Robert T. Armstrong

Born: December 27, 1909 | Chadron, NE, US
Died: July 14, 1992 | Bennington, VT, US

Dr. Robert Armstrong discusses his early life in Nebraska and Arizona, his undergraduate and graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his career in industry. Armstrong recalls his work on rubber vulcanization and his pioneering research on radical polymerization at the U.S. Rubber Company, then later at the North American Rayon Company and the Celanese Corporation. Armstrong describes his duties as he progressed up the corporate ladder and also outlines his involvement with the establishment of the Research Triangle Institute.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0011
No. of pages: 24
Minutes: 90

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
1 May 1986
Highland Beach, Florida

Abstract of Interview

Dr. Robert Armstrong describes his childhood in Nebraska and Arizona and how he managed to support himself through undergraduate and graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He recollects the faculty at MIT and the support that some of his teachers gave him during his stay there. After graduate research, Armstrong moved to the U.S. Rubber Company, where he coupled investigations of rubber vulcanization with pioneering research on radical polymerization; he early recognized the value of systematic studies of copolymerization. During World War II he was persuaded to work at the North American Rayon Company and he briefly alludes to the conditions he found at their production plant. Soon after WWII, Armstrong started his career at the Celanese Corporation, which was to last until his retirement. He describes his functions as he progressed up the corporate ladder and also outlines his involvement with the establishment of the Research Triangle Institute.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1931 Massachusetts Institute of Technology SB Chemistry
1935 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1928 to 1935
Assistant Chemist
1935 to 1937
Instructor, Organic Chemistry

United States Rubber Company

1937 to 1941
1941 to 1944
Group Leader

North American Rayon Corporation

1944 to 1946
Research Chemist

Celanese Corporation of America

1946 to 1949
Group Leader
1949 to 1950
Technical Superintendent
1951 to 1952
Director, Technical Control
1952 to 1953
Associate Director of Research
1953 to 1956
Technical Director, Textile Division
1956 to 1966
Vice-President, Technical Director
1966 to 1975
Senior Vice-President, Research

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Born in Nebraska, family moved to Arizona soon after. Father's failed attempt as a banker. Mother as teacher in small rural school. Agricultural prep school after mother's death.

Undergraduate Education

Enters MIT, choice of chemistry as major. Recollections of faculty. Support by part-time work. Undergraduate research and experimental work. Effect of the Depression.

Graduate Studies

Infrared and Raman spectroscopy of cyclopropane. Instructor at MIT.

U. S. Rubber Company

Key researchers in U. S. Rubber Research Laboratory. Study of rubber vulcanization and of polymerization. Initiation of copolymerization mechanisms pursued by Mayo, Walling and Lewis.

North American Rayon Company

Circumstances of move during WWII, conditions at plant.

Celanese Corporation

Establish quality control functions. Move to research laboratories at Summit, N. J. and then to Charlotte N. C. as technical director, textile division. Role in formation of Research Triangle Institute. Transfer to head office, New York and progress to Senior Vice-President, Research.


About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.