Malcolm E. Pruitt

Born: October 15, 1915 | Hamilton, TX, US
Died: May 30, 2003 | Brazoria, TX, US

Malcolm Pruitt recounts his early life in Texas and his struggles to complete his undergraduate education during the Depression. As a control chemist at Dow, Pruitt began his extensive studies of the ionic polymerization of cyclic oxide monomers and eventually moved into senior research management. Pruitt also reflects on his initiatory role in the formation of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology and the Council for Chemical Research. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0039
No. of pages: 51
Minutes: 174

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
15 January 1986
Midland, Michigan

Abstract of Interview

In this interview Mac Pruitt discusses his early upbringing in a rural area of Texas and his struggles to complete undergraduate education during the Depression. After starting as a control chemist on the graveyard shift at the Dow facility in Freeport, Texas, Pruitt progressed through the laboratories and embarked on his extensive studies of the ionic polymerization of cyclic oxide monomers. The circumstances of his move into senior research management and his eventual transfer to Midland, Michigan, are embellished by Pruitt's reflections on R&D and on his initiatory role in the formation of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology and the Council for Chemical Research. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Abilene Christian University BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

Hamilton County Public School

1936 to 1941

Clyde Independent Schools

1941 to 1942

Dow Chemical Company

1942 to 1943
Control Chemist
1943 to 1944
Research Chemist, Gas Laboratory
1944 to 1946
Research Chemist, Organic Laboratory
1946 to 1948
Project Leader
1949 to 1951
Group Leader
1951 to 1954
Laboratory Group Leader
1954 to 1962
Director, Organic Products
1962 to 1967
Director of Product Research
1967 to 1971
Director of Research and Development, Dow Chemical USA
1971 to 1978
Director of Research and Development
1975 to 1980
1978 to 1980
Corporate Director of Research and Development

Council for Chemical Research

1980 to 1982
1982 to 1987
Honorary Chairman


Year(s) Award

Alumni Citation, Abilene Christian University


Honorary Doctor of Science, Abilene Christian University


Industrial Research Institute Medal


Society of Research Adminstrators Award


Commercial Development Association Award


Outstanding Alumnus, Abilene Christian University


First Recipient of Mac Pruitt Award, Council for Chemical Research


Earle Barnes Award, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Growing up on a farm in Hamilton, Texas. Siblings. Recollections of elementary and high school teachers.

Undergraduate Education

Scholarship to Abilene Christian College. Struggle to continue higher education during the Depression. Break from college to take a full-time teaching job in a rural school. Summer terms at North Texas State College. Graduation from Abilene in 1941 and a further year teaching in Clyde, Texas. Memories of faculty at both colleges.

Dow Chemical Company

Circumstances of obtaining position as control chemist in Freeport, Texas. Transfer to Dow Magnesium Corporation and return to the gas laboratories of the main company. Subsequent move to the research laboratory. Polymerization studies of ethylene oxide and related monomers. Problems of the polymerization exotherm; control of molecular weight and its distribution. Development of major program on ionic polymerization. IUPAC meeting on ionic polymerization. Synthetic lubricants. Academic courses at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and University of Houston. Urethane developments; Nutrifoam. Birth of Gel Permeation Chromatography and the impetus for instrumental innovation. Colleagues at Dow and their styles of management. Polycarbonate resins.

Senior Research Management; transfer to Midland

Reflections on R&D management and its status within the company organization. Product stewardship. Energy and environmental concerns. Formation of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology. Start of the Council for Chemical Research; industrial and academic research cooperation; academic research funding. Problems of senior management in present day industrial chemical research and development. The perceived image of chemistry and the chemical industry.


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.