Herman Mark

Born: May 3, 1895 | Vienna, AT
Died: Monday, April 6, 1992 | Austin, TX, US

Herman Mark begins his three-part interview by discussing his research at the Universities of Vienna and Berlin, as well as at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, where Mark collaborated with various colleagues and used x-ray diffraction to establish the crystal structures of small organic molecules and metals. Mark also discusses his time at I. G. Farben, where he established a polymer laboratory and, due to the worsening political climate, left for Vienna to set up the first comprehensive polymer research and training institute. Mark recalls setting up the Polymer Research Institute at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and his role in the formation of the literature of polymer science and technology. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0030
No. of pages: 117
Minutes: 506

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning and Jeffrey L. Sturchio
3 February, 17 March and 20 June 1986
Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, New York

Abstract of Interview

In this first of three interviews Herman Mark starts with his study of relatively stable free radicals under the direction of Wilhelm Schlenk, first in Vienna and then in Berlin. After a post-doctoral period at the University of Berlin, Mark was invited by Haber to join the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute at Dahlem. There, Mark collaborated with Polanyi and other colleagues in using x-ray diffraction to establish the crystal structures of small organic molecules and metals. This work was extended to naturally-occurring organic materials such as cellulose and silk. As a consequence, Mark was able to play an important role at the critical 1926 meeting in Düsseldorf, which brought together Staudinger and the opponents of the macromolecular hypothesis. Mark's next move was to IG Farben, where he established a polymer laboratory. That was also where he first collaborated with Kurt Meyer, with whom he published the pioneering x--ray crystallographic structure of cellulose. Mark describes the laboratories, research directions, and colleagues during his stay at Ludwigshafen. The worsening political climate in Germany prompted Mark to accept a chair at his alma mater. Back in Vienna, he set up the first comprehensive polymer research and teaching institute. Mark concludes this interview by describing the circumstances of an approach from the Canadian International paper Company and his decision to leave Austria. The second interview details his experiences in the Canadian paper industry and his early ventures into publishing with the first of the Polymer Monograph series. Mark explains how he was able to resume an academic career by starting the polymer program at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, which soon became world-renowned. The wartime years brought new projects and young faculty to Brooklyn. Mark briefly describes this period before going on to the immediate post-war era and the later expansion of the Polymer Research Institute, which forms the introductory section of the final interview. In this interview, Mark tells of his part in the formation of the literature of polymer science and technology: journals, monographs, reference books and encyclopedias. Mark's many international collaborations are outlined, spanning a pre-war expedition to a Caucasian glacier to a demonstration of the nylon rope trick to Emperor Hirohito. Finally, Mark refers to his more recent research interests and describes the changes in research funding that have taken place during the past four decades. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1921 University of Vienna PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Berlin

1921 to 1922
Instructor in Organic Chemistry

Kaiser Wilhelm Institute

1922 to 1926
Research Fellow

Karlsruhr Technical University

1927 to 1932
Associate Professor

I.G. Farben Industrie

1927 to 1928
Research Chemist
1928 to 1930
Group Leader
1930 to 1932
Assistant Research Director

University of Vienna

1932 to 1938
Professor of Chemistry and Director, First Chemical Institute

Canadian International Paper Company

1938 to 1940

Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute

1940 to 1942
Adjunct Professor
1942 to 1964
Professor
1961 to 1964
Dean of Faculty
1965 to 1987
Dean and Professor Emeritus

