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John H. Wotiz

John Wotiz

CHF Collections

  • Born: April 12, 1919, Ostrava, Czechoslovakia
  • Died: August 21, 2001, Morehead, Kentucky

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0197
Interview Dates: August 7, 2000 and August 8, 2000 and August 10, 2000
Locations: New Castle, Delaware; Washington, Delaware; and New Castle, Delaware
Interviewer: Herbert T. Pratt
No. of pages: 151

  Abstract of Interview

John Wotiz begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Wotiz first developed an interest in chemistry from his tutor. After graduating high school, Wotiz attended Technical University of Prague, emphasizing chemical engineering. Due to the rising threat of Nazi invasion, Wotiz and his brother left Czechoslovakia for the United States in 1939. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Wotiz received scholarship to attend Furman University, where he completed his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1941. Wotiz then attended the University of Richmond, receiving his master's degree in chemistry in 1943. While working towards his Ph.D., Wotiz served in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service. After receiving his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Ohio State University in 1948, Wotiz accepted an instructor position with the University of Pittsburgh. He remained there for nine years, leaving in 1957 to become a research supervisor at Diamond Alkali Company. He returned to academic life in 1962 by becoming professor and chemistry department chairman at Marshall University. There, Wotiz worked to improve the chemistry curriculum and to build a research-oriented program. In 1967, Wotiz assumed the chemistry department chairmanship at Southern Illinois University, where he would remain for the rest of his career. In 1969, Wotiz made an extended study of chemistry education in the Soviet Union under an exchange arrangement between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. Later, he visited other East European, Asian, and Pacific Rim countries. Wotiz had a deep interest in the history of chemistry. As a result, he wrote and published a directory of international chemistry museums, and beginning in 1971, he organized and conducted widely attended chemical history tours throughout Europe. Wotiz was a long-time member of the HIST division of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and served as its chairman in 1980. Wotiz performed extensive research on the life and theories of F. August Kekulé, publishing the acclaimed The Kekulé Riddle in 1993. Extending his interest in the history of chemistry, Wotiz, with ACS, began to explore the idea of establishing a national center for chemical history. Wotiz concludes the interview with a discussion of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, reflections on winning the Dexter Award, and thoughts on his family.


1941 B.S., Chemistry, Furman University
1943 M.S., Chemistry, University of Richmond
1948 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Ohio State University

  Professional Experience

University of Richmond

1941 - 1943 Assistant, department of chemistry

Ohio State University

1943 - 1944 Assistant, department of chemistry

Ohio State University

1946 - 1947 Assistant, department of chemistry, Research Fellow

University of Pittsburgh

1948 - 1953 Instructor of chemistry, Assistant professor

University of Pittsburgh

1954 - 1957

Associate Professor of chemistry

Diamond Alkali Co.

1957 - 1962 Group Leader, Senior Group Leader

Marshall University

1962 - 1967 Professor of chemistry and department chairman

Southern Illinois University

1967 - 1989 Professor and Department Chairman

Southern Illinois University

1989 - 2001 Professor Emeritus

National Academy of Science

1969 - 1974 Exchange professor, various Far East and European countries


1982 Dexter Award, American Chemical Society, History of Chemistry Division
1982 Gold Medal, Vysoká Škola Bánská, Ostrava, Czech Republic
1998 Doctorem Honoris Causa, Ostrava Technical University, Czech Republic

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Childhood in Moravská, Ostrava. Brother. Tutoring at home. Interest in chemistry. Extra-curricular activities. Graduation from high school in 1937. Attending Technical University of Prague. Rising political distemper. Coming to the U.S. to complete school. Relatives in New Jersey.

Education 8

Scholarship to Furman University through International Student Service. Studying chemistry at Furman. John Sampey. E. Emmet Reid. Friedel-Crafts reaction project with Reid. Graduating from Furman in 1941. Attending graduate school at University of Richmond. Master's work on polyhydroxy amines. Going to Ohio State University for Ph.D. Melvin S. Newman. Environment at Ohio State. Influence of A. B. Garrett. Working in organic chemistry. Ph.D. on acetylene compounds. Grignard ragents. Acetylene chemistry. The Wotiz rearrangement.

