Robert D. Kennedy

Born: November 8, 1932 | Pittsburgh, PA, US

Robert Kennedy discusses his career in mechanical engineering, beginning with his education at Cornell University. After graduation, Kennedy took a position at Union Carbide Corporation, working first in the metallurgical industries and later in management, including a position as head of Linde Air Products Company. Kennedy discusses rebuilding the image of the chemical industry as part of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, education, and family.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0154
No. of pages: 27
Minutes: 110

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
4 February 1997
Danbury, Connecticut

Abstract of Interview

Robert Kennedy begins the interview with a discussion of his family and growing up in Pittsburgh and New York. Kennedy initially considered a career in journalism, but his family persuaded him to pursue engineering. He entered Cornell University as a mechanical engineering major, receiving his BS in 1955. After graduation, Kennedy was offered several jobs in his field. He chose to work for Union Carbide Corporation due to his interest in Union Carbide's metallurgical industries; he worked in this area for twenty years. He began a management career with Union Carbide in the company's European division in Geneva, Switzerland. Upon his return to the United States seven years later, Kennedy became head of Linde Air Products Company, a division of Union Carbide. After the Bhopal incident, Kennedy adjusted his corporate management style as Union Carbide found itself in a transitional phase. The company embarked on a massive restructuring program. As CEO of Union Carbide, Kennedy helped to rebuild the image of chemical industry by serving as a representative with the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA). He helped to instill the Responsible Care program into CMA's agenda. He concludes the interview with reflections on education and thoughts on his family.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1955 Cornell University BS Mechanical Engineering

Professional Experience

Union Carbide Corporation

1955 to 1956
Edgewater Research Laboratory, National Carbon Division
1956 to 1963
Sales and Marketing, National Carbon Division
1963 to 1971
Marketing Management, National Carbon Division
1971 to 1975
European Products Director, National Carbon Division
1975 to 1977
Senior Vice President, Union Carbide, Europe
1977 to 1982
President, Linde Division
1981 to 1982
Senior Vice President
1982 to 1985
Executive Vice President
1985 to 1986
President and COO, Chemicals and Plastics
Member, Board of Directors
1986 to 1995
President and CEO
1986 to 1995
Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award

International Palladium Medal, Société de Chimie Industrielle, American Section


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


Henry Laurence Gantt Medal, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Table of Contents

Early Years

Growing up in Pittsburgh and New York. Going to boarding school. Family's influence on studying engineering. Attending Cornell University.

Career Beginnings

Decision to work for Union Carbide. Chemical innovation. Scientific teamwork. Working at Union Carbide's European Headquarters in Geneva. Returning to the United States.

Union Carbide

Becoming head of Linde Air Products Company. Management styles. Research and funding. World War II innovations. Growth of petrochemical industry. Developing process technology.

Industry and the Environment

Bhopal incident. Stock market changes. Company reorganization. Becoming CEO of Union Carbide. Bhopal settlement. Chemical Manufacturers Association. Responsible Care program.


Winning Chemical Industry Medal. Involvement with education. Goals 2000. Thoughts on 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.