John H. Wotiz

Born: April 12, 1919 | Ostrava, CS
Died: Tuesday, August 21, 2001 | Morehead, KY, US
Photograph of John H. Wotiz

CHF Collections

John Wotiz begins his oral history interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, attending Technical University of Prague, and studying chemical engineering. Wotiz and his brother left Czechoslovakia for the United States in 1939. Wotiz received scholarship to attend Furman University, where he completed his BS degree in chemistry in 1941. While working towards his PhD, Wotiz served in the US Army as a lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service. After receiving his PhD in organic chemistry from Ohio State University in 1948, Wotiz accepted an instructor position with the University of Pittsburgh. He left in 1957 to become a research supervisor at Diamond Alkali Company, but he returned to Marshall University in 1962. In 1967, Wotiz assumed the chemistry department chairmanship at Southern Illinois University. In 1969, Wotiz made an extended study of chemistry education in the Soviet Union under an exchange arrangement between the National Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Sciences.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0197
No. of pages: 151
Minutes: 595

Interview Sessions

Herbert T. Pratt
7-8 and 10 August 2000
Newcastle, Delaware and Washington, DC

Abstract of Interview

John Wotiz begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Wotiz first developed an interest in chemistry from his tutor. After graduating high school, Wotiz attended Technical University of Prague, emphasizing chemical engineering. Due to the rising threat of Nazi invasion, Wotiz and his brother left Czechoslovakia for the United States in 1939. Shortly after arriving in the US, Wotiz received scholarship to attend Furman University, where he completed his BS degree in chemistry in 1941. Wotiz then attended the University of Richmond, receiving his master's degree in chemistry in 1943. While working towards his PhD , Wotiz served in the US Army as a lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service. After receiving his PhD in organic chemistry from Ohio State University in 1948, Wotiz accepted an instructor position with the University of Pittsburgh. He remained there for nine years, leaving in 1957 to become a research supervisor at Diamond Alkali Company. He returned to academic life in 1962 by becoming professor and chemistry department chairman at Marshall University. There, Wotiz worked to improve the chemistry curriculum and to build a research-oriented program. In 1967, Wotiz assumed the chemistry department chairmanship at Southern Illinois University, where he would remain for the rest of his career. In 1969, Wotiz made an extended study of chemistry education in the Soviet Union under an exchange arrangement between the National Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Sciences. Later, he visited other East European, Asian, and Pacific Rim countries. Wotiz had a deep interest in the history of chemistry. As a result, he wrote and published a directory of international chemistry museums, and beginning in 1971, he organized and conducted widely attended chemical history tours throughout Europe. Wotiz was a long-time member of the HIST division of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and served as its chairman in 1980. Wotiz performed extensive research on the life and theories of F. August Kekulé, publishing the acclaimed The Kekulé Riddle in 1993. Extending his interest in the history of chemistry, Wotiz, with ACS, began to explore the idea of establishing a national center for chemical history. Wotiz concludes the interview with a discussion of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, reflections on winning the Dexter Award, and thoughts on his family.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Furman University BS Chemistry
1943 University of Richmond MS Chemistry
1948 Ohio State University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Richmond

1941 to 1943
Department of Chemistry, Assistant

Ohio State University

1943 to 1944
Department of Chemistry, Assistant
1946 to 1947
Department of Chemistry, Research Fellow

University of Pittsburgh

1948 to 1953
Instructor of Chemistry, Assistant Professor
1954 to 1957
Associate Professor of Chemistry

Diamond Alkali Company

1958 to 1962
Group Leader, Senior Group Leader

Marshall University

1962 to 1967
Professor of Chemistry and Department Chairman

Southern Illinois University

1967 to 1989
Professor and Department Chairman
1989
Professor Emeritus

National Academy of Sciences

1969 to 1974
Exchange professor, various Far East and European countries

Honors

Year(s) Award
1982

Dexter Award, American Chemical Society, History of Chemistry Division

1982

Gold Medal, Vysoká Škola Báňská, Ostrava, Czech Republic

1998

Doctorem Honoris Causa, Ostrava Technical University, Czech Republic

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Childhood in Moravská, Ostrava. Brother. Tutoring at home. Interest in chemistry. Extra-curricular activities. Graduation from high school in 1937. Attending Technical University of Prague. Rising political distemper. Coming to the US to complete school. Relatives in New Jersey.

