Delbert H. Meyer

Born: August 28, 1926 | Maynard, IA, US

Delbert Meyer discusses his upbringing in Maynard, Iowa, and his initial uncertainty about his future career, leading to his decision to serve for two years in the US Navy. Later, his professors at Wartburg College and the University of Iowa encouraged his interest in chemistry, contributing to his thirty-nine years with Amoco. He started his career as an exploratory researcher then as a research consultant, eventually developing a faster and more economical method for producing purified terephthalic acid (PTA), and later winning the 1995 Perkin Medal. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0151
No. of pages: 30
Minutes: 92

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
20 January 1997
Naperville, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

Delbert Meyer begins his oral history with a description of his family life as a youth in Maynard, Iowa. He was uncertain of his future career choice and served for two years in the U. S. Navy. Influential professors at Wartburg College and later at the University of Iowa fueled his interest in chemistry. Meyer spent thirty-nine years with Amoco, beginning as an exploratory researcher for Standard Oil Company in 1953 and, later, becoming a research consultant at Amoco in 1992. During his career at Amoco Corporation, Meyer developed a faster and more economical method for producing purified terephthalic acid (PTA), the major material used to make polyester. He eventually moved into research management and product development. Meyer concluded with a discussion scientific innovation as a result of need for products in the marketplace, speculation on the future of research and development management in the chemical sciences, and reflections on winning the 1995 Perkin Medal.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1949 Wartburg College BA Chemistry
1953 University of Iowa PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Amoco Corporation

1953 to 1961
Research Chemist, Standard Oil Company, Whiting, Indiana
1961 to 1967
Research Chemist, Amoco Chemical Company, Whiting, Indiana
1967 to 1977
Research Supervisor, Naperville, Illinois
1977 to 1989
Director, Explorator Research Division, Naperville, Illinois
1989 to 1992
Research Consultant, Naperville, Illinois


Year(s) Award

Alumni Citation Award, Wartburg College


William M. Burton Award, Amoco Chemical Company


U. S. Medal of Technology


Honorary D. Sc. , Wartburg College


Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Table of Contents

Family Background and Early Education

Parents' farm in Maynard, Iowa. High school years.

College Education and Early Career

Difficulty finding a job in chemical field after receiving Bachelor's Degree. Marriage. Graduate school at the University of Iowa. Search for work in industrial field.

Standard Oil

Beginnings in exploratory research. Work on aromatic carboxylic acids. Research and development. Initial work on terephthalic acid.

Career at Amoco Chemical Corporation

Development of Amoco process for making dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). Amoco's beginnings in polyester feedstock. Development of process for purifying terephthalic acid (TA).

PTA Production

Refinement of PTA (purified terephthalic acid) process. Process patent. Development of commercially acceptable way to produce PTA. First commercial PTA plant. Development strategies.

Management, Development, and Marketing

Managing PTA technical service group. Customer working relationships. Product development. Process to make paramethyl styrene. William M. Burton Award. National Medal of Technology. Taking risks to succeed in the marketplace.

Retirement and Final Thoughts

Views on the future of research and development. Thoughts on new technological breakthroughs. Retirement. Winning Perkin Medal.


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.