Raphael Katzen

Born: July 28, 1915 | Baltimore, MD, US
Died: July 12, 2009 | Lee County, FL, US
Photograph of Raphael Katzen

Detail of Image, CHF Collections

Raphael Katzen discusses his family and educational background, including his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Katzen met Donald Othmer while an undergraduate, and Othmer was a significant mentor for Katzen, providing him with summer employment, taking him on off-campus consultations, and requesting permission for Katzen to obtain his master's degree in absentia while working at Northwood Chemical Company. Katzen also discusses his work on acid hydrolysis of wood in the production of ethanol, the creation of his own company, KATZEN International, Inc. , and his consulting and collaborative work.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0211
No. of pages: 44
Minutes: 182

Interview Sessions

David C. Brock and Arnold Thackray
20 October 2000 and 2 February 2001
Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Bonita Springs, Florida

Abstract of Interview

Raphael Katzen begins the interview by discussing his family background and childhood. He attended an all-boys high school, DeWitt Clinton, in New York and graduated from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1936. While an undergraduate at Poly, Katzen became acquainted with his mentor, Donald F. Othmer. Othmer, the generous and helpful man that he was, aided Katzen whenever possible by finding Katzen summer employment, taking Katzen on off-campus consultations, and requesting permission for Katzen to obtain his master's degree in absentia while working at Northwood Chemical Company. After receiving his doctorate in 1942, Katzen became involved with the acid hydrolysis of wood in the production of ethanol at Vulcan-Cincinnati Incorporated. With nearly seventeen years experience behind him, nine years at Vulcan, and seven years in the operating industry, in 1953 Katzen decided to start his own company, Raphael Katzen Associates International, Inc., focusing on process design engineering and consultation. Katzen Associates, now known as KATZEN International, Inc., has consulted and reorganized numerous companies over the last fifty years, such as Vulcan-Cincinnati, Air Products and Chemicals Inc., and Union Carbide Corporation. Katzen concludes the interview with a discussion of his current work with Raphael Katzen, PE, his marriage to and life with Selma M. Katzen, and his friendship with Donald and Mildred Topp Othmer.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1936 Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York BChE Chemical Engineering
1938 Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York MChE Chemical Engineering
1942 Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York DChE Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Northwood Chemical Company

1937 to 1940
Chemical Supervisor
1937 to 1940
Director of Research, Chemical Products

Diamond Alkali Company

1942 to 1944
Technical Supervisor for Research and Development, Northwood Project

Vulcan-Cincinnati, Inc.

1944 to 1953
Project Manager, Design and Construction
1944 to 1953
Manager, Engineering Division

Raphael Katzen Associates International, Inc.

1953 to 1997
Chairman and President, Consulting and Process Design
1953 to 1980
Managing Partner

Raphael Katzen, P.E.

Consulting Engineer


Year(s) Award

Chemical Engineering Professional Practice Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


Outstanding Personal Achievement in Chemical Engineering Award, McGraw-Hill Chemical Engineering


Robert L. Jacks Memorial Award, Management Division, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


Election to National Academy of Engineering (Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering)


C. D. Scott Award, Symposium in Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals


Lifetime Achievement Award, Renewable Fuel Association


Special Lifetime Achievement Award, Significant Contributions in Engineering Biomass-to-Chemical Processing Plants, American Chemical Society


First Award of Excellence, International Fuel Ethanol Workshop


Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Table of Contents

Family Background and Early Education

Parents. Introduction to construction as a pipe fitter's helper. DeWitt Clinton High School. Philip Broadhurst and chemical engineering.

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (Poly)

Raymond Eller Kirk and "comical" engineering. Working for Donald F. Othmer. Mentor experience. Northwood Chemical Company. Obtaining a master's degree in absentia. Financing of doctoral degree. Teaching Joseph J. Jacobs. The Northwood Project at Diamond Alkali Company. Development of the atomic bomb. Joining the United States Navy.

Vulcan-Cincinnati Incorporated

Acid hydrolysis of wood. Ethanol, molasses, wood, and the war effort. Decision to remain at Vulcan. Ted Wentworth. Mismanagement of Vulcan's finances. Resignation from Vulcan.

Katzen Associates International, Inc. and KATZEN International, Inc.

Universal Oil Products. Process Design Package. Hiring practices. Building a home office. Management philosophy. Consulting for Air Products and Chemicals Inc. Leonard P. Pool's response to "Air Products: Past, Present, and Future. " Industry synergism. Reflections on Poly's engineering curricula. Consulting for Union Carbide Corporation. Becoming KATZEN International. ALCELL.

Reflections on Family and Friends

Meeting Selma M. Katzen. Marriage. Birth of daughter, Nancy Riedel. Selma's role in Katzen Associates. Grandchildren. Friendship with Don Othmer. Robert S. Aries. Marcia Imray. Mildred Topp Othmer. Government and philanthropic activities. Work with AIChE Foundation. Friendship with Joseph and Violet Jacobs.


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.

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.