Orlando A. Battista

Born: June 20, 1917 | Cornwall, ON, CA
Died: Tuesday, October 3, 1995 | Tarrant County, TX, US

O. A. Battista was one of eight siblings born to a poor, uneducated laborer and a housewife; he proudly details his family's hard-working nature. Attending McGill University along with his younger brother, Battista earned a BS in chemistry while supporting his household by writing epigrams for the Saturday Evening Post. Upon graduation Battista obtained a research chemist position at American Viscose Corporation. He worked on the rubber program and other war-related projects until the end of the war. Later, his work at American Viscose and its predecessor, FMC, earned him over sixty-five patents, including patents on viscose molding, novel yarn, pure cellulose, and microcrystalline collagen. In the early 1960s, Battista realized the medical applications of microcrystalline collagen and obtained pharmaceutical backing from Alcon to license the substance as the patented hemostat Avitene. In 1974 Battista took early retirement from Avicon to start his own research institute and promote an Olympiad of Science that encourages and facilitates new product innovations. His institute created over fifty-five new products and publishes of Knowledge Magazine. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0103
No. of pages: 62
Minutes: 197

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
23 February 1992
Fort Worth, Texas

Abstract of Interview

O. A. Battista begins the interview by describing his childhood in Cornwall, Canada, as one of eight siblings born to a poor, uneducated laborer and a housewife. Battista proudly details his family's hard-working nature and the many professional accomplishments of his brothers, who include a chemist and company president and a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Attending McGill University along with his younger brother, Battista earned a BS in chemistry while supporting his household by writing epigrams for the Saturday Evening Post. Upon graduation Battista obtained a research chemist position at American Viscose Corporation, which was owned by Courtaulds, Canada, where his brother was well established and later became president. He worked on the rubber program and other war-related projects until the end of the war, when he married Helen Keffer and began inventing successful commercial products. Later, his work at American Viscose and its predecessor FMC earned him over sixty-five patents, including patents on viscose molding, novel yarn, pure cellulose, and microcrystalline collagen. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Battista wrote and published several works, including technical scientific texts, popular magazine articles on chemistry, a “human interest” chemistry text, an examination of the potential of psychopharmaceuticals, and several popular non-scientific collections. In the early 1960s, Battista realized the medical applications of microcrystalline collagen and obtained pharmaceutical backing from Alcon to license the substance as the patented hemostat Avitene. American Viscose and Alcon formed Avicon, Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, and appointed Battista vice president for science and technology; Avicon obtained FDA approval for Avitene Hemostat, which today is used worldwide in hospital operating rooms. In 1974 Battista took early retirement from Avicon to start his own research institute and promote an Olympiad of Science that encourages and facilitates new product innovations. His institute created over fifty-five new products and publishes Knowledge Magazine. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1940 McGill University BSc (First Class Honors) Chemistry

Professional Experience

American Viscose Corporation

1940 to 1963
Research Chemist
1940 to 1963
Senior Research Chemist
1940 to 1963
Manager, Corporate Applied Research
1961 to 1963
Assistant Director, Corporate Research

FMC Corporation

1963 to 1974
Assistant Director, Central Research

Avicon, Inc.

1971 to 1974
Vice President, Science and Technology

Research Services Corporation

1975 to 1993
Chairman, President, Chief Executive Officer

O.A. Battista Research Institute

1976 to 1993
Chairman, President, Chief Executive Officer

University of Texas at Arlington

1975 to 1976
Adjunct Professor of Chemistry and Director, Center for Microcrystal Polymer Science

World Olympiads of Knowledge

1976 to 1993
Founder and President

American Institute Chemists

1977 to 1979
President

Fastcrete Corporation

1984 to 1993
President and Chief Executive Officer

Avacare, Incorporated

1985 to 1993
Director

Knowledge, Inc.

1986 to 1993
Chairman, President, Founder

Carrington Laboratories

1987 to 1993
Director

Honors

Year(s) Award
1955

Doctor of Science, honoris causa, St. Vincent College

1955

Fellow, National Association of Science Writers

1965

Honor Scroll Award, New Jersey Chapter, American Institute of Chemists

1967

Honor Scroll Award, Philadelphia Chapter, American Institute of Chemists

1969

Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists

1969

Fellow, New York Academy of Sciences

1971

Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement

1972

Boss of the Year, National Secretaries Association

1973

James T. Grady Award, American Chemical Society

1977 to 1979

President and Chief Executive Officer, American Institute of Chemists

1981

Lifetime Fellow, National Association of Science Writers

1983

Creative Invention Medal, American Chemical Society

1984

Special Mention, Rolex Awards for Enterprise

1985

Anselme Payen Medal, American Chemical Society

1985

Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Clarkson University

1986

Napoleon Hill Gold Medal for Creative Achievement

1987

Applied Polymer Science Medal, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Family Background
1

Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, seventh of eight siblings. Parents had immigrated from Italy. Family values, hard work and education. Childhood jobs, effects of Depression on family.

Early Education and Family Learning Environment
4

Catholic elementary school, Cornwall Collegiate Institute (high school). Influence of high school teachers. Brothers' professional successes. Influence of brothers' interest in science. Childhood writing and inventions.

McGill University
11

Writing epigrams for Saturday Evening Post. Influence of Professors. Development of Infinitron Theory. Chemistry courses, lab work, honors courses. Lab assistantship at Pulp and Paper Institute.

American Viscose
17

Position at American Viscose in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. Impressions of Philadelphia area. Wife. First assignments in war-related projects. Cellulose chemistry work, early patents, first papers. Invention of microcrystalline cellulose; opposition to his novel ideas. FMC buyout of American Viscose; closing of Marcus Hook plant.

FMC Corporation
27

Transfer to Central Research Department, Princeton, New Jersey, and assistant director appointment. Non-scientific books for Prentice-Hall and books on polymers, general chemistry, and mental drugs. Development of Avitene Microcrystalline Collagen for use as hemostat. Creation of Avicon by FMC and Alcon to develop and market Avitene.

Avicon
39

Move to Fort Worth, Texas, and appointment as vice president for science and technology. Clinical work on Avitene to meet FDA requirements. ACS Grady Award for writing. Promotion of competitive Olympiads of Science at ACS awards and after; support from H. Urey, H. Mark, and W. C. Stone. Knowledge Magazine. Decision to take early retirement.

O. A. Battista Research Institute
46

Prototype for Olympiads of Science Institutes. Consulting projects, staff. New products with commercial value; trademarks.

Outside Interests
49

American Institute of Chemists. Songwriting and ASCAP membership. Olympiads of Knowledge. Views of chemistry, creativity, innovation, and organizational politics.

Notes
55
Index
57

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.