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Max Tishler

  • Born: October 30, 1906, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Died: March 18, 1989, Middletown, Connecticut

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0008
Interview Date: November 14, 1983
Location: The Library at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
Interviewers: Leon B. Gortler and John A. Heitmann
No. of pages: 79
Minutes: 240

  Abstract of Interview

This interview discusses Max Tishler's life and career. Tishler reminisces about his family, early schooling, undergraduate education at Tufts, and graduate and postgraduate work at Harvard. He then talks about his colleagues at Harvard and the state of chemistry in the 1930s. The major portion of the interview contains Tishler's impressions of the research and development undertaken by Merck & Co. in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and of his role in that activity. He also describes individuals involved in that work and the major contributions that Merck & Co. made to combat disease. Tishler ends the interview by discussing his current activities at Wesleyan and presenting his views about the future direction of chemistry.


1928 B.S., Chemistry, Tufts College
1933 M.A., Organic Chemistry, Harvard University
1934 Ph.D., Chemistry, Harvard University

  Professional Experience

Harvard University

1930 - 1934 Teaching fellow, Department of Chemistry

Harvard University

1934 - 1936 Research associate, Department of Chemistry

Harvard University

1936 - 1937 Instructor, Department of Chemistry

Merck & Co., Inc.

1937 - 1941 Research chemist

Merck & Co., Inc.

1941 - 1944 Section Head in charge of Process Development

Merck & Co., Inc.

1944 - 1953 Director of Development Research

Merck & Co., Inc.

1954 - 1956 Vice President and Executive Director of Science Activities

Merck & Co., Inc.

1957 - 1970

President, Merck, Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories

Merck & Co., Inc.

1962 - 1970 Member, Board of Directors

Merck & Co., Inc.

1969 - 1970 Senior Vice President of Research and Development

Wesleyan University

1970 - 1974 Professor, Department of Chemistry

Wesleyan University

1972 - 1972 University Professor of the Sciences, Department of Chemistry

Wesleyan University

1973 - 1974 Chairman, Department of Chemistry

Wesleyan University

1974 - 1989 Emeritus professor, Department of Chemistry


1953 Elected to National Academy of Sciences
1961 Medal of the Industrial Research Institute
1963 Rennebohm Lecture Award, School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin
1963 Chemical Industry Award, Society of the Chemical Industry
1964 Lecture Award, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences
1964 Julius W. Sturmer Memorial Lecture Award, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy
1965 Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1968 Chemical Pioneer Award and Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemistry
1970 Joseph Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society
1972 Honorary Member, Societe Chimique de France
1974 Fellow, Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family and High School Years 1

Max Tishler's children, parents, and siblings. His difficult early years. A job in the pharmacy. Other odd jobs. High school.

Undergraduate Education at Tufts 4

Rationale for attending Tufts. Paying for the education. Prof. C. H. E. Allen recommends Harvard. Textbooks used at Tufts. Successful classmates.

Graduate Education at Harvard 8

A meeting with Prof. Kohler. Other graduate students. More recollections about Kohler. A poor job market.

Postgraduate Research at Harvard 10

James Conant. George Kistiakowsky. A study of hydrogenation. A fire in the lab. Arthur Becket Lamb. Structure determination in the l920s.

Colleagues and Chemistry in the 1930s 15

The efficacy of advanced laboratory equipment. Thomas (Jeff) Webb, Homer Adkins, and Louis Fieser. Kohler's research interests. The allene problem. Conant's presidency. Donald Cram, Melvin Newman, Emma Dietz, Mary Fieser, and Robert Woodward. Consulting. More about Kohler's research.

Research and Colleagues at Merck & Co. 28

How Randolph Major was hired. George Merck, Jr.'s, emphasis upon research. Merck & Co.'s early work with vitamins. How Merck personnel approached research problems. A comparison of Harvard's and Merck's laboratories. The farsightedness of Randolph Major. Karl Folkers. The central role of the Merck labs in the synthesis of vitamins. The synthesis of riboflavin. The role of development and of pilot plants. Vitamin K. W. L. Sampson, Kurt Ladenburg, and Karl Pfister. Aldomet. Movement from laboratory work to directing developmental research. Wartime work at Merck. Effective administration. Recruitment of chemists for Merck.

Development and Administration at Merck & Co. 41

Emphasis upon publication. An evaluation of Per Frolich's impact upon Merck's research and development. The formation of Merck Sharp and Dohme, a beneficial union. Merck's encouragement of its chemists to pursue graduate education. Tishler's responsibilities. Promotion to director of all research and development. Robert Denkewalter and Ralph Mozingo. Merck's penicillin project. Congressional scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry's wartime record. Vannevar Bush. Decision-making at Merck. A philosophy of administration. Impending retirement from Merck.

Major Contributions 56

Cortisone, streptomycin, penicillin, actinomycin, and penicillamine. Work with the American Chemical Society. Affiliation with the Society of Chemical Industry. Organic Syntheses. Awards.

Current Activities and Interests 60

Teaching at Wesleyan. Publication of papers. Views on the future direction of chemistry. Problems and opportunities. The contributions of Selman Waksman. More awards. Gardening. Student advising.

  About the Interviewer

Leon B. Gortler

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds A.B. and M.S. degrees from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.

John A. Heitmann

John A. Heitmann holds a B.S. degree in chemistry from Davidson College and an M.A. degree in history from Clemson University. From 1971 to 1977, he worked as a chemist in the metallurgical industry. He then studied at the Johns Hopkins University under Owen Hannaway and received his doctorate in the history of science in 1983.

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