Howard S. Turner

Born: November 27, 1911 | Jenkintown, PA, US
Died: April 25, 2012 | Bryn Mawr, PA, US

Howard S. Turner discusses his early interests in chemistry before receiving his undergraduate degree in chemistry from  Swarthmore College. Turner earned his PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936 and before starting his career with E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company working in the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware, where he researched polymer 66, nylon, and Corfam. In 1947, after eleven years with DuPont, Turner left the company and in 1965, Turner left J&L to become president of Turner Construction Company, in New York. The company, started in 1902 by his uncle, was among the top construction firms in the country. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0281
No. of pages: 15

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray
9 September 2002
Dunwoody, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Howard S. Turner begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood and his early interest in chemistry. After attending the George School for two years, he attended Swarthmore College and received a bachelor's in chemistry. Shortly after graduating from Swarthmore in 1933, Turner was accepted as a PhD candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1936, Turner received his PhD in chemistry with a minor in chemical engineering from MIT. Turner started his career with E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company working in the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. While at DuPont, Turner researched new uses for polymer 66 and nylon, in addition to developing and testing Corfam. In 1947, after eleven years with DuPont, Turner left the company to become the director of research and development for the Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company. In 1954, Turner left Pittsburg Consolidated to become the vice president of research and development for Jones & Laughlin Steel Company (J&L). At J&L, Turner reorganized and focused the company's research and development program. In 1965, Turner left J&L to become president of Turner Construction Company, in New York. The company, started in 1902 by his uncle, was among the top construction firms in the country. Turner became chairman of the board in 1971, and remained so until his retirement in 1978. Turner concludes the interview by describing his affiliations with other companies and a short reflection on his career. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1933 Swarthmore College AB Chemistry
1936 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Chemistry with a Minor in Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1936 to 1947
Researcher

Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company

1947 to 1954
Director, Research and Development

Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

1954 to 1965
Vice-President, Research and Development

Turner Construction Company

1965 to 1970
President
1971 to 1978
Chairman of the Board

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Experiments
1

Founding of the family business. Early interest in chemistry. Early experiments.

College and Graduate Work
2

Chemistry at Swarthmore. Summer job with Sinclair Oil. PhD program at MIT. Studying Friedel-Crafts reaction. Meeting Katharine S. Turner.

Working for E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
4

Experimental Station. Robert B. Woodward. Corfam shoes. Expanding uses of nylon.

Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Company and Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation
8

Coal to gas program. Major reorganization and refocus of research and development.

Turner Construction Company
10

Expansion of the family business. Succession to the top.

Conclusion
11

Affiliations and reflections.

Index
12

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.