Sidney Edelstein

Born: January 22, 1912 | Chattanooga, TN, US
Died: September 15, 1994 | Bronx, NY, US
Photograph of Sidney M. Edelstein

Sidney Edelstein's oral history begins with his childhood in Tennessee and follows his life all the way through the formation and success of Dexter Chemical Corporation. In his interview he discusses the major world events he faced, discrimination because of religion, and his philanthropic work.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0075
No. of pages: 90
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Jeffrey L. Sturchio
31 August 1987 and 24 February 1988
New Orleans, Louisiana West Palm Beach, Florida

Abstract of Interview

In this interview Sidney Edelstein begins with his family life in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and includes his early education and experiences at the Baylor School in Chattanooga.  He describes his undergraduate career at MIT, his interest in cellulose chemistry, and recalls his first employment at the Dixie Mercerizing Company in the midst of the Depression. The interview continues with Edelstein's early entrepreneurial activities, and his term as an AATCC Research Associate. The formation of Lamede, Inc., and Edelstein's position as research director at Hart Chemical Company are discussed in detail. Edelstein continues with his work with the Army Quartermaster Corps during World War II, and difficulties with the Sylvania Industrial Company.

     The second section of the interview begins with the formation of the Dexter Chemical Corporation, and continues with the company's development, first products, sales figures, subsidiaries, and international operations. Edelstein explains his interest in the history of dyestuffs, including the articles he wrote, and the benefit of history to the textile industry. The interview continues with Edelstein's key role in the history of the American Chemical Society Division of the History of Chemistry, and focuses on the personalities and operations in the early days of the Division. The origin of the Dexter Award is described, and the first recipients discussed. The interview concludes with Edelstein's philanthropic activities, and the Edelstein Center at the Hebrew University.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1932 Massachusetts Institute of Technology BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

Dixie Mercerizing Company

Textile Microscopist and Research Chemist

American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists

1935 to 1938
Research Associate, University of Chattanooga

Lamede, Inc.

1938 to 1939
Vice President and Director of Research

Hart Products Coporation

1939 to 1945
Vice President and Director of Research

Dexter Chemical Corporation

1945 to 1985
1985 to 1989
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award

Honorary DSc degree, Lowell Technological Institute


Fellow, Textile Institute (Great Britain)


Fellow, Society of Dyers and Colourists (Great Britain)


Honorary citizen of Biella and Venice, Italy


Honorary PhD, Hebrew University

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Parents and family situation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Grandfather's immigration and origin of Edelstein. Mother's family. Mother's creative cooking. Grammar school. Baylor School. Mother's Reform Judaism and father's Orthodox beliefs. Early chemistry experiments.

Baylor school

Early trouble as student. Works to get good grades. Headmaster Alex Guerry. Interest in reading. College boards. Summer physics course. MIT application. Sister. Keys to chemistry laboratory. Laboratory explosion in making fireworks.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summer trigonometry course. Joins fraternity. Charge account at Harvard Coop. Attitude of MIT professors. Home brew. Making wine and liqueurs. Meets future wife. Marriage in 1931.

MIT Professors and Research

Chemical engineering. Warren K. Lewis. Cellulose lecture. History of chemistry course with Tenney L. Davis. James Flack Norris. Norbert Wiener. Miles Sherrill. Senior year research on colloidal properties of cellulose in strong alkali. Importance of work to mercerizing process. Chemical cotton. Study of viscosity changes in cellulose solutions. Cellulose particles from ball mill. New form of cellulose. Senior research published. Cellulose as food item. American Viscose cellulose research.

Dixie Mercerizing Company

Move to Chattanooga. MIT course in textile microscopy. Difficulties in finding job during Depression. Laboratory on textile microscopy at Dixie Yarn Company. Making cotton look like rayon. Dye house. Mercerizing department. Color matching. Offers courses in textile microscopy and textile fibers. Quick-aging process for moonshine whiskey. Corn and athlete's foot medicine. Formation of chemical society.

Research Associate at the University of Chattanooga

American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists support of textile projects. AATCC Associate to study mercerizing. Develops standard test for mercerization. Testing lanolin samples for fatty acids. Use of tripoli to coagulate lanolin. Lamede, Inc. Partnership with L. F. Lamoreaux. Patent difficulties.

Hart Products Corporation

Searching for a job. Sylvania Industrial Corporation. Rejection by Sylvania of application for cellulose research. Director of Research at Hart Products. Owner's apartment. Plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Threatens to quit. Develops mercerizing system.

World War II

Assists Army Quartermaster Corps in quality control and mercerizing tests. Tricot fabric and mosquito netting. Zinc oxide and caustic soda. Rayon floc. Cellulose patents on viscosity control, solubility, and modifications. Edelstein process for cellulose solutions facilitates tricot fabric processing. Camouflage material. Sylvania and the Lilienfeld process. Patent infringements and Sylvania board chairman Emmerich.

Other Hart Products Activities

Celludye Corporation. Profits from cellulose patents. Catalytically-activated caustic (CAC) in tank car lots. Decision to leave Hart. Formation of Dexter Chemical Corporation.

Origin of Dexter Chemical Corporation

Partnership with Joseph Evans. Incorporation. First employees. Basis for operations of company. Selection of company name. Mercerizing chemicals. Problems with purchasing cresylic acid. Early financial aspects.

Development of Dexter Chemical Corporation

Involvement as president and technical director. Technical salesmen. Public relations. Phosphated surfactants (Strodex). Application to textiles and pulp and paper industry. Competition. Early sales figures. Expansion into new territories. Uron resins. Diversification.

Subsidiaries and International Operations

Leo Goldberg. Ventures in South America and Mexico. Sales in Israel. Dexter Chemical International. Dexter Chemical of Israel. Elimination of foreign subsidiaries. Current expansion into biochemicals. Structure of company foundation. Cross-fertilization between different industries.

History of Dyestuffs

MIT course in the history of chemistry. Importance of the history of dyeing to the textile industry. Articles in American Dyestuff Reporter;. Benefit of history articles to Dexter Chemical Corporation. The use of history in science. Dyes in the textiles from the Bar Kochba Caves. Expeditions to Mexico.

American Chemical Society Division of the History of Chemistry

Edgar Fahs Smith Collection, University of Pennsylvania. Eva Armstrong. Herbert Klickstein. Divisional meeting in Philadelphia. Offers to serve as secretary of the Division. Chymia. Article on Priestley. Activities as Secretary. Wyndham Miles. Sister Saint John Nepumocene.

The Dexter Award

Origin. Ralph Oesper. Transfer of Divisional records to new secretary. Selection of Dexter Award recipients. Dexter Prize in the History of Technology. Williams Haynes. Eva Armstrong. Denis Duveen. Eduard Faber. Martin Levey. Blowpipe of James Curtis Booth.


First trip to Israel. United Jewish Appeal. Yom Kippur War. Donation of library to the Hebrew University. The Sidney M. Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine. Donation of Community Center in Kiriat Shmona. Day Care Centers in Israel. Treatment of psoriasis. Einstein papers at the Hebrew University.


About the Interviewer

Jeffrey L. Sturchio

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

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.