Ernest H. Volwiler

Born: August 22, 1893 | Hamilton, OH, US
Died: Saturday, October 3, 1992 | Lake Forest, IL, US

Ernest Volwiler begins his oral history interview discussing his early years in Ohio, college at Miami University, and his early interests in chemistry. He attended the University of Illinois for his PhD, wheer he worked with Roger Adams. His long career with Abbott Laboratories started in organic synthesis, including some plant production responsibilities. After World War II, Volwiler was a member of the pharmaceutics investigating team sent to Germany. Post-war advancement led Volwiler to the presidency of Abbott Laboratories, and he discusses how he trimmed the production line and initiated development into new areas. His ACS activities culminated in his election as Society President in 1950.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0050
No. of pages: 38
Minutes: 147

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
18 August 1986
Lake Forest, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

Ernest Volwiler begins this interview by briefly discussing his early years in Ohio, leading to college study at Miami University, where he first became interested in chemistry. He remembers the influence of faculty there and his wish to undertake graduate studies at the University of Illinois. He recounts the circumstances of his decision to proceed to the PhD program after completion of his Master's degree. Research work with Roger Adams and the summer organic chemicals production enterprise helped to introduce Volwiler to drug synthesis. His long career with Abbott Laboratories started in organic synthesis, including some plant production responsibilities. Volwiler recalls Dr. Abbott as well as some of his fellow workers in the laboratories in the 1920s and 1930s. World War II saw the production of penicillin and company expansion. Volwiler was a member of the pharmaceutics investigating team sent to Germany immediately after the end of the war and he describes his experiences there. Post-war advancement led Volwiler to the presidency of Abbott Laboratories, and he discusses how he trimmed the production line and initiated development into new areas. His ACS activities culminated in his election as Society President in 1950. Volwiler ends his interview with Bohning by reflecting on the nature of the modern pharmaceutical industry.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1914 Miami University of Ohio BA Chemistry
1916 University of Illinois at Chicago MA Chemistry
1918 University of Illinois at Chicago PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Reilly Township Public School

1910 to 2017
Teacher

Miami University of Ohio

1913 to 1914
Teaching Assistant

University of Illinois at Chicago

1914 to 1917
Teaching Assistnat
1915
Chemist in charge
1916 to 1917
Chemist in Charge, Organic Chemical Manufacture (summer)
1917 to 1918
Fellow in Chemistry

Abbott Laboratories

1918 to 1920
Research Chemist
1920 to 1930
Chief Chemist
1930 to 1933
Director of Research
1933 to 1946
Vice President, Research and Development
1946 to 1950
Executive Vice President
1950 to 1958
President and General Manager
1958
Chairman of the Board
1961
Consultant
1951 to 1961
President, Abbott Laboratories Fund
1958 to 1961
President, The Abbott Foundation
1958 to 1961
Chairman of the Board, Abbott Laboratories International Co.
1958 to 1961
Chairman of the Board, Abbott Laboratories Universal, Ltd.

Honors

Year(s) Award
1940

Modern Pioneers Award

1946

DSc (Honorary), Miami University

1947

Honor Scroll Award, American Institute of Chemists

1949

DSc (Honorary), Northwestern University

1951

Centennial Award, Northwestern University

1953

LLD (Honorary), Coe College

1954

LLD (Honorary), Knox College

1954

DSc (Honorary), Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science

1954

Chemical Industry Award

1955

Industrial Research Award

1958

D Med Sc (Honorary), Southwestern at Memphis

1958

D Sc (Honorary), St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences

1958

Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society

1958

Citation of Honor, Indiana Technical College

1959

Sesquicentennial Award, Miami University

1959

D Sc (Honorary), University of Illinois

1960

Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Chemists

1977

DHL (Honorary), Lake Forest College

1986

Inventors Hall of Fame

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Schooling
1

Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio. One-room schoolhouse and a small high school.

College Studies
3

Courses and Faculty of Miami University. Laboratory studies and summer employment. Graduate study at the University of Illinois, research with Derick and Adams. The summer organic chemicals manufacturing program and introduction to drug synthesis.

Early Career with Abbott Laboratories
12

Synthetic organic chemistry; plant production. Anesthetics. Recruitment of chemists for Abbott Laboratories. Colleagues and outside collaborators. Pharmacological testing. Drug synthesis, organization of research work, publications and patents.

World War II Activities
23

Penicillin production. Development of antibiotics and the production of sulfa drugs. Company expansion. Fact-finding mission to Germany.

Post-war Career
27

Growth of the pharmaceutical industry. ACS activities and Presidency of the Society. Trimming production line at Abbott as company president, development of new areas. Company acquisition in pharmaceutical industry, target strategies in research and development.

Notes
33
Index
34

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.