Humble Oil Lecture Series

The Lecture Series, however, proved to be much more than merely continuing education. Most industrial chemists had access neither to academic chemists nor to any form of continuing education. Instead of learning only what they needed on a day-to-day basis or leafing through chemistry journals when time allowed, scientists who participated in the Lecture Series were instilled with a deeper connection to chemistry and a deeper connection to basic science, despite working in a very much applied area in the petroleum industry. According to Munson, Franklin and Humble were desirous of staving off insularity and mental stagnation, fully aware that breadth of learning in chemistry provided sharper minds to tackle problems along the entire mass-spectrometry research spectrum, from basic to practical and applied.

If you were working on a specialized project, you became the company’s expert on this, and you narrowed in, and that was what it was you did. Well, when the company decided they weren’t interested in that anymore, which happened periodically, then you were, sort of, out of it. [. . .] This was the idea of continual training that was going on. (Munson, 14)

The mass-spectrometry group, the basic research, and the Lecture Series, all intimately tied together, were seen as a benefit to Humble and the pursuit of industrial innovation. The course work may not have proven immediately useful to the approximately 15 employees of Humble chosen to participate, but the breakthroughs that Field and Franklin and, later, Field and Munson made in understanding the basic science of mass spectrometry proved invaluable. This small community interested in basic science and mass spectroscopy at Humble was not to last forever. Over a number of years in the mid-1960s the group disbanded.

Fred Lampe left the group in I think it was 1962, when he went to Penn State. Joe left in 1963 or 1964, something like that, to go to Rice. Frank moved up to Linden in 1967 or 1966. And then I left in 1967. That ended the fundamental research in ion chemistry at Baytown. Mass spectrometry was still going on. (Munson, 31)

Munson makes it clear that the part of the Humble mass-spectrometry group that performed basic research dispersed, while the mass spectrometrists that performed separation and analysis remained. By the mid to late 1960s Humble was no longer supporting basic research in mass spectrometry. With Franklin moving to a chaired professorship at Rice University, Field to Standard Oil of New Jersey and later Rockefeller University, and Munson to the University of Delaware, the core of the group was dispersed as mass spectrometry’s reach found academia. Other important fixtures of the Humble mass-spectrometry group like Earl Lumpkin, Jean Futrell, and Fred Lampe left as well.

In many ways the post–World War II community at Humble may have been a golden era for mass-spectrometry basic research in industry. There was a unique juxtaposition between the introduction of commercial mass spectrometers and industry’s willingness to spend time, money, and resources on basic science. After World War II great momentum existed on the part of industry to put money into the basic sciences and basic research with the belief that it would ultimately pay off in the company’s bottom line. Members of Franklin’s group went on to great esteem in the world of mass spectrometry, becoming mass-spec society presidents and award winners. In particular, Franklin was recognized as one of the leaders in the field of mass spectrometry, becoming the first president of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry. Franklin was a crucial factor in making the Humble team function as it did. After he left other members quickly followed suit. Despite not having Franklin’s own words and memories about this period at Humble, we are clearly able to see his importance and individual agency through the oral histories of others. As Frank Field said, “This was a remarkably enlightened point of view and was all Joe Franklin’s doing” (21). And those remarkably enlightened ideas—pursuing analytical practical mass spectrometry, encouraging basic research to understand how mass spectrometry worked at the chemical level, insisting on a university-like attachment to continuing education in all areas of chemistry—were, in short, all the things that made the community of mass spectrometrists at Humble vital to the larger scientific community.

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