Roy J. Plunkett

Born: June 26, 1910 | New Carlisle, OH, US
Died: Thursday, May 12, 1994 | Corpus Christi, TX, US

Roy Plunkett discusses his upbringing, his family ties to the Church of the Brethren, his undergraduate studies in chemistry at Manchester College, his graduate work in carbohydrate chemistry at Ohio State University, and his friendship with Paul Flory. Plunkett eventually started to work for DuPont where he began synthesis of tetrafluoroethylene, which was later central to his pioneer work with Teflon. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0037
No. of pages: 43
Minutes: 150

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
14 April and 27 May 1986
Marriott Marquis Hotel, New York, New York a nd Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Roy Plunkett starts this conversation with James Bohning by describing his family background. As the family were members of the Church of the Brethren it was natural for Plunkett to attend Manchester College, where Paul Flory was a close friend and near contemporary. Despite the rigors of the Depression, Roy Plunkett was able to complete his chemistry studies at Manchester College and to go to Ohio State University for graduate work in carbohydrate chemistry. An offer from DuPont sent Plunkett to the Jackson laboratories and the refrigerants group where an early assignment was the synthesis of tetrafluoroethylene. Plunkett tells the story of the plugged gas cylinder and his recognition of the unusual properties of the polymer. However, soon after this, Plunkett was moved to tetraethyl lead manufacture; he details his work there and his later career in the Organic Chemicals Department. The interview ends with the recognition of his pioneer work with Teflon and the honors it has brought him. In a brief second interview, Roy Plunkett tells of his common religious background with Paul Flory, their student days at Manchester College and Ohio State University, and their contacts over the years. The conversation ends with further recollections of the circumstances of the initial discovery of tetrafluoroethylene polymerization. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1932 Manchester College AB Chemistry
1933 Ohio State University MSc Chemistry
1936 Ohio State University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1936 to 1939
Research Chemist, Jackson Laboratories
1939 to 1945
Chief Chemist, tetraethyl lead plant, Chambers Works
1945 to 1949
Superintendent, tetraethyl lead plant, Chambers Works
1949 to 1950
Superintendent, Ponsol colors, Chambers Works
1950 to 1951
Assistant Manager, Chamber Works
1952 to 1953
Manager, chemical development, Organic Chemicals
1953 to 1960
Manager, plants technology, Organic Chemicals
1960 to 1970
Directory of research, Freon products, Jackson Laboratories
1970 to 1975
Director of operations, Freon Products Division, Organic Chemicals


Year(s) Award

John Scott Award, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia


DSc, Manchester College


DSc, Washington College


Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists


Plastics Hall of Fame


DSc,Ohio State University


National Inventor's Hall of Fame, U. S. Department of Commerce


Moissan Award, France


John W. Hyatt Award, Society of Plastics Engineers

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Parents and siblings, influence of Church of the Brethren. High school.

Undergraduate Education

Manchester College, chemistry faculty. Flory as fellow student. The Depression and financial support.

Graduate Education

Ohio State University. Chemistry faculty and colleagues.

DuPont and Fluorocarbons

Jackson laboratories, refrigerants research and fluorocarbons. Tetrafluoroethylene, spontaneous polymerization in gas cylinder. Properties of product, early applications.

DuPont and Tetraethyl Lead

Transfer to TEL manufacture. Wartime demand. Recognition for Teflon acheivement, later applications.

Later career with DuPont

Chambers Works. Organic Chemical and Freons. Family, interests in antiques. Honors.

Second Interview

Church of the Brethren. Flory and family. Manchester College and contact with Flory; his early research. Further recollections of TFE polymerization.


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.