Manson Benedict

Born: October 9, 1907 | Lake Linden, MI, US
Died: Monday, September 18, 2006 | Naples, FL, US

Manson Benedict had an early enthusiasm for chemistry, which was promoted both by his father's work and his summer jobs with Calumet and Hecla Copper Company. He entered Cornell University as an undergraduate, but quickly became dissatisfied with his Cornell education. After a year at National Aniline, Benedict decided to enroll at the University of Chicago to obtain a broader liberal education during which he explored economics and socialism. He then went into in a graduate physical chemistry program at MIT and received a National Research Fellowship at Harvard. Benedict ultimately chose to work at Kellogg, where he developed the Benedict-Webb-Rubin equation. He played a significant role in the Manhattan Project, and touches on his subsequent appointment to the Atomic Energy Commission. The concludes with his return to MIT to develop a nuclear engineering curriculum, the accomplishment ofwhich he is most proud. 

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0088
No. of pages: 79
Minutes: 293

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
24 January 1991
Naples, Florida

Abstract of Interview

Manson Benedict begins the interview with a discussion of his family background, including the highlights of his father's career in chemistry. He recalls how his early enthusiasm for chemistry was promoted both by his father's work and his summer jobs with Calumet and Hecla Copper Company. He then tells of his dissatisfaction with his Cornell University education, his year at National Aniline, and his decision to enroll at the University of Chicago to obtain a broader liberal education during which he explored economics and socialism. After a colorful description of a summer's work on a fruit farm in Washington state, Benedict describes his enrollment in a graduate physical chemistry program at MIT. He then discusses his National Research Fellowship at Harvard and his decision to work at Kellogg, where he developed the Benedict-Webb-Rubin equation. He describes his significant role in the Manhattan Project, and touches on his subsequent appointment to the Atomic Energy Commission. He concludes with his return to MIT to develop a nuclear engineering curriculum, the accomplishment of which he is most proud. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 Cornell University BChem
1932 Massachusetts Institute of Technology MS Physical Chemistry
1935 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

National Aniline and Chemical Co.

1929 to 1930
Research Chemist
1937 to 1938
Research Chemist

Harvard University

1935 to 1936
National Research Council Fellow
1936 to 1937
Research Associate in Geophysics

M. W. Kellogg Company

1938 to 1943
Research Chemist

Hydrocarbon Research Inc.

1943 to 1951
Director, Process Development

Atomic Energy Commission

1951 to 1957
Chief, Operational Analysis Staff

National Research Corporation

1951 to 1957
Scientific Advisor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1951 to 1969
Professor of Nuclear Engineering
1958 to 1971
Head, Nuclear Engineering Department
1969 to 1973
Institute Professor
1973 to 1992
Institute Professor Emeritus

Burns and Roe, Inc.

1979 to 1985
Director

Honors

Year(s) Award
1947

William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1963

Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society

1966

Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

1966

Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1968

Robert E. Wilson Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1969

Arthur Holly Compton Award, American Nuclear Society

1972

Enrico Fermi Award, U. S. Atomic Energy Commission

1975

John Fritz Medal, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

1976

National Medal of Science

1976

Founders Award, National Academy of Engineering

1983

Glenn Seaborg Award, International Platform Association

Table of Contents

Family, Childhood, and Early Education
1

Parents attend Cornell University. Father discovers process for copper extraction. Exposure to chemistry through summer jobs at Calumet and Hecla Copper Company.

Cornell University
3

Enrolls in academically limited chemistry program. Frustrated by research supervisor's inflexibility. Summer jobs at Camulet and Hecla.

National Aniline and Chemical Company
8

Works on the nitro and indigo benches. The Great Depression heightens realization that he lacks a liberal arts education to deal with social problems.

University of Chicago
10

Enrolls in philosophy program with hope to discover a personal philosophy. Studies literature, economics, and other disciplines which he finds useful later in life. Takes advantage of Chicago's cultural offerings. Makes several close friends. Explores socialism and union organizing. Hitchhikes to Washington to work for a summer on a friend's family's fruit farm while resolving indecision over his career path.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
25

Enrolls in graduate program in physical chemistry. Works on temperature measurement methods. Marries a fellow physical chemist.

Harvard University
29

Receives National Research Fellowship. Wife receives PhD and works at Harvard Medical School. Studies PVT properties of nitrogen and argon. Appointed to the Harvard Committee on Geophysical Research to study solubility relations of aqueous solutions at high temperatures.

National Aniline and Chemical Company
34

Studies kinetics of oxidation of benzene to maleic anhydride.

M. W. Kellogg Company/Polymerization Process Corporation (POLYCO)
37

Develops Benedict-Webb-Rubin equation of state for gases and continuous flow calorimeter. Works on separation of hydrogen from gas mixtures.

Manhattan Project
46

Works for Kellex, a subsidiary of Kellogg, as head of process development. Charged with developing gaseous diffusion cascade and designing a plant for separating uranium at Oak Ridge. Also involved in building and operating the plant.

Hydrocarbon Research, Inc.
54

When the war ends, decides to remain with colleagues from Oak Ridge rather than return to a more limited position at Kellogg. Obtains patents for mass diffusion and gas absorption. Works on extraction of deuterium.

Atomic Energy Commission
57

Member of the Reactor Safeguard Committee. Connections lead to return to MIT.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
60

Organizes nuclear engineering courses within chemical engineering department. Separate nuclear engineering department is established. Serves as department head for thirteen years. Opportunities for graduates expand as time progresses. Works on General Advisory Committee of Atomic Energy Commission. Wishes to be remembered for his role in educating others.

Notes
69
Index
72

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.