Robert W. Allington

Born: September 18, 1935 | Madison, WI, US
Died: Sunday, March 26, 2006 | Lincoln, NE, US
Robert W. Allington

Robert W. Allington

Robert W. Allington had an interest in electronics from a young age. During his adolescence, Allington developed his skills in electronics through building radios, among other things, and by working as a television repairman. Later, he worked as an intern at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory on the SAGE air defense computer; near the end of the internship he was diagnosed with polio. Eventually he became an entrepreneur and founded Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco), which focused on separation and environmental instrumentation.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0225
No. of pages: 59
Minutes: 251

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and John R. Van Ness
13 November 2001
Lincoln, Nebraska

Abstract of Interview

Robert W. Allington begins the interview with a sketch of his family history. His father, a scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture, and later at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln [UNL], encouraged Allington’s interest in science. During his adolescence, Allington developed his skills in electronics through building radios, among other things, and by working as a television repairman. He worked as an intern at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory on the SAGE air defense computer in the spring of 1955. Near the conclusion of the internship Allington was diagnosed with polio, and throughout the interview describes the effect of the disease on his life. While still in the hospital, he met his future business partner, Jacob Schafer, an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jobs repairing scientific equipment evolved into projects to fulfill requests from his clients for novel instrumentation. This led Allington to become an entrepreneur. He completed his master’s degree in electrical engineering at UNL, having taken an unusually large number of chemistry courses for an electrical engineer. Allington abandoned his original intention of a career in academic research to found Instrumentation Specialties Company [Isco]. Originally creating specialized instruments on request, the company gradually evolved into two major divisions, separation and environmental instrumentation. Robert Allington remained active in the research and innovation behind product development even as chief executive officer of his company. He concludes the interview by sharing recollections of his personal life and briefly discussing his future plans.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1959 University of Nebraska-Lincoln BS Electrical Engineering
1961 University of Nebraska-Lincoln MS Electrical Engineering

Professional Experience

M and M TV Clinic

1952
Repairman

Lincoln TV Center

1953
Repairman

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

1953 to 1955
Electronic Development Technician, Agricultural Engineering Department

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1955
Intern, Lincoln Laboratory

Instrumentation Specialties Company [Isco, Inc.]

1958
Founded Instrumentation Specialties Company
1959 to 2006
Chairman of the Board
1959 to 1996
President
1961 to 2006
Chief Executive Officer

Honors

Year(s) Award
1959

National first prize for article in engineering student periodical, Engineering College Magazine Association and McGraw-Hill Publishing Company

1959 to 1961

National Science Foundation Fellowship

1960

First prize for undergraduate research paper, American Institute of Electrical Engineers

1965 to 2006

Registered Professional Engineer

1970

Accredited Professional Chemist

1972

Handicapped Nebraskan of the Year

1975

Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award, Professional Engineers of Nebraska

1978

Distinguished Service Award, Lincoln Kiwanis Club

1978

IR-100 Award, Research and Development Magazine

1985

National Small Business Person of the Year, U. S. Small Business Administration

1985

Honorary D. Sc. , University of Nebraska

1985

IR-100 Award, Research and Development Magazine

1985

Honorary D. Sc. , Chemistry, University of Nebraska

1986

Lincoln Jaycees Outstanding Chief Executive Award

1986

Support of Research Award, Sigma Xi

1988

Business Leadership Award, University of Nebraska

1989

Friend of Science Award, The Nebraska Academy of Sciences, Inc.

1991

Executive of the Year, Research and Development Magazine

1993

Outstanding Alumnus Award, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, College of Engineering

1998

Entrepreneur of the Year, Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship, College of Business Administration, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

1999

Alumni Achievement Award, University of Nebraska

2005

Pittcon Heritage Award, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

Table of Contents

Family History and Early Life Experiences
1

Allington family history, illustrated with anecdotes about grandfather and father. Father's work with U. S. Department of Agriculture on an antibody to Virus X. Early penchant for electronics and interest in chemistry. Social experiences in grade school and junior high. Work as a television repairman.

Internship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
13

Acquiring internship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Spring 1955. Work at Lincoln Laboratory on SAGE air defense computer. Descriptions of government research, with details of computer's capabilities and features. Development of polio and its impact on life at school.

Origins of Future Entrepreneurship from Instrument Repair Work
17

Meeting future business partner Jacob Schafer. Brother's skills as a machinist, and woodworker. Artistically inclined. Religion in the Allington family. Beginnings of the Instrumentation Specialties Company. Creating a customer base and hiring new employees. Developing new products.

Education and Continuing Development of Instrumentation Specialties Company (Isco)
24

Work on master's thesis. Development of ruminant pressure apparatus, thus generating sufficient profit to begin full-time business. Starting a career with own company instead of planned career in academic research. Breadth of electronic engineering curriculum at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Growth, Change, and Product Development at Isco
28

Personnel changes at Isco and shift in company objectives. Development of environmental instruments. The competitive field of liquid chromatography. Expansion of premises, issuing of public stock, and improved inventory control. Description of the hydrogen sulfide process analyzer and supercritical fluid extraction products. Consolidating the two operational divisions both operationally and physically.

Further Personal and Professional Recollections
38

Home life with dog, Steinmetz, and marriage. Reminiscing about owning a Mercedes-Benz Model 600. Community service and purchase of a historic home for restoration. Professional focus on innovation and research. Increasing the competitiveness of separation instrumentation at Isco. Plans for retirement, further reminiscences about cars, and current work.

Notes
54


 

Index
55

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

John R. Van Ness

John R. Van Ness was the vice president for external relations of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.  He received Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.A. from Colorado College, Colorado Springs.  Van Ness has held several executive positions at colleges in the Philadelphia area, most recently as associate vice president for development at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  In addition, he is a noted scholar of Hispanic history and culture in the American Southwest, a series editor at the University of New Mexico Press, and the author of four books.  He has won several grants, honors, and awards for his scholarship, and has been included in Who’s Who in America.  He is also on the board of directors of the Mexican Cultural Center in Philadelphia, and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.