New Search

J. Lawrence Wilson

  • Born: March 2, 1936, Rosedale, Mississippi

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0184
Interview Date: August 30, 1999
Locations: Rohm and Haas Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: James G. Traynham
No. of pages: 26
Minutes: 90
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

J. Lawrence Wilson begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood and early education. Wilson grew up in Rosedale, Mississippi, and attended Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. After high school, he received a Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University, where he majored in mechanical engineering. Wilson graduated in 1958, and he then served in the Navy for several years as a member of the SEABEEs, stationed in Bermuda. When he returned, Wilson attended Harvard Business School, receiving his M.B.A. in 1963. After graduate school, Wilson came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a friend to start a private equity firm. Two years later, he joined Rohm and Haas Company. Wilson discusses his experiences in operations research and as treasurer for Rohm and Haas subsidiary Warren-Teed. He also talks about his views on scientific innovation. Wilson further addresses the company's electronics business, his time in Europe, and the changes in Rohm and Haas and the chemical industry, in general, over the past three decades. Wilson concludes the interview with a discussion of the chemical industry's environmental concerns, Rohm and Haas's acquisition of Morton International, his work with the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and his family.


1958 B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Vanderbilt University
1963 M.B.A., Finance, Harvard University

  Professional Experience

United States Navy

1958 - 1961 Officer

Nyala Properties, Inc.

1963 - 1965 Vice President

Warren-Teed Pharmaceuticals

1967 - 1968 Treasurer

Warren-Teed Pharmaceuticals

1968 - 1969 Vice President

Consolidated Biomedical Laboratories, Inc.

1970 - 1971 President

Rohm and Haas Company

1965 - 1967 Staff Associate

Rohm and Haas Company

1971 - 1972 Executive Assistant to the President

Rohm and Haas Company

1972 - 1974 Treasurer

Rohm and Haas Company

1974 - 1977 Regional Director, Rohm and Haas, Europe

Rohm and Haas Company

1977 - 1986 Group Vice President and Director

Rohm and Haas Company

1986 - 1988 Vice Chairman

Rohm and Haas Company

1988 - 1999 Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer


1999 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Education 1

Growing up in Mississippi. Parents. Attending Culver Military Academy. NROTC scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Decision to study mechanical engineering.

Early Career 2

Naval service in Bermuda. SEABEEs. Graduate school at Harvard Business School. Setting up private equity firm in Philadelphia.

Rohm and Haas 4

Decision to join Rohm and Haas. Operations research. Running operations for Warren-Teed. Chemistry courses at University of Pennsylvania. Assistant to Vincent Gregory, Jr. Views on scientific innovation. Photoresists. Running the European businesses. Becoming Chief Financial Officer. Reorganizing company.

Industry and the Environment 11

Regulation. Superfund. Developing Responsible Care. Importance of public attitudes.

Changes in Chemical Industry 12

Becoming global. Consolidations within the industry. Future of chemical innovation.

Conclusion 16

Role in Chemical Manufacturers Association. Winning Chemical Industry medal. Retirement plans. Family life.

Notes 23

Index 24

  About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.

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@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible tax-deductible gift online.