Hoyt C. Hottel

Born: January 15, 1903 | Salem, IN, US
Died: August 18, 1998 | Winchester, MA, US
Photograph of Hoyt C. Hottel

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Hoyt C. Hottel begins his interview by discussing his early education and interest in rubber chemistry, and how both factored in to his decision to attend Indiana University for chemistry and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for chemical engineering. Hottel discusses his substantial experience in World War II work on flamethrowers, incendiary bombs, and smoke obscuration and several jobs in industry, as well as his long tenure as a professor and director of the fuel and gas engineering program at MIT. Additionally, Hottel reflects on his extensive research on solar energy and gas turbine combustion.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0025
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 439

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
18 November and 2 December 1985
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Hoyt C. Hottel begins the first interview with a description of his childhood and education in Indiana, Missouri, and later Illinois, where his father was a salesman in the rubber industry. He praises his early schooling and various teachers and subjects at Hyde Park High School. Hottel discusses his entry into Indiana University's chemistry program at age 15 and courses and professors there, before turning to graduate work in chemical engineering at MIT with Walter Whitman; and relationships with Tom Sherwood, Warren K. Lewis, and Robert T. Haslam. His experiences at MIT's chemical engineering practice school-including work at a Bethlehem Steel plant, Pennobscot Chemical Fire Company, Revere Sugar Company and Merrimack Chemical Company-led to work as assistant director at the steel plant and influenced later research directions. Hottel next describes his interest in radiation from gases in relation to industrial furnace design; his decision to pursue doctoral research on flame propagation in hydrogen oxygen mixtures; the reasons he postponed writing his dissertation; and subsequent appointments as fuel and gas engineering assistant professor, Fuels Research Laboratory acting director, and division of industrial cooperation assistant director. As a central part of this interview, Hottel details his experiences while advising US armed forces and national committees during WWII, including work on flamethrowers, incendiary bombs, smoke obscuration, napalm, and fire warfare. He closes the first interview with a discussion of his post-war career at MIT, work on turbine combustion and peacetime fire research at the Bureau of Standards. Hottel opens the second interview with a review of his early experiences as a graduate student and young professor at MIT; he comments on early research, interdepartmental relations, the development of the fuel and gas engineering program, consulting work for private industry, and supervision of graduate students and their research. He briefly discusses his research involving rocket combustion, gas turbines, and Project Meteor, before describing the details of MIT's solar energy research and opinions on solar energy in general. He touches on involvement with the International Flame Foundation before closing the interview with discussion of post-retirement activities, including teaching combustion and radiative transfer courses and co-authoring a book on new energy technology.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1922 Indiana University Bloomington AB Chemistry
1924 Massachusetts Institute of Technology SM Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1924 to 1925
Assistant Director, School of Chemical Engineering Practice, Buffalo Station
1926 to 1927
Research Associate
Research Associate in Applied Chemistry
Research Associate in Fuel and Gas Engineering
1928 to 1931
Assistant Professor of Fuel and Gas Engineering
1931 to 1932
Associate Professor of Fuel and Gas Engineering
1932 to 1934
Acting Director, Fuels Research Laboratory
1932 to 1934
Assistant Director, Division of Industrial Cooperation and Research
1932 to 1941
Associate Professor of Fuel Engineering
1934 to 1968
Director, Fuels Research Laboratory
1938 to 1964
Chairman, Solar Energy Research Committee
1938 to 1944
Gas Turbine Committee
1941 to 1945
Professor of Fuel Engineering
1945 to 1965
Project Meteor Steering Committee
1965 to 1968
Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering
Professor Emeritus

National Research Council

1931 to 1935
Committee on Heat Transmission, National Research Council
1956 to 1967
Chairman, National Academy of Sciences—National Research Council Committeee on Fire Research
1971 to 1973
NRC-NAE Panel on Coal Gasification Technology
1975 to 1978
Ad Hoc Panel on Advanced Power Cycle
1976 to 1980
Committee on Chemistry of Coal Utilization, National Research Council
1980 to 1982
Committee on Assessment of Industrial Energy Conservation Program
1985 to 1988
Panel for Fire Research

National Defense Research Committee

1942 to 1945
Section Chief on Fire Warfare

National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

1942 to 1946
Gas Turbine Subcommitee

Armed Forces Special Weapons Project

1946 to 1956
Chairman, Thermal Panel

American Flame Research Committee of the International Flame Foundation

1952 to 1973

Combustion Institute

1954 to 1964

National Bureau of Standards

1965 to 1969
Advisory Panel, Research Division
1976 to 1980
Ad Hoc Evaluation Panel for Energy Conservation Program

National Academy of Engineering

Task Force on Energy, Review Committee

National Academy of Sciences

1974 to 1975
Advisory Group on Arid Zone Problems in Brazil


Year(s) Award

United States Medal for Merit


King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom, Great Britain


William H. Walker Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


Sir Alfred Egerton Gold Medal, The Combustion Institute


Melchett Medal, Institute of Fuel, Great Britain


Elected, National Academy of Sciences


Max Jakob Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and American Society of Mechanical Engineering


Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


Fellow, American Insitute of Chemical Engineers


Elected, National Academy of Engineering


Farrington Daniels Award, International Solar Energy Society


Esso Energy Award shared with Dr. H. Tabor, Royal Society (London)


Workshop Conference on Analytical Methods of Fire Safety for Buildings

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Influence of grade and high school teachers. Chemistry major at Indiana University. Interest in rubber chemistry.

Graduate Education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Chemical engineering major at MIT. Master's thesis on rubber additives. Experiences at three stations of the School of Chemical Engineering Practice. Year as assistant to Bill Ryan at Buffalo station of Practice School. Doctor's thesis on combustion. Paper on heat transfer in furnaces. Paper on combustion and heat transfer with Robert T. Haslam.

Early Career at MIT

Appointment as assistant professor in fuel and gas engineering at MIT. Acting director, Fuels Research Laboratory. Assistant director, division of industrial cooperation.

World War II

Work on flamethrowers, incendiary bombs and smoke obscuration during World War II. Fire Warfare section chief for National Defense Research Committee. Development of Napalm. Bomb testing on mock Japanese and German villages at Dugway Proving Grounds. Trip to England to exchange information on fire warfare.

Post-War Career at MIT

Work on gas turbine combustion. Involvement in establishing Fire Center at the Bureau of Standards.

Further Details of Experiences at MIT

Review of experiences at the School of Chemical Engineering Practice. Early involvement in industrial furnace design. Interdepartmental relations at MIT. Development of fuel and gas engineering at MIT. Work on solution of exhaust-gas carbon monoxide problem for General Motors. Review of graduate students and theses.

Further Details of Wartime Experiences

Wartime research on rocket combustion and gas turbines. Involvement with Project Meteor and the Armed Forces Special Weapons project.

Further details of Career at MIT

Solar energy research as chairman of solar energy committee. Construction of solar houses. Funding of solar energy project. Opinions on the viability of solar energy. Involvement in the International Flame Foundation.

Post-retirement Work

Half-time courses in combustion and radiative transfer at MIT. Book on new energy technology with Jack Howard. Review of MIT colleagues.

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.