First Person: Henry Earl Lumpkin

Henry Earl Lumpkin

Henry Earl Lumpkin, 1971, next to an IBM 1800 computer. Henry Earl Lumpkin Collection, CHF.

One luxury of an oral history is the space it permits for exploring lesser-known, but no less important, parts of a subject’s life. Henry Earl Lumpkin, for example, who was interviewed in 1992 for the American Society for Mass Spectrometry project, had a long and distinguished career in the field. But during World War II, he also served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a fore-runner of the U.S. Air Force.

Lumpkin joined the Army in 1941, a recent college graduate with a degree in chemistry. Because of his scientific background Lumpkin was assigned to the Air Corps Weather Service as opposed to the infantry. He worked within the Air Corps’ weather service, which handled all weather and meteorological information for the Army. Their work was crucial to many missions, especially those which were airborne. Lumpkin explained:

In 1942, the big push was getting planes over to North Africa—that was during the invasion of North Africa. They needed a lot of weather casters along the route from Miami down to Puerto Rico on down to South America, on down to Belem in Brazil, across to Ascension Island, then on across to Dakar in North Africa. The Ninth Weather Squadron had weather forecasters stationed at every air base all along the route, ferrying war planes over and war-wearies back. We were forecasting route information for pilots.

Although he originally intended to continue his chemistry education after the war, Lumpkin’s growing family necessitated that he find a job. He was hired by Humble Oil in the fall of 1945, before he was discharged from the Army: “Still in uniform, with captain’s bars, and looking very neat and trim,” he said. Lumpkin stayed with the company through internal transitions to Standard Oil, Esso, and Exxon before retiring as a Research Associate.

To read more about more crucial chemistry undertaken during World War II, visit the oral history program’s online project Rubber Matters. An online project on mass spectrometry will follow in early 2012.

Hilary Domush is a program associate in oral history at CHF. "First Person,” which highlights one of CHF's over 400 oral histories, appears the third Friday of every month.

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Posted In: History

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