Carl S. Marvel

Born: September 11, 1894 | Waynesville, IL, US
Died: January 4, 1988 | Tucson, AZ, US

Carl Marvel discusses his early life, including his youth on a farm, and his education, including his undergraduate years at Illinois Wesleyan College and his graduate studies at University of Illinois. Marvel recalls his consulting work for DuPont and his World War II work, including his direction of the federal rubber program and anti-malarial and chemical warfare agents research. Marvel concludes by speaking about his most recent research in polymers, his family, hobbies, and involvement with the American Chemical Society. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0003
No. of pages: 56
Minutes: 137

Interview Sessions

Leon B. Gortler and Charles Price
13 July 1983
Wilmington, Delaware

Abstract of Interview

In this interview, Carl Marvel speaks about his life and career as a chemist. He begins by recalling his youth on a farm and his early education. Considerations of his undergraduate days at Illinois Wesleyan College and of his graduate studies at the University of Illinois follow. Marvel then describes his first teaching job at Illinois, his colleagues, and the operation of the chemistry department. In the central portion of the interview, Marvel provides extended discussion of his consulting work for DuPont, his direction of the federal government's program on synthetic rubber during World War II, and his research on anti-malarial and chemical warfare agents. He then talks about his postwar research in polymer chemistry. Marvel concludes with an appraisal of his contributions to chemistry and remarks about his family, hobbies, and involvement with the American Chemical Society. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1915 Illinois Wesleyan University AB and MS Chemistry
1916 University of Illinois at Chicago MA Chemistry
1920 University of Illinois at Chicago PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1928 to 1984

US Rubber Reserve Corporation

1941 to 1944
Director, Synthesis Program

National Research Council

1944 to 1946
Chairman, panel to synthesize anti-malarial drugs
1954 to 1964

National Advisory Health Council

1945 to 1947

National Science Foundation

1952 to 1954

University of Illinois at Chicago

1920 to 1921
1921 to 1923
1923 to 1927
Assistant Professor
1927 to 1930
Associate Professor
1930 to 1953
Professor of Organic Chemistry
1953 to 1961
Research Professor
1961 to 1984
Emeritus Research Professor

University of Arizona

1961 to 1984
Professor, Department of Chemistry


Year(s) Award

Elected to of National Academy of Sciences


Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society


President, American Chemical Society


Honorary DSc degree, Illinois Wesleyan University


Willard Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society


Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists


Joseph Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society


Honorary DSc degree, University of Illinois


International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers


Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry


Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemistry


Dr. honoris causa, University of Louvain

Table of Contents


Life in Waynesville, Illinios. Parents' influence. Schooling at a private academy. Family's financial situation.

Undergraduate Education at Illinois Wesleyan CollegeYouth

Atmosphere at a small school. Science courses. Decision to attend graduate school. Influential professors. Research on turbidity of beer. Completion of master's degree. State of chemistry during World War I.

Graduate Education at the University of Illinois

Synthesis work. Manufacture of chemical compounds. Production of octane. Coursework and textbooks. Bacteriology work. Faculty members and graduate students. Atmosphere in Illinois' Department of Chemistry. Departmental seminars. Influence of Karl Ziegler's work. Polymer research.

Teaching at the University of Illinois

First teaching job. Industrial orientation of chemistry. Kharasch and the University of Chicago. Several job offers. Duties as an instructor. Illinois during the 1920s. Robert Woodward. Colleagues. E. P. Kohler. Graduate students. How Illinois' chemistry department interacted with other chemistry departments. Research conditions and funding.

Industrial Consulting and Research

Retained by Du Pont. Work with different divisions within Du Pont. Polymer chemistry. Chemists active in the 1930s. Changes in consulting work. Growth of biochemistry. The development of physical organic chemistry.

Research during World War II

The National Defense Research Committee. Research on chemical warfare agents. Establishment of synthetic rubber program at Illinois. Chemists involved in rubber research. The One Essential Ingredient (OEI) in synthetic rubber. Malaria research. Draft deferments. Postwar inspection of German synthetic rubber research.

Postwar Research

Position on National Science Foundation review board. Polymer research for air force. Research on polybenzimidazole. Development of polymer chemistry. Faculty members at Illinois. Position at the University of Arizona.


Important contributions to chemistry. Bird watching. Work with the American Chemical Society. Professional awards. Prospects for chemistry today. Discussion about family members.


About the Interviewer

Leon B. Gortler

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.

Charles Price