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John C. Warner

  • Born: May 28, 1897, Goshen, Indiana
  • Died: April 12, 1989

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0044
Interview Date: February 8, 1984
Location: Gibsonia, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: John A. Heitmann
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 300

  Abstract of Interview

John C. Warner begins the interview with a discussion of his family and childhood years growing up on a farm. He developed an interest in science in high school due to the encouragement of his science teacher, G. W. Warner. He enrolled in Indiana University in 1915. There, he received his A.B. in chemistry in 1919, his M.A. in 1920, and his Ph.D. in 1923. While in college, Warner worked for the Barrett Company working on synthetic phenol processing. As a graduate student, he was a research chemist for the Cosden Oil Company. After working for Cosden for just under a year, he returned to Indiana University as a chemistry instructor while completing his graduate studies. In 1926, he joined the faculty of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon University) as a chemistry instructor. Warner spent the rest of his career at Carnegie. He rose through the university ranks, eventually becoming president of Carnegie Mellon in 1950. Warner restructured and developed the University's chemistry department. During his time at Carnegie, he worked closely with Charles Thomas on the chemistry, metallurgy, and plutonium purification aspects of the Manhattan Project. He also served as a liaison between Oak Ridge Laboratories and Monsanto Company for this project. Warner became a board member of Jones and Laughlin, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and served as director of Spang and Company. Warner concludes the interview with a discussion of his family and reflections on his role in the advanced educational development in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.


1919 A.B., Chemistry, Indiana University
1920 M.A., Chemistry, Indiana University
1923 Ph.D., Chemistry, Indiana University

  Professional Experience

Barrett Company

1918 - 1919 Chemist

Cosden Oil Company

1920 - 1921 Research Chemist

Indiana University

1922 - 1923 Chemistry Instructor

Wayne Chemicals Corporation

1924 - 1926 Research Chemist

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1926 - 1928 Chemistry Instructor

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1928 - 1933 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1933 - 1936 Associate Professor of Theoretical Chemistry

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1936 - 1938 Associate Professor of Metallurgy

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1938 - 1949 Professor of Chemistry and Department Head

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1945 - 1949 Dean of Graduate Studies

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1949 - 1950 Vice President and President Elect

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1950 - 1965 President

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1965 - 1989 President-Emeritus


1958 Pittsburgh Junior Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year Award
1963 Pittsburgh Graphic Arts Council Award
1964 Horatio Alger Award
1965 Western Pennsylvania Board of Industrial Realtors Award
1966 Pennsylvania Award for Excellence in Education
1968 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Indiana University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family History and Childhood 1

Parents and grandparents. Childhood on tenant farm. Early interest in science. Inspiring science teacher.

College and Graduate School 8

Fraternity and football activities. Faculty members. Chemistry department. Academic chemistry in the 1920s. Colleagues at Indiana University.

Early Work Experience 16

Wartime research at the Barrett Company. J. Bennett Hill. Harold Urey and other colleagues. Cosden Oil Company. Racial tension in Oklahoma. Louise Hamer.

Teaching career 23

Carnegie Tech chemistry department. Harry Seltz. History of Carnegie Tech. Developing graduate courses and choosing texts. Funding for graduate students. President Doherty. Kinetics research. Goals and guidelines for chemical education. Remembering graduate students: Paul Fugassi, Bill Svirbely, Dave McKinney, Sam Eagle and others.

Chemical Community of Pre-World War II 36

Farrington Daniels, Morris Kharasch, Jack Kirkwood, George Scatchard, Charles Price and Tom McCutcheon. Work of Martin Kilpatrick. Speakers at Carnegie Tech. Early years of chemistry department. Anti-Semitism in chemical profession.

Manhattan Project 45

Glenn Seaborg and the Chicago Group. The Hanford piles. Coordinating research. The bomb. Liaison between Monsanto and Oak Ridge.

Post War Environment at Carnegie Tech. 54

Slow beginnings. Becoming president of Carnegie Tech. Fundraising. Influence of Ben Fairless. Mellons and Scaifes. Educational goals.

Corporate and Committee Work 67

Jones & Laughlin, PPG, and the Dravo Corporation. Spang and Co. Louise Warner. ACS activities. Election to the Academy. Nuclear powered airplane. I. I. Rabi.

Final Thoughts 74

Future of fundamental research. Children. Science and engineering in developing nations. The Ford Foundation and UNESCO.

Notes 84

Index 85

  About the Interviewer

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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