Harold J. Read

Born: February 14, 1911 | Dubuque, IA, US
Died: April 19, 1999 | Englewood, FL, US

Harold J. Read describes his family background and his upbringing in Illinois. He earned his BS and MA degrees from the University of Illinois, then relocated to the University of Pennsylvania where his PhD research brought him into the area of metallurgy. Read also worked for the Mellon Institute where his metal-work eventually led to equipment design and manufacturing prototypes for the Manhattan Project. Read was also involved in the Electrochemical Society, eventually becoming its President while overseeing its publications. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0145
No. of pages: 45
Minutes: 170

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
22 March 1995
Grove City, Florida

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Harold J. Read describing his family background and early education in northern Illinois. Read praises his high school education and laboratory training, recalling his thesis verifying Colin Fink's patent on chromium plating. A brief discussion traces Read's education at the University of Illinois during the Depression; intermittent jobs, such as editorial work for the Commerce Clearing House; theses projects in electro-organic chemistry with Sherlock Swann, leading to B.S. and M.A. degrees; and leaving Illinois for an assistant instructor position at the University of Pennsylvania, where his PhD research brought him into the area of metallurgy. The discussion next turns to Read's decision to accept a research position at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh and his metal work making specimens for Houdaille Hershey and others, which eventually led to equipment design and manufacturing prototypes for the Manhattan Project. The majority of the interview discusses Read's involvement with the ECS, beginning with his introduction to the Society in 1934 and his election as secretary of the local sections in Philadelphia and later in Pittsburgh. Read describes local section meetings and initial Society activities, including planning for the Spring 1940 national meeting, editing work on Modern Electroplating, chairing the Electrodeposition Division, and chairing the Publications Committee, where he was influential in broadening the Society's publication activities. He also discusses his work with the Society's monograph series and awards committees, emphasizing the diversity of scientific interests within The ECS. Next, the conversation focuses on Read's decision to accept the vice presidential nomination, which eventually led to the presidency of the ECS. As president his work focused on publications, the discontinuation of Electrochemical Technology, and the implementation of the Council of Past Presidents. The interview ends with a discussion of Read's views of the Society and electrochemistry, present and future. Read reflects on the Society's reaction to new developments in electrochemistry and related fields, comments on the growth of membership and national meetings, and comments on the Society's contributions to his career in terms of science and technology, human relations, and his consulting practice. Closing remarks emphasize the ECS's problems with the publication and storage of abundant new scientific information and the continued diversifying and branching of the Society and the field. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1934 University of Illinois at Chicago BS Chemistry
1935 University of Illinois at Chicago MS Chemistry
1939 University of Pennsylvania PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Illinois at Chicago

1933 to 1935
Chemist, Engineering Experimental Station

University of Pennsylvania

1935 to 1937
Assistant Instructor
1937 to 1938
DuPont Fellow
1938 to 1940

Graham, Crowley & Associates

1936 to 1940
Part-time Chemist

Mellon Institute for Industrial Research

1940 to 1945
Industrial Fellow

Pennsylvania State University

1945 to 1951
Associate Professor of Physical Metallurgy
1951 to 1971
Professor of Metallurgy


Year(s) Award

Proctor Memorial Award, Electroplaters Society


Scientific Achievement Award, Electroplaters Society


Honorary Member, The Electrochemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Family background. High school interest in electrochemistry. Experiments verifying Colin G. Fink's chromium plating patent.

College Education

Scholarship to the University of Illinois. Editing work for Commerce Clearing House to raise funds for college. Bachelor's and Master's degree theses with Sherlock Swann. Assistant instructorship at the University of Pennsylvania. Doctoral thesis on metallurgy with Martin Kilpatrick. Marriage to Catherine P. Braungard.

Postgraduate Career

Mellon Institute for Industrial Research fellowship. Work on Manhattan Project. Development of instrument-making business with wife. Professorship at Pennsylvania State University. Consulting work with Graham, Crowley & Associates.

Electrochemical Society Activities

Membership in The ECS while attending the University of Illinois. Early ECS meetings. Election to secretary of Philadelphia chapter. Diversity of The ECS. Relationship of The ECS to the American Chemical Society. Editorial work on Modern Electroplating. Chairmanship of the Electrodeposition Division in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Chairmanship of the Publications Committee. Development of an electroplating symposium and the institution of a monograph series including Herbert H. Uhlig's Corrosion Handbook. Position as technical editor of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society. Publication policies of the Journal. Work on various awards committees.

Presidency of The Electrochemical Society.

Acceptance of vice presidential nomination. Discontinuation of Electrochemical Technology. Implementation of the Council of Past Presidents.

Views and Opinions on The Electrochemical Society.

Relationship of The ECS to other scientific organizations and to industrial sponsors. Relationship between academic and industrial contingents within The ECS. Relationship between various divisions within The ECS. Reaction of The ECS to scientific innovations. Positive and negative changes within The ECS. Influence of The ECS on career and professional activity. The future of The ECS. The future of electrochemistry.


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.