George B. Rathmann

Born: December 25, 1927 | Milwaukee, WI, US
Died: April 22, 2012 | Palo Alto, CA, US

George Rathmann discusses his upbringing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his undergraduate work in physical chemistry at Northwestern University, and later his graduate studies in physical chemistry at Princeton University. Rathmann had a successful industria; career, from working as a research chemist at 3M Company to acting as Vice-President of Research and Development at Abbott Laboratories, where he became greatly interested in recombinant DNA. Later in his career, Rathmann became more involved in the world of biotechnology and biotech companies. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0187
No. of pages: 107
Minutes: 402

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray, Leo B. Slater and David C. Brock
16-17 September 1999
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

George Rathmann begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and childhood years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At an early age, Rathmann developed an interest in chemistry, which was partially fueled by both his elder brother and brother-in-law, who were chemists, and his high-school chemistry teacher, Mr. Leaker. After high school, Rathmann attended Northwestern University, where he later earned his B.S. in physical chemistry. After receiving his B.S. , Rathmann intended to go on to medical school. However, his desire to work on the research end of medicine was strong, and he decided to continue in physical chemistry, receiving his PhD from Princeton University in 1952. Even before Rathmann finished his PhD thesis, he was hired by 3M Company as a research chemist. In his twenty-one years with 3M, Rathmann worked in many capacities, rising through the ranks to become the Manager of X-ray Systems in 1969. Rathmann credits his nurturing and positive experience at 3M as being very influential during his future career. Rathmann left 3M in 1972 to become President of Litton Medical Systems. Disliking the environment and philosophy of Litton, Rathmann left in 1975 to join Abbott Laboratories as Vice President of Research and Development in the Diagnostics Division. Rathmann enjoyed the aspects of managing research and development initiatives. While with Abbott, Rathmann first became interested in recombinant DNA. His desire to learn more about DNA served as the impetus for his career move into the then-emerging field of biotechnology. Rathmann left Abbott and joined Amgen in 1980, where he still serves as Chairman Emeritus. As Amgen's Chairman, President and CEO, Rathmann worked very hard to procure the venture capital needed to start-up a major biotech company. Amgen burst into the world of biotechnological discovery with Dr. Fu Kuen Lin cloning the human erythropoietin gene, which led to the development of Amgen's Epogen and Neupogen. In 1983, Rathmann joined the Board of the newly formed Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), serving as Chairman in 1987-88. Working with his colleagues in the biotechnology world, Rathmann felt that his time with BIO was a great learning experience. By 1990, Rathmann felt that he had accomplished all that he could with Amgen and became Chairman of ICOS Corporation. Rathmann concludes the interview with thoughts on his years at ICOS and the future of biotechnology. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1948 Northwestern University BS Physical Chemistry
1952 Princeton University PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

3M Company

1951 to 1955
Research Chemist
1955 to 1958
Research Manager
1958 to 1965
Research Director
1965 to 1969
Group Technical Director
1969 to 1972
Manager X-Ray Systems

Litton Medical Systems, Inc.

1972 to 1975

Abbott Laboratories

1975 to 1980
Vice President, Research and Development, Diagnostics Division

Amgen, Inc.

1980 to 1988
Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer
1988 to 1990
1990 to 2000
Chairman Emeritus

ICOS Corporation

1990 to 2000
1991 to 2000
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Chairman Emeritus

Hyseq, Inc.

Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer


Year(s) Award

Gold Medallist Biotechnology CEO of the Year


Gift of Life Award, Illinois Chapter of the National Kidney Foundation


Annual Recognition Award, Washington, DC, National Kidney Foundation


Annual Recognition Award, Los Angeles, National Kidney Foundation


Gold Medallist Biotechnology CEO of the Year


Entrepreneur of the Year, Los Angeles area


BioPharm Achievement Award


Glenn T. Seaborg Medal, UCLA


California Lutheran Honorary Doctorate


Bower Award for Business Leadership


Biotechnology Heritage Award, Chemical Heritage Foundation and BIO

Table of Contents

Early Years

Family background. Siblings. Interest in chemistry. High-school influences. Attending Northwestern University. Desire to attend medical school. Commitment to medical research. Family perceptions.

Educational Career

Meeting Joy (wife). Marriage in 1950. Experiences at Northwestern. Developing an interest in physical chemistry. Attending Princeton University. Charles Phelps Smyth. Patrick L. McGeer. Moving away from academia into industry. Paul J. Flory.

Early Professional Career

Working at 3M Company. Poly-1,1-dihydroperfluorobutyl. Encouragement of ideas. Recognition for innovation. Scotchguard. Frank A. Bovey. Fifteen-percent mandate. Movement into management. Richard Drew. Fixed responsibility. Leaving 3M for Litton Medical Systems. Medical-imaging equipment. Becoming President of Litton. Rethinking career direction. Decision to leave Litton for Abbott Laboratories.

Biotechnology Beginnings

Fascination with recombinant DNA. Leaving Abbott for Amgen, Inc. Obtaining venture capital. Martin Cline. Willingness to take risks. Emergence of biotechnology awareness. Cetus. Charles Weissmann. Interferon and erythropoietin. Gene Goldwasser. Scaling-up. Epogen. Working with academic institutions. Expanding research.

Career in Biotechnology

Involvement in Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Government interaction. Educating public about biotechnology. Fostering better public understanding. Relationship between BIO and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PHARMA). Developing and structuring a biotech company. Recruiting scientists. Product development and completion. Importance of internal education. Training programs. Partnerships.

Scientific Developments

Neupogen development. Interleukin-2. Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) research. Food and Drug Administration. Importance of venture capitalists. Robert Swanson. Patenting issues.


Leaving Amgen for ICOS Corporation. Raising money. Future of biotechnology.


About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Leo B. Slater

Leo Slater was the 2001–2002 John C. Haas Fellow and a senior research historian at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, where he also served as Director of Historical Services from 1997 to 2000. A former research chemist at the Schering-Plough Research Institute, he received his doctorate in History from Princeton University in 1997.