Frederick T. Wall

Born: December 14, 1912 | Chisholm, MN, US
Died: March 31, 2010 | Los Angeles, CA, US

Frederick Wall begins with a discussion of his family background and childhood in Minnesota, attending the University of Minnesota, and studying chemistry and chemical engineering. After a stint at Caltech with Linus Pauling, Wall moved back to the University of Minnesota and earned his PhD in 1935. At the University of Illinois he worked on infrared spectroscopy, gradually becoming interested in polymers. During World War II he volunteered to work on the rubber problem. In 1963, Wall moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and later the University of California, San Diego. In 1969, he became executive director of the American Chemical Society (ACS), but soon rejoined academia, becoming professor of chemistry at Rice University.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0098
No. of pages: 61
Minutes: 258

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
21 June 1991
La Jolla, California

Abstract of Interview

Frederick Wall begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and childhood in Minnesota. During high school, Wall developed an interest in chemistry and mathematics, and planned to become a chemical engineer. He attended the University of Minnesota, studying both chemistry and chemical engineering. One of his professors there, George Glockler, influenced both his decision to focus on physical chemistry and to pursue graduate work. After graduating with a BS in chemistry in 1933, Wall was awarded an assistantship at Caltech, which he accepted. Due to financial difficulties exacerbated by the Depression, he only spent a year at Caltech. While he was there, however, he was greatly influenced by Linus Pauling. Wall moved back to the University of Minnesota, and continued his graduate work under Glockler. He earned his PhD in chemistry in 1935, and soon thereafter accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois. He began working on infrared spectroscopy, and did some theoretical work on covalent and ionic character. Gradually, he became interested in polymers, and when World War II broke out, he volunteered to work on the rubber problem. Carl Marvel and Roger Adams then helped Wall to get a consulting job with DuPont, which he continued for many years. In 1955, he became Dean of the graduate college at Illinois. In 1963, Wall decided to leave Illinois and moved to the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he became Chairman of the chemistry department and Vice Chancellor for Research at Santa Barbara and later Vice Chancellor for Research at San Diego. In 1969, he became executive director of the American Chemical Society (ACS), but soon rejoined academia, becoming professor of chemistry at Rice University. At Rice, Wall resumed his theoretical polymer research, particularly polymer configuration on lattices. Seven years later, he moved back to California, taking a lecturing position at San Diego State University, and in 1981 becoming an adjunct professor at the University of California at San Diego. The interview concludes with a discussion of his time at the ACS and his colleagues in California.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1933 University of Minnesota BS Chemistry
1937 University of Minnesota PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Illinois at Chicago

1937 to 1939
1939 to 1941
1941 to 1943
Assistant Professor
1943 to 1946
Associate Professor
1946 to 1964
1950 to 1963
Chairman, University Research Board
1955 to 1963
Dean of Graduate College and Research Professor

University of California, Santa Barbara

1964 to 1966
Professor and Chairman, Department of Chemistry
1965 to 1966
Vice Chancellor for Research

University of California, San Diego

1966 to 1969
Professor of Chemistry, Vice Chancellor for Graduate Studies and Researc
1981 to 1991
Adjunct Professor of Chemistry

American Chemical Society

1969 to 1972

Rice University

1972 to 1978
Professor of Chemistry

San Diego State University

1979 to 1981
Lecturer in Chemistry


Year(s) Award

Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society


Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Minnesota


Member, National Academy of Sciences


Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Table of Contents

Family Background and Early Education

Finnish parents. Siblings. Grade school in Chisolm, Minnesota. High school in Minneapolis. Interest in chemistry and mathematics.

College Years

Attending University of Minnesota. Pursuing chemistry and chemical engineering. Decision to become physical chemist. Influence of George Glockler. Desire to earn PhD.

Graduate Study

Assistantship at Caltech. Working with Linus Pauling. Introduction to quantum mechanics. Leaving Caltech. Returning to University of Minnesota. Working with Glockler. Reflections on colleagues.

University of Illinois

Decision to take an academic job. Enjoyment of teaching. Research on infrared spectroscopy. Theoretical work. Interest in polymers. Synthetic Rubber Research Program. Consulting for DuPont. Chairing University Research Board. Interest in computers. Monte Carlo simulation. Becoming dean. Pauling's lectures and decision to sign non-Communist oath. Edward Yellin case.

Move to California

Decision to leave Illinois. Position at University of California at Santa Barbara. Leaving Santa Barbara for San Diego. Getting Pauling a position at UCSD. Inability to continue research.

Return to Academia

Position at Rice University. Welch Foundation grant. Polymer research. Discrete systems. Macromolecular configurations. Teaching at San Diego State University. Adjunct position at UCSD. Book on chemical thermodynamics. Consulting at Shell. Remembering Paul Flory, Peter Debye. Election to National Academy of Sciences. Relationship with Harold Urey.

American Chemical Society

Accepting job of executive director. Difficulties of position. Interactions with Melvin Calvin. Chemical and Engineering News.


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.