Chalmer G. Kirkbride

Born: December 27, 1906 | Tyrone, OK, US
Died: June 16, 1998 | Manatee County

Chalmer Kirkbride, influenced by his brother-in-law, a chemist for Sherwin-Williams, studied chemical engineering at the University of Michigan and initially worked for Standard Oil of Indiana before moving on to positions at Pan American Transport Company and Magnolia Petroleum Corporation, among others. Kirkbride was appointed as the first distinguished engineering professor at Texas A&M University, a position he held briefly before returning to industry. Kirkbride discusses his interest in environmental issues as well as recent activities as part of Kirkbride Associates.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0113
No. of pages: 59
Minutes: 205

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
15 July 1993
Washington, DC

Abstract of Interview

Chalmer Kirkbride begins the interview by describing his family background and childhood in Oklahoma and Kansas. During high school, Kirkbride's interests were influenced by his brother-in-law, a chemist for Sherwin-Williams. Kirkbride studied chemical engineering at the University of Michigan and spent summers working in the oil fields. He was recruited on campus by Standard Oil of Indiana and worked at the Whiting refinery. Kirkbride also worked for the Pan American Transport Company and Magnolia Petroleum Corporation before being appointed as the first distinguished engineering professor at Texas A&M University. In 1947, Kirkbride returned to industry when he was recruited by the Houdry Process Corporation. He became president of Houdry before moving to Sun Oil Company, where he created a commercial development department and began taking an active interest in environmental issues. After his retirement Kirkbride became president of the Cecil County Anti-Pollution league, founded Kirkbride Associates, and participated in board activities at Widener University.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1930 University of Michigan BSE Chemical Engineering
2016 University of Michigan MSE Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Standard Oil Company Indiana

1930 to 1934
Chemical Engineer

Pan American Refining Company

1934 to 1941
Director of Technical Services

US Army

1935 to 1940
Second Lieutenant, Chemical Warfare Service

Magnolia Petroleum Company

1942 to 1944
Chief of Chemical Engineering Development

Texas A&M University

1944 to 1947
Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

Secretary of War


Houdry Process Corporation

1947 to 1952
Vice President, Research and Development
1947 to 1962
Member, Board of Directors
1952 to 1956
President and Chairman of The Board

Catalytic Construction Company

1952 to 1954

Sun Oil Company

1956 to 1960
Executive Director, Research, Engineering, and Patents
1958 to 1968
Member, Board of Directors, Sunolin Chemical Company
1959 to 1960
President, Avisun Corporation
1959 to 1968
Member, Board of Directors, Avisun Corporation
1960 to 1970
Vice President, Commercial Development, Research, Engineering, & Patents
1963 to 1970
Member, Board of Directors
1970 to 1974
Consulting Engineer

Federal Energy Administration

Petroleum and Chemical Specialist

Kirkbride Associates



Year(s) Award

Professional Progress Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


ScD (honorary), Beaver College (Arcadia University)


Eng D (honorary), Drexel University


Engineer of the Year, Delaware County Chapter, The Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers


Kirkbride Hall of Science and Engineering, Widener University


National Academy of Engineering


Founders Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineering


Distinguished Public Service Award, US Navy


Eng D (honorary), Widener University


Engineering Centennial Medal, Widener University


George Washington Award, Philadelphia Engineering Club


Fuels and Petrochemical Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


Eminent Chemical Engineer, American Institute of Chemical Engineering

Table of Contents

Family Background and Childhood

Parents settling in Oklahoma Territory. Family move to Caney, Kansas. Early education. High school athletics. High marks in chemistry and math. Family's influence in pursuing higher education, chemistry.

University of Michigan

Summer employment in the oil fields. Curriculum, faculty, fellow students.

Standard Oil of Indiana

On-campus recruitment. Work at Whiting refinery. First assignments. Papers on heat transfer and vertical tubes. Learning process engineering.

Pan American Petroleum Transport Company and Magnolia Petroleum Corporation

Move to Texas City. Meeting wife. Commission to Chemical Warfare Service. Making toluene. Marriage. Move to Dallas.

Texas A & M University

Thoughts on engineering and the humanities. Appointment as first distinguished professor in engineering. Research projects. Publications. Bikini atomic bomb tests.

Houdry Process Corporation

Recruitment by Art Pew and Art Danner at AIChE meeting. Director of research position. Co-workers. Connection with Sun Oil. Presidency. Patent infringement suit with Mobil Oil.

Sun Oil Company

Creation of commercial development department. Transition from technical to administrative work. Puerto Rico Project to manufacture lubricating oils. Environmental concerns. Oceanography work.

Cecil County Anti-Pollution League

Retirement from Sun. Presidency of Anti-Pollution League opposing B. F. Goodrich acrylonitrile plant on C&D Canal. Consulting contracts. Association with Widener University.


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.