Frank R. Nissel

Born: July 2, 1926 | Berlin, DE
Died: Thursday, August 28, 2014 | Lafayette Hill, PA, US

Frank R. Nissel recounts his upbringing and multi-lingual education in Berlin, Germany and Egypt during the rise of Hilter's regime. He later earned his M.S. in chemical engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1946, and eventually pursued a successful career at Union Carbide Corporation and then as co-founder of Prodex Corporation and Welex. Nissel used his mechanical instincts to revolutionize plastics machinery by making it more efficient and less expensive than its competitors, and in time was honored membership into the Plastics Hall of Fame. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0244
No. of pages: 31
Minutes: 320

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
20 March 2002
Welex Corporation, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Frank R. Nissel begins the interview by describing his early childhood and schooling in Berlin, Germany, and subsequent move to Egypt due to the emergence of Adolf Hitler's policies. Arriving in Egypt at the age of seven, Nissel continued his multi-lingual education. After a six-month escape to Jerusalem until the end of World War II, Nissel returned to Egypt to attend the American University at Cairo. He continued his education in the United States, studying chemical engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He began a successful decade of work with Union Carbide Corporation after earning his M.S. in 1946, finally leaving to become co-founder of Prodex Corporation with Albert Kaufman. At Union Carbide, Nissel focused on vinyl calendaring, but returned to his more mechanical instincts by building extruders in his new business venture. The machinery built at Prodex revolutionized plastics machinery by being more efficient, yet less expensive, than its competitors, making waves with companies like Dow Chemical Company. Nissel continued to improve his products, while ensuring customers a good value. In 1955, Prodex was sold to Koehring Company, and after a brief time of consulting, Nissel joined forces with Welding Engineers Company to form Welex Corporation. At 76 years old, Nissel is not ready to retire, but has confidence that when that time comes, the company he founded will be well taken care of. For his innovation and contributions to the plastics industry Nissel has earned many honors and awards, including membership in the Plastics Hall of Fame. Nissel concludes the interview by sharing a bit about his family today, as well as interests outside of the work sphere, especially the jazz music scene. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1945 American University in Cairo BS
1946 Virginia Polytechnic Institute MS Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Union Carbide Corporation

1946 to 1956

Prodex Corporation

1956 to 1966
Co-Founder, Vice President

Welex Corporation

1967 to 2003
Co-Founder, President, CEO

Honors

Year(s) Award
1992

SPE Extrusion Division Distinguished Service Award

1993

Fellow of the Society of Plastics Engineers

1995

SPE International Award in Business Management

2000

Plastics Hall of Fame Inductee

Table of Contents

Childhood and Family Background
1

Early childhood in Berlin, Germany. Moving to Egypt in light of Hitler's governance. Growing up with the influence of World War II. Schooling experiences in Egypt. Attending the American University at Cairo.

Moving to America and Early Career Success
4

Masters program and radio show at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Post-graduate career choices. Successful years at Union Carbide Corporation. Foucs on vinyl calendaring.

Entrepreneurial Initiatives
10

Leaving Union Carbide to start Prodex Corporation. The natural switch from chemical to mechanical engineering. Changing the plastics machinery industry with respect to efficiency and cost. Marketing of Machines. Offending Dow Chemical Company.

Business Strategy and Decisions
16

Philosophy of Business. Thoughts on selling Prodex to Koehring Company. Down time and consulting. Interactions with Welding Engeering and founding of Welex Corporation. Discussion of the future of Welex. Awards and honors received, especially Plastics Hall of Fame.

Current Interests and Family Life
22

Involvement and interest in music, especially jazz. Early experiences with music in his family. Other interests in skiing and sailing. Discussion of wife, children, and grandchildren. Thoughts on travel.

Index
28

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.