Edward Donley

Born: November 26, 1921 | Highland Park, MI, US

Edward Donley's oral history describes his early life, education, and long career at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. His experiences highlight the growth of that company from a family business to the major corporation that it is today. 

Access This Interview

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


Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0130
No. of pages: 43

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
26 January 1995
Belleair, Florida

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Edward Donley describing his early years growing up on his family's farm and attending a one-room schoolhouse. After graduating from high school, Donley joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and, after applying to several colleges, attained a scholarship to Lawrence Technological University in Detroit, Michigan. As a senior working towards a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, Donley began mechanical drafting work part-time for Detroit's newly established Air Products Company. Donley describes his college education during the war and compares his life- long experiences with Lawrence Tech and Air Products, watching both institutions develop from fledgling to flourishing. During Donley's early career, Air Products work involved military contracts to develop portable units for extracting oxygen from the air. With the cancellation of military contracts after World War II, the company declined and Donley went to work temporarily for Continental Aviation and Engineering Company, returning after Air Products moved to Emmaus, Pennsylvania, to rebuild, Donley recalls his professional development as a manager and engineer, and his close relationship with mentor Leonard Pool. As Air Products grew through the contributions of Pool, Carl Anderson, and others, Donley rose through the ranks to take on increasing responsibility, eventually playing a large role in developing liquid oxygen plants first to fulfill Air Force contracts and later for commercial production. Donley next details Air Products' involvement with hydrogen for ammonia production, and eventually with liquid hydrogen. He describes the recruitment and contribution of several engineers and managers, the change in Air Products' work environment from family to professional emphasis, and the reasons and strategy of the company's move into the chemical business. In the final section of the interview, Donley examines his presidency, beginning with Pool's gradual transfer of responsibility, the origins and emphasis of Air Products' environmental division, and the institution of the matrix management system. He discusses his views on the role of engineering in long-term planning and the importance of recruitment, career development, and safety programs; he also describes several important individuals who contributed to Air Products' later development, he closes with comments on American educational reform and entrepreneurial efforts, scientific innovation, changes in management agendas over the years, and federal regulation of business. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1943 Lawrence Technical University BS Mechanical Engineering
1959 Harvard University Advanced Management Program

Professional Experience

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

1943 to 1946
1949 to 1951
1951 to 1952
Engineering Manager
1952 to 1954
Sales Engineer
1954 to 1959
Vice President of Sales
1959 to 1966
Vice President and General Manager
Executive Vice President
1966 to 1978
1973 to 1986
Chief Executive Officer
1978 to 1986
Chairman of the Board
1986 to 1992
Chairman of the Board, American Standard, Inc.

Continental Aviation

1946 to 1949

American Standard, Inc.

1992 to 1994
Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award

Doctor of Industrial Management, Lawrence Technological University


Honor Award, Commercial Development Association


Doctor of Commercial Science, Villanova University


Doctor of Laws, Lehigh University


Doctor of Humane Letters, Muhlenberg College


Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry


Doctor of Laws, Allentown College


Doctor of Science, Cedar Crest College


Doctor of Commercial Science, Drexel University


Doctor of Humane Letters, Wilkes College


Doctor of Humane Letters, Lafayette College


Doctor of Laws, Moravian College


Doctor of Humanities, Lawrence Technological University

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Life on family farm during Depression. One-room schoolhouse and small local high-school education. Work for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

College Education

Scholarship from Lawrence Technological University. Part-time work for Air Products. Early years at Lawrence Tech. Military deferment. Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree.

Early Career at Air Products

Discussion of origins of Air Products. Heading engineering department during World War II. Loss of wartime government contracts. Interim job with Continental Aviation & Engineering Company. Air Products' move from Tennessee to Pennsylvania to rebuild, and Donley's return. Relationship with Leonard Pool. Management classes at Harvard Business School. Discussion of Leonard Pool's family background. Carl Anderson's role in the development of Air Products. Discussion of rise through management positions. Development of liquid oxygen plants for air force and adaptation and commercialization of production operations.

Later Career at Air Products

Air Products license of ammonia production. Government contract to produce liquid hydrogen. Recruitment of engineers to develop new technology. Move into chemicals business. Acquisition of Houdry Process Corporation.

Air Products Presidency

Succeeding Leonard Pool as president of Air Products. Origins of environmental systems division. Introduction of matrix management. Institution of management reforms. Renewal of career development program. Safety priorities. Creation of corporate science center. Views on the future of American entrepreneurial efforts.


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.