Malcolm M. Renfrew

Born: October 12, 1910 | Spokane, WA, US
Died: Saturday, October 12, 2013 | Moscow, ID, US

After studying chemistry at the University of Idaho, Malcolm Renfrew joined George Glockler at Minnesota for research on Raman spectroscopy but later joined Arlington laboratories of du Pont where he became involved in plastics development and Teflon. Renfrew also expresses an interest in health and safety in the chemical environment as he reflects on his career in industry, which includes his ascension through the research management ladder at General Mills and Spencer Kellogg. Renfrew eventually returned to his alma mater to teach and lead the physical science department. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0076
No. of pages: 51
Minutes: 169

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
31 August 1987
New Orleans, Louisiana

Abstract of Interview

Malcolm Renfrew grew up in the Northwest. Despite an early interest in music, drama and the arts, Renfrew studied chemistry at the University of Idaho, in part, influenced by a chemist uncle. After serving as a teaching assistant in both physics and chemistry and completing a Masters thesis, he joined George Glockler at Minnesota for research on Raman spectroscopy. He recalls contemporaries at both Moscow and Minneapolis, as well as a summer spent on the road with a tent show. When Renfrew joined the Arlington laboratories of du Pont, he was much involved with plastics development, especially of Teflon, and he recalls the enthusiastic interest aroused by the disclosure of its properties at an ACS meeting in 1946. Malcolm Renfrew has long had a special interest in health and safety in the chemical environment, and he recounts laboratory accidents during the development of PTFE. After moving to General Mills and then to Spencer Kellogg, ascending the research management ladder, Renfrew went back to his alma mater in 1959 as head of physical science. He completes the interview with an account of his return to teaching. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1932 University of Idaho BS Chemistry
1934 University of Idaho MS Chemistry
1938 University of Minnesota PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Idaho

1932 to 1933
Fellow in Physics
1933 to 1935
Teaching Assistant in Chemistry
1959 to 1967
Head of Physical Science Department
1968 to 1973
Head of Chemistry Department
1959 to 1976
Professor of Chemistry
1976 to 1988
Professor Emeritus
1977 to 1978
Executive Vice President, Idaho Research Foundation, Inc.
1978 to 1986
Patent Director, Idaho Research Foundation, Inc.

University of Minnesota

1935 to 1937
Teaching Assistant in Chemistry
1935 to 1938
du Pont Fellow

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1938 to 1944
Research Chemist
Supervisor of Process Development
1946 to 1948
Supervisor of Product Development

General Mills, Inc

1949 to 1952
Head of Chemical Research Department
1952 to 1953
Director of Chemical Research
1953 to 1954
Director of Chemical Research and Development

Spencer Kellogg and Sons, Inc.

1954 to 1958
Director of Research and Development


Year(s) Award

Honorary DSc, University of Idaho


Norris Award, Northeastern Section, American Chemical Society


University of Idaho Alumni Hall of Fame


College Chemistry Teacher Award, Manufacturing Chemists Association


University of Minnesota Alumni Achievement Award


Division of Chemical Health and Safety Award, American Chemical Society


Mosher Award, Santa Clara Valley Section, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Family background and growing up in Idaho and Washington. Early interests in music and drama. Influence of a chemist uncle.

University of Idaho

Chemistry studies under Von Ende and Cady. Effects of the Depression. Research for M.S. degree. Colleagues at Idaho. Summer with tent show.

University of Minnesota

Teaching assistant in chemistry; chlorine incident. Raman spectroscopy with Glockler. Contemporaries.

DuPont Arlington Laboratories

Plastics development. Brooklyn seminars. Teflon and wartime needs. Laboratory accidents. Unveiling of Teflon at ACS meeting. Photopolymerization studies.

General Mills Company and Spencer Kellogg & Sons

Reactive polyamide resin research. Move to Kellogg, new research laboratory.

Return to University of Idaho

Head of physical science, recruitment of new faculty. Teaching responsibilities. Laboratory safety concerns. ACS activities; column in the Journal of Chemical Education.


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.