Postdoctoral Activities 21

Instructorship at University of Pittsburgh. Work on 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid for Chemical Warfare Service. U.S. Army service. Becoming a U.S. citizen. Fort Detrick. Continuing work on acetylene chemistry at University of Pittsburgh. Raymond E. Dessy. Grignard reagents. Roger Grignard lecture in France. Marriage in 1945. Kay Wotiz. Cathedral of Learning. Moving to Pittsburgh.

Early Career 36

Research work at Pittsburgh. Leaving academia for Diamond Alkali Company. New areas of acetylene chemistry. Boyce Thompson Institute. Producing patentable materials. Chromium hexacarbonyl (Cr(CO)6) synthesis. Leaving Diamond Alkali to become chemistry department chair at Marshall University. Altering chemistry curriculum. Building research-oriented department. Ned D. Heindel. Leaving Marshall.

Career at Southern Illinois University (SIU) 46

Environment at SIU. Serving as chemistry department chair. Working with graduate students. Allene research. Consultant work with Air Reduction. Retirement in 1989. Philosophy of teaching. Current trends in chemistry education. National Academy of Sciences. Visit to and experiences in Soviet Union. Comparing Soviet education model to U.S. model. Establishment of international graduate student program. Vera Kolb. Visiting Pacific Rim countries. Visiting Japan and China. Thoughts on teaching.

Professional Affiliations and Activities 75

American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Division of the History of Chemistry (HIST). Directory of chemistry museums. ACS tours. History of Science Society. American Bridge League. Membership in Unitarian Church. Thomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Playing bridge.

History of Chemistry 85

Influenced by European textbooks. Using history in teaching chemistry. Story Behind the Story column. Finding errors in published works. Origins of history tours. Applying for approval of tours from SIU. Widespread attendance of tour. European assistance. Gretel Brauer. Haus Energie.

Work on F. August Kekulé 97

Travel to Ghent, Belgium. Extensive research on Kekulé. Susanna Rudofsky. Research on Annalen Der Chemie article by Kekulé. Origins of Kekulé's spelling of surname. Kekulé's misleading reference. Analysis of Kekulé's dream. Hexagonal structure. Johann Josef Loschmodt. Alfred Bader. William Wiswesswer. Boston Symposium. Alan Rocke. Kekulé controversy. Lawsuits.

Vision for Center for Chemical History 111

Steven Brush. Exploration of feasibility. University of Pennsylvania (Penn). ACS meeting in Miami in 1978. Lobbying for support. Leon Gortler. Support from Penn and ACS. Arnold Thackray. Center for the History of Chemistry. Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Conclusion 120

Winning Dexter Award. Tonja Koeppel. Daughters and wife, Kay. Plans for future. Travel.

Addenda 128

I. Furman University letter and telegram awarding scholarship
II. Preparation of the beta-octynoic acid
III. Cyclic reactor (not drawn to scale)
IV. Certificate of Naturalization
V. Letter from Ned D. Heindel at Wotiz's 80th birthday celebration
VI. Title page of Kekulé's paper in Annalen, vol. 162, as reproduced in Wotiz's book on Kekulé
VII. Excerpt of a letter from Kekulé to Hübner
VIII. Flyer featuring book cover for Wotiz's book The Kekulé Riddle: A Challenge for Chemists and Psychologists
IX. Chemistry in Britain review of Wotiz's book
X. Letter from Tonja A. Koeppel announcing Wotiz's selection for Dexter Award

Notes 140

Index 142

  About the Interviewers

Herbert T. Pratt

Herbert T. Pratt, a member of CHF’s Heritage Council, is a professionally certified chemical engineer and DuPont Company retiree who also holds a master’s degree in history. Herb has been a collector of early chemistry books and related materials for more than 40 years, gathering a collection that now includes more than 3,800 titles. Herb is the recipient of such awards as ASTM’s Funk W. Reinhart award for "outstanding and unusual contributions to terminology standardization," the Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Olney Medal for "outstanding contributions in the field of textile chemistry," and its Chapin Award for "dedicated service to the organization."

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