Harold E. Thayer

Born: March 3, 1912 | Rochester, NY, US
Died: August 23, 1998 | St. Louis, MO, US

The oral history begins with Harold E. Thayer recalling growing up in Rochester, New York, during the  Depression, and his decision to attend MIT, where he pursued a course combining chemical engineering and business administration. He describes working at American Cyanamid  and Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, where he was involved in the War Production Board and  the Manhattan District's uranium processing. The interview focuses on Thayer's long-standing outspokenness in management. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0120
No. of pages: 35
Minutes: 133

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
1 December 1994
St. Louis, Missouri

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins as Harold Eugene Thayer recalls his family background and growing up in Rochester, New York, during the early Depression. He remembers the strong influence of his mother and his decision to attend MIT, where he pursued a course combining chemical engineering and business administration. As the interview continues, Thayer describes his first job, training in sales at American Cyanamid and his decision to leave for a position with Mallinckrodt Chemical Works. At Mallinckrodt, Thayer became involved in work for the War Production Board and then the Manhattan District, where he managed much of the company's uranium processing. The central portion of the interview focuses on Thayer's long-standing outspokenness in management discussions, his relationship with Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. , and his rise through management to presidency of the company. As president, Thayer was responsible for Mallinckrodt's strong growth, accomplished primarily by structural reorganization, developing the company's niche in the diagnostic products market, and making key successful acquisitions. While the interview highlights Thayer's views on the importance of teamwork, selflessness, and integrity throughout the company's work, it also examines some management mistakes and problems over the years. Concluding comments describe Thayer's community affairs work, his views of government regulation and chemical innovation, and his pride in receiving the Society of Chemical Industry Medal. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1934 Massachusetts Institute of Technology BS Chemical Engineering Administration

Professional Experience

American Cyanamid Company

1934 to 1939
Engineer, Technical Sales Department, Calco Division

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

1939 to 1941
Sales Research and Development
1941 to 1943
Coordinator, War Production Board
1943 to 1952
Project Manager, Manhattan District/Atomic Energy Commission Plants
1950 to 1959
Vice President
1952 to 1955
Director of Development
1955 to 1958
Project Manager, Atomic Engery Commission Plant
1959 to 1960
Executive Vice President
1960 to 1978
1965 to 1981
Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer
1981 to 1982
Chairman/Director, Executive Committee


Year(s) Award

Silver Beaver Award, Boy Scouts of America


Distinguished Executive of Year, Sales and Marketing Executives of St. Louis


St. Louis Award, National Confederation of Christians and Jews


St. Louis Award, National Jewish Hospital and Research Center


St. Louis Globe-Democrat Man of the Year


Silver Antelope Award, Boy Scouts of America


Right Arm St. Louis Award


St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association


University of Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering


Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

High school in Rochester, NY. College funds raised selling flower seeds.

College Education and Early Professional Experience

BS from MIT in chemical engineering administartion. Sales position with American Cyanamide Company.

Mallinckrodt Chemical Works

Responsibilities at Mallinckrodt during World War II. Relationship with Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Development of uranium production.

Vice Presidency of Mallinckrodt

Appointment as Vice President of Mallinckrodt. Development of narcotics production. Research department at Mallinckrodt. Activities as Director of Development.

Presidency of Mallinckrodt

Development of Relationship with Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Division of Mallinckrodt into three departments. Growth of radiopharmaceutical division. Production of photographic chemicals. Acquisitions of Mallinckrodt. Operating Committee. Philosophy of management. Research at Mallinckrodt. Holes Committee. International expansion of Mallinckrodt.

Sale of Mallinckrodt to Avon

Society of Chemical Industry Medal. Opinions on the future of chemical research and development. SCI Medal.


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.