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Ernest H. Volwiler

Ernest H. Volwiler

CHF Collections

  • Born: August 22, 1893, Hamilton, Ohio
  • Died: October 3, 1992, Lake Forest, Illinois

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0050
Interview Date: August 18, 1986
Location: Lake Forest, Illinois
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 38
Minutes: 150

  Abstract of Interview

Ernest Volwiler begins this interview by briefly discussing his early years in Ohio, leading to college study at Miami University, where he first became interested in chemistry. He remembers the influence of faculty there and his wish to undertake graduate studies at the University of Illinois. He recounts the circumstances of his decision to proceed to the Ph.D. program after completion of his Master's degree. Research work with Roger Adams and the summer organic chemicals production enterprise helped to introduce Volwiler to drug synthesis. His long career with Abbott Laboratories started in organic synthesis, including some plant production responsibilities. Volwiler recalls Dr. Abbott as well as some of his fellow workers in the laboratories in the 1920s and 1930s. World War II saw the production of penicillin and company expansion. Volwiler was a member of the pharmaceutics investigating team sent to Germany immediately after the end of the war and he describes his experiences there. Post-war advancement led Volwiler to the presidency of Abbott Laboratories, and he discusses how he trimmed the production line and initiated development into new areas. His ACS activities culminated in his election as Society President in 1950. Volwiler ends his interview with Bohning by reflecting on the nature of the modern pharmaceutical industry.


1914 B.A., Chemistry, Miami University
1916 M.A., Chemistry, University of Illinois
1918 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

Reilly Township Public School, Butler County, Ohio

1910 - 1911 Teacher

Miami University

1913 - 1914 Teaching Assistant, Chemistry Department

University of Illinois

1914 - 1917 Teaching Assistant, Chemistry

University of Illinois

1915 - 1915 Chemist, Organic Chemical Manufacture (summer)

University of Illinois

1916 - 1917 Chemist-in-Charge, Organic Chemical Manufacture (summer)

University of Illinois

1917 - 1918 Fellow in Chemistry

Abbott Laboratories

1918 - 1920 Research Chemist

Abbott Laboratories

1920 - 1930 Chief Chemist

Abbott Laboratories

1930 - 1933 Director of Research

Abbott Laboratories

1933 - 1946 Vice President, Research and Development

Abbott Laboratories

1946 - 1950 Executive Vice President

Abbott Laboratories

1950 - 1958 President and General Manager

Abbott Laboratories

1951 - 1961 President, Abbott Laboratories Fund

Abbott Laboratories

1958 - 1958 Chairman of the Board

Abbott Laboratories

1958 - 1961 President, The Abbott Foundation

Abbott Laboratories

1958 - 1961 Chairman of the Board, Abbott Laboratories International Co.

Abbott Laboratories

1958 - 1961 Chairman of the Board, Abbott Laboratories Universal, Ltd.

Abbott Laboratories

1961 Consultant (retired)


1940 Modern Pioneers Award
1946 D.Sc. (Honorary), Miami University
1947 Honor Scroll Award, American Institute of Chemists
1949 D.Sc. (Honorary), Northwestern University
1951 Centennial Award, Northwestern University
1953 LL.D. (Honorary), Coe College
1954 LL.D. (Honorary), Knox College
1954 D.Sc. (Honorary), Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science
1954 Chemical Industry Award
1955 Industrial Research Award
1958 D.Med.Sc. (Honorary), Southwestern at Memphis
1958 D.Sc. (Honorary), St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences
1958 Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society
1958 Citation of Honor, Indiana Technical College
1959 Sesquicentennial Award, Miami University
1959 D.Sc. (Honorary), University of Illinois
1960 Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists
1977 D.H.L. (Honorary), Lake Forest College
1986 Inventors Hall of Fame

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Schooling 1

Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio. One-room schoolhouse and a small high school.

College Studies 3

Courses and Faculty of Miami University. Laboratory studies and summer employment. Graduate study at the University of Illinois, research with Derick and Adams. The summer organic chemicals manufacturing program and introduction to drug synthesis.

Early Career with Abbott Laboratories 12

Synthetic organic chemistry; plant production. Anesthetics. Recruitment of chemists for Abbott Laboratories. Colleagues and outside collaborators. Pharmacological testing. Drug synthesis, organization of research work, publications and patents.

World War II Activities 23

Penicillin production. Development of antibiotics and the production of sulfa drugs. Company expansion. Fact-finding mission to Germany.

Post-war Career 27

Growth of the pharmaceutical industry. ACS activities and Presidency of the Society. Trimming production line at Abbott as company president, development of new areas. Company acquisition in pharmaceutical industry, target strategies in research and development.

Notes 33

Index 34

  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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