John Christian Warner

Born: May 28, 1897 | Goshen, IN, US
Died: Wednesday, April 12, 1989 | Pittsburgh, PA, US
Photograph of John C. Warner

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

John C. Warner begins his oral history interview discussing his family, his high school interest in science. He enrolled in Indiana University in 1915, where he received his AB in chemistry in 1919, his M.A. in 1920, and his PhD in 1923. In 1926, he joined the faculty of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to become president of in 1950. Warner concludes the interview with a discussion of his family and reflections on his role in the advanced educational development in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0044
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 333

Interview Sessions

John A. Heitmann
8 February 1984
Gibsonia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

John C. Warner begins the interview with a discussion of his family and childhood years growing up on a farm. He developed an interest in science in high school due to the encouragement of his science teacher, G. W. Warner. He enrolled in Indiana University in 1915. There, he received his AB in chemistry in 1919, his M.A. in 1920, and his PhD in 1923. While in college, Warner worked for the Barrett Company working on synthetic phenol processing. As a graduate student, he was a research chemist for the Cosden Oil Company. After working for Cosden for just under a year, he returned to Indiana University as a chemistry instructor while completing his graduate studies. In 1926, he joined the faculty of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon University) as a chemistry instructor. Warner spent the rest of his career at Carnegie. He rose through the university ranks, eventually becoming president of Carnegie Mellon in 1950. Warner restructured and developed the University's chemistry department. During his time at Carnegie, he worked closely with Charles Thomas on the chemistry, metallurgy, and plutonium purification aspects of the Manhattan Project. He also served as a liaison between Oak Ridge Laboratories and Monsanto Company for this project. Warner became a board member of Jones and Laughlin, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and served as director of Spang and Company. Warner concludes the interview with a discussion of his family and reflections on his role in the advanced educational development in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1919 Indiana University AB Chemistry
1920 Indiana University MA Chemistry
2016 Indiana University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Barrett Company

1918 to 1919
Chemist

Cosden Oil Company

1920 to 1921
Research Chemist

Indiana University

1922 to 1923
Chemistry Instructor

Wayne Chemicals Corporation

1924 to 1926
Research Chemist

Carnegie Institute of Technology

1926 to 1928
Chemistry Instructor
1928 to 1933
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1933 to 1936
Associate Professor of Theoretical Chemistry
1936 to 1938
Associate Professor of Metallurgy
1938 to 1949
Professor of Chemistry and Department Head
1945 to 1949
Dean of Graduate Studies
1949 to 1950
Vice President and President Elect
1950 to 1965
President
1965 to 1989
President-Emeritus

Honors

Year(s) Award
1958

Pittsburgh Junior Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year Award

1963

Pittsburgh Graphic Arts Council Award

1964

Horatio Alger Award

1965

Western Pennsylvania Board of Industrial Realtors Award

1966

Pennsylvania Award for Excellence in Education

1968

Distinguished Alumnus Award, Indiana University

Table of Contents

Family History and Childhood
1

Parents and grandparents. Childhood on tenant farm. Early interest in science. Inspiring science teacher.

College and Graduate School
8

Fraternity and football activities. Faculty members. Chemistry department. Academic chemistry in the 1920s. Colleagues at Indiana University.

Early Work Experience
16

Wartime research at the Barrett Company. J. Bennett Hill. Harold Urey and other colleagues. Cosden Oil Company. Racial tension in Oklahoma. Louise Hamer.

Teaching career
23

Carnegie Tech chemistry department. Harry Seltz. History of Carnegie Tech. Developing graduate courses and choosing texts. Funding for graduate students. President Doherty. Kinetics research. Goals and guidelines for chemical education. Remembering graduate students: Paul Fugassi, Bill Svirbely, Dave McKinney, Sam Eagle and others.

Chemical Community of Pre-World War II
36

Farrington Daniels, Morris Kharasch, Jack Kirkwood, George Scatchard, Charles Price and Tom McCutcheon. Work of Martin Kilpatrick. Speakers at Carnegie Tech. Early years of chemistry department. Anti-Semitism in chemical profession.

Manhattan Project
45

Glenn Seaborg and the Chicago Group. The Hanford piles. Coordinating research. The bomb. Liaison between Monsanto and Oak Ridge.

Post War Environment at Carnegie Tech.
54

Slow beginnings. Becoming president of Carnegie Tech. Fundraising. Influence of Ben Fairless. Mellons and Scaifes. Educational goals.

Corporate and Committee Work
67

Jones & Laughlin, PPG, and the Dravo Corporation. Spang and Co. Louise Warner. ACS activities. Election to the Academy. Nuclear powered airplane. I. I. Rabi.

Final Thoughts
74

Future of fundamental research. Children. Science and engineering in developing nations. The Ford Foundation and UNESCO.

Notes
84
Index
85

About the Interviewer

John A. Heitmann

John A. Heitmann holds a BS degree in chemistry from Davidson College and an MA degree in history from Clemson University. From 1971 to 1977, he worked as a chemist in the metallurgical industry. He then studied at the Johns Hopkins University under Owen Hannaway and received his doctorate in the history of science in 1983.