Polymer Research Institute

1946 to 1964
Director

Honors

Year(s) Award
1928

Hertz Medal, Germany

1933

Austrian Academy, member

1934

Bucharest Academy, member

1934

Exner Medal, Austria

1936

Chemical Society of Madrid, member

1937

Chemical Society of Bucharest, member

1937

Austrian Society of Textile Chemists and Colorists, member

1937

Austrian Society for X-Ray Research, member

1937

Medal of the Austrian Society of Textile Chemists and Colorists

1938

Budapest Academy, member

1943

New York Academy of Science, member

1944

American Institute of Physics, member

1947

Royal Institution of Great Britain, member

1947

Max Planck Society, member

1948

Harrison Howe Award, American Chemical Society

1948

Franqui Medaille, Belgium

1949

American Leather Society, member

1949

Amsterdam Academy, member

1950

Honorary degree, University of Liège, Belgium

1950

Vienna Physical Chemistry Society, member

1950

Textile Institute of Great Britain, member

1950

Indian Academy of Sciences, member

1951

Austrian Association of Paper Chemists, member

1952

Austrian Society for Wood Research, member

1952

National Institute of Science of India, member

1953

Weizmann Institute of Science, member

1953

Honor Scroll of the American Institute of Chemists

1953

Legion d'Honneur

1953

Honorary degree, University of Uppsala, Sweden

1954

Honorary degree, Free University of Berlin, West Germany

1954

Medal of Honor, Milan Polytechnic Institute

1954

Italian Chemical Society, member

1955

Honorary Fellow, University of Vienna

1955

Honorary degree, Technical University of Berlin, West Germany

1955

Golden Honor Medal, University of Vienna

1955

Trasenster Medal, Association of Belgian Engineers

1956

Honorary degree, Lowell Technological Institute

1956

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member

1960

Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society

1960

Honorary degree, Technical University of Munich, West Germany

1961

Distinguished Service Medal, Syracuse University

1961

National Academy of Science,member

1962

Phi Lamba Upsilon Honorary Chemical Society, member

1962

International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers

1962

Gold Medal, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science

1962

Honorary degree, Gutenberg University, Mainz, West Germany

1964

Honorary degree, Karl Franzens University, Graz, Austria

1965

Honorary degree, Technische Hochschüle, Vienna, Austria

1965

Honorary degree, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn

1965

Honorary degree, Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia

1965

Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society

1965

Olney Medal, American Chemical Society

1965

Plastics Institute of America, member

1965

Austrian Society for Plastics Technology, member

1965

The Fiber Society, member

1966

Soviet Academy of Sciences, member

1966

Austrian Honor Cross in Science and Arts

1966

Cresson Medal

1968

Swinburne Medal, Plastics Institute of Great Britain

1968

International Academy of Wood Science, member

1970

City of Vienna Prize for Natural Sciences

1970

Distinguished Service Award, Polytechnic Chapter Sigma Xi

1971

The Franklin Institute, member

1971

Honorary degree, Jassy University, Rumania

1972

Society of Polymer Science of Japan, member

1972

Scientific Achievement Medal Award, City College Alumni Association

1972

Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists

1973

Indian Chemical Society, member

1973

Honorary degree, Universidad Autonoma Madrid, Spain

1974

Croatian Society of Plastics Engineers, member

1975

Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society

1975

Austrian Grand Silver Medal with Star

1975

150th Anniversary Prize, Aachen and Munich Insurance Association

1975

Honorary degree, Israel Institute of Technology, Israel

1976

Honorary degree, Long Island University, New York

1976

Honorary degree, Montan University, Leoben, Austria

1976

Plastics and Coatings Award, American Chemical Society

1976

Harvey Prize, Israeli Technion

1976

Plastics Hall of Fame, member

1977

The Chemists Club, member

1977

The New York Academy of Sciences, member

1977

Distinguished Service Award, Polytechnic University of New York

1978

Humboldt Prize

1978

Plastics Vision" Award, Society of Plastics Engineers

1978

Chemical Society of Japan, member

1978

American Institute of Chemists, member

1979

Yugoslav Society of Plastics and Rubber Engineers, member

1979

Indian Society for Polymer Science, member

1979

The Royal Institute of Chemistry, member

1979

Wolf Prize, Israel

1979

Honorary degree, University of Nottingham, Great Britain

1980

Honorary degree, University of Vienna, Austria

1980

Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry, Great Britain

1980

National Medal of Sciences

1980

Jabotinsky Centennial Medal, Israel

1980

Silver Medal, International Commission for Fiber Science Research, France

1980

Colwyn Medal, Plastics and Rubber Institute, Great Britain

1980

Gesellschaft für Chemiewirtschaft, Vienna

1981

American Society for Testing Materials, member

1982

Gold Award, Society for Plastics Technology, Vienna

1982

Polymer Education Award, American Chemical Society

1982

Honorary degree, University of Massachusetts

1984

30th Anniversary Lecture Medal, Milan Polytechnic Institute

1985

Gold Merit Medal, International Center for Research on Synthetic Fibers

1985

The Textile Institute of Great Britain, Honorary Fellowship

1986

Mayor's Award of Honor for Science and Technology, City of New York

1987

Bronze Medal, Universite Claude Bernard, Lyon

1987

Medal of the City of Lyon, France

1987

Bronze Medal, Conseil Général du Rhône, France

1987

Mayor's award of Honor for Science and Technology, City of Vienna

Table of Contents

Universities of Vienna and Berlin
1

Leading professors at the University of Vienna. Graduate study with Schlenk and move to Berlin with him, along with three colleagues. Berlin as cultural center.

