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Howard S. Turner

  • Born: November 27, 1911, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0281
Interview Date: September 9, 2002
Location: Dunwoody, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 15

  Abstract of Interview

Howard S. Turner begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood and his early interest in chemistry. After attending the George School for two years, he attended Swarthmore College and received a bachelor's in chemistry. Shortly after graduating from Swarthmore in 1933, Turner was accepted as a Ph.D. candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1936, Turner received his Ph.D. in chemistry with a minor in chemical engineering from MIT. Turner started his career with E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company working in the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. While at DuPont, Turner researched new uses for polymer 66 and nylon, in addition to developing and testing Corfam. In 1947, after eleven years with DuPont, Turner left the company to become the director of research and development for the Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company. In 1954, Turner left Pittsburg Consolidated to become the vice president of research and development for Jones & Laughlin Steel Company (J&L). At J&L, Turner reorganized and focused the company's research and development program. In 1965, Turner left J&L to become president of Turner Construction Company, in New York. The company, started in 1902 by his uncle, was among the top construction firms in the country. Turner became chairman of the board in 1971, and remained so until his retirement in 1978. Turner concludes the interview by describing his affiliations with other companies and a short reflection on his career.


1933 A.B., Chemistry, Swarthmore College
1936 Ph.D., Chemistry with a Minor in Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1936 - 1947 Researcher

Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company

1947 - 1954 Director, Research and Development

Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

1954 - 1965 Vice President, Research and Development

Turner Construction Company

1965 - 1970 President

Turner Construction Company

1971 - 1978 Chairman of the Board

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Experiments 1

Founding of the family business. Early interest in chemistry. Early experiments.

College and Graduate Work 2

Chemistry at Swarthmore. Summer job with Sinclair Oil. Ph.D. program at MIT. Studying Friedel-Crafts reaction. Meeting Katharine S. Turner.

Working for E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company 4

Experimental Station. Robert B. Woodward. Corfam shoes. Expanding uses of nylon.

Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company and Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation 8

Coal to gas program. Major reorganization and refocus of research and development.

Turner Construction Company 10

Expansion of the family business. Succession to the top.

Conclusion 11

Affiliations and reflections.

Index 12

  About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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