer, Technical Sales Department

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1939 - 1941 Sales Research and Development

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1941 - 1943 Coordinator, War Production Board

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1943 - 1952 Project Manager, Manhattan District/Atomic Energy Commission Plants

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1950 - 1959 Vice President

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1952 - 1955 Director of Development

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1955 - 1958 Project Manager, Atomic Energy Commission Plant

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1959 - 1960 Executive Vice President

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1960 - 1978 President

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1965 - 1981 Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1981 - 1982 Chairman/Director, Executive Committee


1969 Silver Beaver Award, Boy Scouts of America
1970 Distinguished Executive of Year, Sales and Marketing Executives of St. Louis
1971 St. Louis Award, National Confederation of Christians and Jews
1971 St. Louis Award, National Jewish Hospital and Research Center
1972 St. Louis Globe-Democrat Man of the Year
1974 Silver Antelope Award, Boy Scouts of America
1974 Right Arm St. Louis Award
1974 St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association
1974 University of Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering
1976 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

High school in Rochester, NY. College funds raised selling flower seeds.

College Education and Early Professional Experience 3

B.S. from MIT in chemical engineering administartion. Sales position with American Cyanamide Company.

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works 6

Responsibilities at Mallinckrodt during World War II. Relationship with Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Development of uranium production.

Vice Presidency of Mallinckrodt 11

Appointment as Vice President of Mallinckrodt. Development of narcotics production. Research department at Mallinckrodt. Activities as Director of Development.

Presidency of Mallinckrodt 14

Development of Relationship with Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Division of Mallinckrodt into three departments. Growth of radiopharmaceutical division. Production of photographic chemicals. Acquisitions of Mallinckrodt. Operating Committee. Philosophy of management. Research at Mallinckrodt. Holes Committee. International expansion of Mallinckrodt.

Sale of Mallinckrodt to Avon 27

Society of Chemical Industry Medal. Opinions on the future of chemical research and development. SCI Medal.

Notes 31

Index 32

  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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