Keith R. McKennon

Born: December 25, 1933 | Condon, OR, US
Died: September 14, 2013 | Scottsdale, AZ, US

Keith McKennon discusses his youth and interests in research and chemistry, as well as his subsequent years at Oregon State University. McKennon reflects on his multiple career paths at Dow Chemical Company and Shell Chemical Company, from working in a sales position to research management and then as a Director of government relations and public issues. McKennon describes his next major career turn-dealing with public concern about dioxin in Agent Orange, and later, at Dow Corning, with the silicon implant affair. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0142
No. of pages: 38
Minutes: 115

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
30 March 1995
Scottsdale, Arizona

Abstract of Interview

Keith McKennon begins this interview by discussing the origins of his interest in research and chemistry and the impact of growing up in Pendleton, Oregon, and attending Oregon State University. He then describes his early career at Dow Chemical Company and his decision to leave Dow for a sales position with Shell Chemical Company. Next, McKennon explains the process development and sales work he undertook upon his return to Dow and the research management strategies he employed as he later moved through Dow's management ranks. In recalling his decision to change career directions and take a position as a Director of Government Relations and Public Issues, McKennon views external influences on the chemical industry and the impact of environmental activism. He examineshis relationship with Paul Oreffice, the change from Zoltan Merszei to Oreffice, and his own role on the board of directors. Next, McKennon describes his second major career turn—dealing with public concern about dioxin in Agent Orange, and later, at Dow Corning, with the silicon implant affair. Finally, he ends the interview by reflecting on the chemical industry, its future, and the need for quality research management. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1955 Oregon State University BS Agricultural Chemistry

Professional Experience

Dow Chemical Company

1955 to 1956
Research Chemist, Special Assignments Program
1956 to 1961
Research Chemist, Pusher Project, Western Division
1962 to 1967
Sales and Development, Pusher Project
1967 to 1968
Field Sales Manager, Secondary Oil Recovery Department (Houston)
1968 to 1969
R&D Director, Secondary Oil Recovery Department (Walnut Creek)
Development Manager, Process Chemicals (Midland)
Business Manager, Environmental Control Systems
1971 to 1974
Business Manager, Highway Products
1974 to 1976
Business Manager, Construction Materials/Styrofoam
1976 to 1978
Director of Government Relations and Public Issues, Plastics Department
Director of Public Affairs, Dow USA
1978 to 1985
Director of Public Affairs, Dow
1978 to 1990
Member, Management Committee, Dow USA
1980 to 1983
Vice President, Dow
1983 to 1992
Member, Board of Directors, Dow
Group Vice President, Product Department Management, Dow USA
1983 to 1987
Group Vice President
1985 to 1987
Director, Research and Development, Dow
1987 to 1990
President, Dow USA
1990 to 1992
Executive Vice President for Technology

Shell Chemical Company

1961 to 1962

Dow Corning Corporation

1992 to 1993
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award

Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary Clubs


Distinguished Citizen Award, Boy Scouts of America


Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

Table of Contents

Family Background and Education

Influence of family background and growing up in Condon and Pendleton, Oregon. Oregon State University. Linus Pauling's legacy. Summer research at OSU Agricultural Experiment Station. Interests in chemistry and research.

Early Career at Dow

Training in Special Assignments Program. Supervisors and work environment. Interests in development and sales. Leaving Dow for sales position at Shell.

Development and Management at Dow

Returning to Dow in Technical Service & Development. Selling process and technology. Work in secondary oil recovery. Views on decision making and intracompany competition. Business management.

Government Relations and Public Issues

Dow and chemical industry reaction to the environmental movement. Government relations in the plastics department. Minnesota milk container ban. Relationship with Paul Oreffice. Dow USA. Public and internal perceptions of Dow.

Late Career Changes at Dow

Influence on Board of Directors. Agent Orange and Times Beach. Dow Corning and silicon implants affair. Relationship with media.

Views of Industry

Future of chemical innovation. Research budgeting. Value of and need for research managers.

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.