Kaiser Wilhelm Institute
3

Conversation with Haber and circumstances of transfer to the Kaiser Wilhelm Textile Institute at Dahlem. Start of x-ray studies. Polanyi and other colleagues. Crystal structures of simple organic molecules and metals. Extension of studies to macromolecular compounds. Collaboration with Colloid Department. International visitors. Test of Compton experiment, contact with Einstein. Contemporary German physical chemistry; quantum theory, wave mechanics. Hungarians in Berlin scientific circles; recollections of Nernst and Haber. Berlin; culture, economy and politics. Research funding and personal finances during hyperinflation. Staudinger and the macromolecular controversy; the Düsseldorf meeting.

I. G. Farbenindustrie
15

Conversation with Meyer and establishment of laboratory at I. G. Farben. Cellulose crystal structure. Dispute with Staudinger on polymer conformation as evidenced by viscosity. Organization and function of Ludwigshafen laboratories; colleagues there. Pilot plant; trouble-shooting. Patents. Awareness of Carother's studies. Synthetic rubber research at I. G. Farben. Styrene monomer synthesis. Publications and contact with academic circles; teaching at Karlsruhe. Standards of laboratory equipment.

Transfer to University of Vienna
29

Conversation with Gaus, Nazi assumption of power in Germany. Offer and acceptance of chair at University of Vienna. Family, and their reaction to move. Faculty at Vienna, new curricula, research projects, graduate students. International contacts; Cambridge Faraday Society Discussion. Meeting with Carothers. Approach by Thorne of Canadian International Paper Company.

Canada
37

Departure from Austria. Nature of Canadian International Paper Company laboratories. Duties as research director.

Publishing
42

Proskauer and Interscience; Polymer Monograph Series. Textile and tire-cord rayon; molecular weight distribution. Large-scale production, statistical sampling for specifications. Relations with DuPont.

Early days at Brooklyn
47

Circumstances of move to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Other academic opportunities, visit to General Electric laboratories. Family vacation in Florida. Shellac Bureau; planning the polymer curriculum at Brooklyn. Research directions. X-ray studies, appointment of Fankuchen. Molecular weight and distribution studies. Appointment of young faculty. Mechanical properties. Prominence of polymer education; part-time graduate students. Publications, seminars, symposia. Effect of World War II. Weasel, DUQC and Habakkuk.

Post-war years at Brooklyn
61

Part in setting-up of Weizmann Institute. Consulting. New research directions; copolymerization, polymer characterization, thermal transitions, crystallization of supercooled polymers.

Expansion of polymer studies at Brooklyn
69

Polymer Research Institute and activities. Expansion into larger facilities. Loss and replacement of faculty. Foundation of Journal of Polymer Science and other publications. Influence of Gordon Conferences and bridging the academic/industry gap. Examples of novel developments introduced at Gordon Conferences. Establishment of encyclopedias. Polymer Monographs. Expansion of polymer journals in U. S. and abroad. Japanese polymer science.

International Activities
86

Pre-war joint venture, H/D ratio in glacial ice. Start of polymer division in IUPAC. Pulp and paper chemistry in forestry division of FAO. Royal demonstration in Japan. UNIDO fiber and plastics teaching institutes. Technology transfer, UNIDO venture in India. Visit to China in 1972.

More Recent Research Programs
91

High performance polymers and composites. Recent funding sources at Polymer Research Institute. Consulting. Experimental methods, transfer of knowledge.

Soviet Contacts
98

Pre-war contacts in Vienna; post-war international visits. The Tashkent boycott; human rights.

Notes
100
Index
104

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.

Jeffrey L. Sturchio

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.