John W. Johnstone

Born: November 19, 1932 | Brooklyn, NY, US
Died: March 27, 2011 | Palm City, FL, US
Headshot of John W. Johnstone

Detail of Image, CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

John W. Johnstone begins his oral history with a discussion of his early life and education, including a bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics from Hartwick College. Johnstone began his career at Hooker Chemical Company as a sales representative, but quickly moved up the ranks and became Group Vice President before leaving the company for Airco Inc. Johnstone joined Olin Corporation in 1979, where he worked for successful re-engineering and expansion of the company and addressed rising environmental concerns; Johnstone concludes the interview by discussing the future of research and development in the chemical industry.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0156
No. of pages: 46
Minutes: 148

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
11 February 1997

Abstract of Interview

John W. Johnstone begins the interview with a description of his childhood days in the boroughs of New York City. While in high school, he was encouraged by John McManus to study chemistry. After graduating from Far Rockaway High School, Johnstone attended Hartwick College, receiving a BA in chemistry and physics in 1954. He sought a career in the petrochemicals industry. After interviewing with several companies, Johnstone's physics professor set up an interview for a sales assistantship with Oldbury Electrochemical Company. He began working there in 1954. When Hooker Chemical Company acquired Oldbury Electrochemical Company in 1957, Johnstone joined the staff of Hooker. Johnstone rose through the ranks at Hooker from a sales representative to Group Vice President in Niagara Falls. While employed by Hooker, he attended the Harvard Advanced Management Program. Occidental Petroleum acquired Hooker in the early 1970s, and in 1975, Johnstone made the difficult decision to join Airco, Inc. He served as president of their alloys division until 1979 when he left Airco, Inc. to join the Olin Corporation. While with Olin Corporation, Johnstone worked for successful re-engineering and expansion of the company. He developed the Olin Moral Rock and Responsible Care programs in order to address rising environmental concerns. Johnstone concludes his interview with a discussion of the future of research and development in the chemical industry, reflections on winning the 1996 Chemical Industry Medal, and thoughts on his family.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1954 Hartwick College BA Chemistry and Physics
1970 Harvard University Advanced Management Program

Professional Experience

Hooker Chemical Company

1954 to 1957
Sales Reresentative, Oldbury Electrochemical Company, New York, NY
1957 to 1963
Sales Representative, Cincinnati, OH
1963 to 1965
District Sales Manager, Philadelphia, PA
1965 to 1968
Industry Marketing Manager, Niagara Falls, NY
1968 to 1970
Manufacturing, Sales and Marketing Manager, Tacoma, WA
1970 to 1971
Assistant General Manager, Electrochemicals Division, Niagara Falls, NY
1971 to 1973
Vice President, Electrochemicals Division, Niagara Falls, NY
1973 to 1975
Group Vice President, Niagara Falls, NY

Airco Inc.

1976 to 1979
President, Airco Alloys Division

Olin Corporation

1979 to 1980
Vice President and General Manager, Industrial Products and Senior Vice-President, Chemical Group
1980 to 1983
Corporate Vice President and President, Chemical Group
1983 to 1985
Executive Vice President
1985 to 1987
1988 to 1996
President, CEO and Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award

Honorary DSc, Hartwick College


Silver Beaver Award, Boy Scouts of America


Winthrop-Sears Medal, Chemists' Club


Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Table of Contents

Family Background and Early Education

Growing up in New York. Boy Scouts. High school years. Playing basketball. Influence of John McManus in education.

College Education and Early Career

BA in chemistry and physics. Looking for a job in petrochemical industry. Sales assistantship at Oldbury Electrochemical Company. Acquisition of Oldbury by Hooker Chemical Company.

Career Advancement

District manager at Hooker. Promoted to manufacturing, sales and marketing manager and then assistant division manager. Attending Harvard Advanced Management Program.


Leaving Hooker Chemical Company for Airco Inc. Customer relations. President of alloys division. Traveling. Love Canal. Decision to leave Airco.


President of industrial chemicals. Corporate shift from agriculture to chemicals. Research and development. Electronics. Executive Vice-President. Company restructuring.

Service and Environmental Concern

Olin Moral Rock. Responsible Care. Chairman of Chemical Manufacturers Association. Environmental issues.

Management in a Global Business

Downsizing. Chlor-alkali and biocides. Research and development. Chemical innovation. Winning Chemical Industry Medal. Leadership. Research Corporation. Hartwick College board.

Final Thoughts

Reflections on career and family.


About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.