William H. Joyce

Born: December 15, 1935 | Greensburg, PA, US
Headshot of William Joyce

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

William H. Joyce discusses his interest in chemistry, which led to a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Pennsylvania State University, and the influence of his parents, which led to interest in business and an MBA and PhD from New York University. Joyce had a lengthy career at Union Carbide, where he rose from Product Development Engineer to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and made several contributions to the field, including the UNIPOL process for creating high-density polyethylene. Joyce reflects on the chemical industry, his philosophy to being successful in a large corporation, and his work for the Nalco Company.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0288
No. of pages: 44
Minutes: 210

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray
17 August 2004

Abstract of Interview

William H. Joyce begins his interview with a description of his early childhood. As a young man, Joyce was significantly influenced by both his parents, in particular his father, who instilled in Joyce a strong knowledge of business. Throughout his childhood, Joyce was very active, participating in sports such as golf and skiing, but also had a strong interest in chemistry. Very early in his academic career, before high school even, Joyce decided to become a chemical engineer, and, with that in mind, participated in many school science fairs. With a Navy scholarship, Joyce was able to attend college at Penn State University. While at Penn State, Joyce participated in numerous extracurricular activities, but also took his studies very seriously and found his time there quite enjoyable. After graduating, Joyce accepted a position at Union Carbide as a product development engineer. While at Union Carbide, Joyce received numerous promotions and worked in various capacities, from the R&D side of industry to speech writing for chairmen. Throughout his career at Union Carbide, spanning over forty years, Joyce made several contributions to his field, working to create a new transoceanic telephone cable to the UNIPOL process for creating high-density polyethylene. After a short time at Hercules Incorporated, in 2003, Joyce began to work at Nalco Company, where he continues to use his energy to create new and innovative techniques and products to solve problems in the water treatment and processing chemicals industry. Joyce concludes his interview by discussing current events as related to the chemical industry.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1957 Pennsylvania State University BS Chemical Engineering
1971 New York University MBA
1974 New York University PhD

Professional Experience

Union Carbide Company

1957 to 1968
Product Development Engineer
1971 to 1974
Product Manager, Chemical and Plastics Group
1974 to 1976
Operations Manager
1976 to 1978
Director, Polyolefins Operations
1978 to 1979
Vice President, Marketing
Vice President, Licensing and Technology
1982 to 1985
President, Silicones and Urethane Intermediates Division
1985 to 1992
President, Polyolefins Division
1992 to 2001
Chief Operating Officer
1993 to 2001
1995 to 2001
Chief Executive Officer
1996 to 2001
Chairman of the Board

Hercules Incorporated

2000 to 2003
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Nalco Company

2003 to 2005
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award

National Medal of Technology


Industry Achievement Award, Plastics Academy


Lifetime Achievement Award, Plastics Academy


Inducted into the National Academy of Engineering


Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Chairman, Society of Plastics Industry

Board of Directors, Executive Committee, American Plastics Council

Board of Directors, Executive Committee, American Chemistry Council

Board of Directors, Executive Committee, Society of Chemical Industry

Board of Trustees, University Research Associates

Co-Chair, National Academies Research Roundtable

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Interest in Science

Born in Western Pennsylvania. Influence of father. Raised in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. Interest in chemistry from older brothers. Conducted science experiments in basement. High school experiences and participation in science fairs.

College Experiences

Navy scholarship. Chose Penn State over several Ivy League schools. Chemical engineering major. Lived on campus freshman year and at fraternity house following that. Many extracurricular activities including football manager.

Union Carbide

Accepted job as Product Development Engineer directly after college. Worked on insulating materials. Electric Boat project. Transoceanic telephone cable. Bell Laboratories. Operate out of New York. Semiconducting polyethylene. Night school at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Stevens Institute of Technology. Promotion to Product Manager of Chemicals and Plastics. Receive MBA. Receive PhD. Operations Manager. High-density polyethylene.

UNIPOL Process

Devised practical methods and solutions for creating high-density polyethylene. Improved wire and cable, as well as a molding material. Reverted cash-flow back into R&D.


Philosophy to being successful in a large corporation. Hercules Incorporated. Nalco Company. Technology for water treatment. Thoughts on government and chemical industry with current events.


About the Interviewer

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.