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Paul A. Wilks, Jr.

Paul A. Wilks, Jr.

Portrait of Paul A. Wilks, Jr.

  • Born: June 16, 1923, Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Died: October 11, 2008, Lebanon, New Hampshire

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0267
Interview Date: October 29, 2002
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: David C. Brock and Arthur Daemmrich
No. of pages: 49
Sponsor: Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation
Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Paul A. Wilks, Jr. begins the interview by discussing his early years and family life in Springfield, Massachusetts. After graduating from Springfield Technical High School, Wilks went to Harvard University, where he majored in engineering. In 1945, he began working at Perkin-Elmer, Inc. (now PerkinElmer). Wilks worked as an assembler before becoming marketing director in 1952. In 1957, Wilks left PerkinElmer and, with Charles W. Warren, founded the Connecticut Instrument Company, a company that manufactured accessories for the infrared industry. Wilks and Warren sold their company to R. Bowling Barnes in 1962. After working for the Barnes Engineering Company for a year as commercial products manager, Wilks left to form the Wilks Scientific Corporation. This company manufactured a variety of spectroscopy products. Wilks hired Anthony C. Gilby, an infrared spectroscopist from England, who helped in the development of these products. This company was sold to the Foxboro Company in the 1970s, and Wilks managed the Wilks division of the company until 1979. After leaving Foxboro, Wilks founded the General Analysis Corporation to market products that monitored workspace environments. The company was unable to create a market in this area and changed its focus towards producing products for other industries, such as the beverage industry. Wilks decided to retire in 1993 and General Analysis was eventually sold to OI Corporation. Although theoretically retired, Wilks started another company in the 1990s, Wilks Enterprise, Inc. This company continues Wilks' efforts to produce applicable products based on infrared spectroscopy and other technologies. Wilks concludes the interview with reflections on the state of infrared technology and thoughts about his career.


1941 Springfield Technical High School
1944 B.S., Engineering (Class of 1945. Graduated in 1944 because of accelerated wartime schedule), Harvard University

  Professional Experience


1944 - 1952 Assembler/Designer


1952 - 1957 Director, Marketing

Connecticut Instrument Company

1957 - 1962 Co-Founder and Assistant CEO

Barnes Engineering Company

1962 - 1963 Manager, Commercial Products

Wilks Scientific Corporation

1963 - 1977 Founder and CEO

Foxboro Company

1977 - 1979 Manager, Foxboro Wilks Division

General Analysis Corporation

1979 - 1993 Founder and CEO

General Analysis Corporation

1993 - 1999 Member, Board of Directors

Wilks Enterprise, Inc.

1997 Founder and CEO


1981 Williams-Wright Award, Coblentz Society
2004 Pittcon Heritage Award, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Life, Education, and Early Career 1

Parents' background. High school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Harvard University. Introduction to Richard S. Perkin. Joining Perkin-Elmer, Inc. Interest in all things technical. Perkin-Elmer Instrument News for Science and Industry.

The Perkin-Elmer Years 4

Impressions of Richard S. Perkin. Max D. Liston. John White. Van Zandt Williams. R. Bowling Barnes. Model 12 and Model 21. Sales. Involvement with E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company. Television industry. Trip to Radio Corporation of America. Howard H. Cary. Ultraviolet region. On-line infrared (IR) instruments. Development of gas chromatography. Warren Electronics.

Connecticut Instrument Company (CIC) 10

Charles W. Warren. Contract for Sidewinder dampers. Ultrasonic machining. R. Norman Jones. Cavity cells. CIC as an infrared accessory company. Funding of CIC. Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy. Eastern Analytical Society. Attenuated total reflection (ATR). Sale to R. Bowling Barnes.

Wilks Scientific Corporation 12

N. James Harrick. Attachment with a multiple reflection ATR. Work on gas chromatography infrared spectroscopy. Myron J. Block. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy instruments. Relationship with R. Bowling Barnes. Wilks Scientific products and markets. Anthony C. Gilby. Rivalry between Perkin-Elmer and Beckman Instruments, Inc. Circular variable filters. Optical Coating Laboratory Inc. and Rolf F. Illsley. Emissions testing. Wilks Scientific as instrument company. Problems with Perkin-Elmer. MIRAN 1A. Sale to Foxboro Company. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

General Analysis Corporation (GAC) 20

Management style. Meeting Arnold O. Beckman. Facilities in Milton Keynes, England. Problems with workspace testing. Needs of the beverage industry. Retirement at age seventy. Donald K. Wilks.

Wilks Enterprise, Inc. 23

Fat analyzer. EPA and freon. In-line sensors based on IR. InterBev. Beer industry. Beverage dispensers. Applications for the auto industry. Discussion of future products and markets.

More thoughts on Perkin-Elmer, Inc. 27

Joint Committee on Atomic and Molecular Physical Data and JCamp-DX. Computers and IR. John White and the White cell. Perkin-Elmer optics department. Perkin-Elmer's efforts in infrared. Atomic energy project. Reflections on Van Zandt Williams. Coblentz Society. Development of Model 21. Norman Wright. Competition between instrument companies. Key developers of Model 21. Discussion of Perkin-Elmer's customers. Success of Perkin-Elmer. Funding of Wilks Scientific.

Reflections on the Field and Final Thoughts 37

Thoughts about available technologies. Switch from liquid to gas analyzers. General Analysis Corporation. Retirement in 1993. GAC board of directors. Competition between IR and other types of instruments. Importance of the evolution of electronics to IR. Rise of near-infrared. Final thoughts on career.

Notes 40

Index 41

  About the Interviewer

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Arnold O. Beckman

CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry was started with a generous grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1987.


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