Education
8

Scholarship to Furman University through International Student Service. Studying chemistry at Furman. John Sampey. E. Emmet Reid. Friedel-Crafts reaction project with Reid. Graduating from Furman in 1941. Attending graduate school at University of Richmond. Master's work on polyhydroxy amines. Going to Ohio State University for PhD Melvin S. Newman. Environment at Ohio State. Influence of A.B. Garrett. Working in organic chemistry. PhD on acetylene compounds. Grignard ragents. Acetylene chemistry. The Wotiz rearrangement.

Postdoctoral Activities
21

Instructorship at University of Pittsburgh. Work on 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid for Chemical Warfare Service. US Army service. Becoming a US citizen. Fort Detrick. Continuing work on acetylene chemistry at University of Pittsburgh. Raymond E. Dessy. Grignard reagents. Roger Grignard lecture in France. Marriage in 1945. Kay Wotiz. Cathedral of Learning. Moving to Pittsburgh.

Early Career
36

Research work at Pittsburgh. Leaving academia for Diamond Alkali Company. New areas of acetylene chemistry. Boyce Thompson Institute. Producing patentable materials. Chromium hexacarbonyl (Cr(CO)6) synthesis. Leaving Diamond Alkali to become chemistry department chair at Marshall University. Altering chemistry curriculum. Building research-oriented department. Ned D. Heindel. Leaving Marshall.

Career at Southern Illinois University (SIU)
46

Environment at SIU. Serving as chemistry department chair. Working with graduate students. Allene research. Consultant work with Air Reduction. Retirement in 1989. Philosophy of teaching. Current trends in chemistry education. National Academy of Sciences. Visit to and experiences in Soviet Union. Comparing Soviet education model to US model. Establishment of international graduate student program. Vera Kolb. Visiting Pacific Rim countries. Visiting Japan and China. Thoughts on teaching.

Professional Affiliations and Activities
75

American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Division of the History of Chemistry (HIST). Directory of chemistry museums. ACS tours. History of Science Society. American Bridge League. Membership in Unitarian Church. Thomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Playing bridge.

History of Chemistry
85

Influenced by European textbooks. Using history in teaching chemistry. Story Behind the Story column. Finding errors in published works. Origins of history tours. Applying for approval of tours from SIU. Widespread attendance of tour. European assistance. Gretel Brauer. Haus Energie.

Work on F. August Kekulé
97

Travel to Ghent, Belgium. Extensive research on Kekulé. Susanna Rudofsky. Research on Annalen Der Chemie article by Kekulé. Origins of Kekulé's spelling of surname. Kekulé's misleading reference. Analysis of Kekulé's dream. Hexagonal structure. Johann Josef Loschmodt. Alfred Bader. William Wiswesswer. Boston Symposium. Alan Rocke. Kekulé controversy. Lawsuits.

Vision for Center for Chemical History
111

Steven Brush. Exploration of feasibility. University of Pennsylvania (Penn). ACS meeting in Miami in 1978. Lobbying for support. Leon Gortler. Support from Penn and ACS. Arnold Thackray. Center for the History of Chemistry. Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Conclusion
120

Winning Dexter Award. Tonja Koeppel. Daughters and wife, Kay. Plans for future. Travel.

Addenda
128

I. Furman University letter and telegram awarding scholarship II. Preparation of the beta-octynoic acid III. Cyclic reactor (not drawn to scale) IV. Certificate of Naturalization V. Letter from Ned D. Heindel at Wotiz's 80th birthday celebration VI. Title page of Kekulé's paper in Annalen, vol. 162, as reproduced in Wotiz's book on Kekulé VII. Excerpt of a letter from Kekulé to Hübner VIII. Flyer featuring book cover for Wotiz's book The Kekulé Riddle: A Challenge for Chemists and Psychologists IX. Chemistry in Britain review of Wotiz's book X. Letter from Tonja A. Koeppel announcing Wotiz's selection for Dexter Award

Notes
140
Index
142

About the Interviewer

Herbert T. Pratt

Herbert T. Pratt, a member of CHF’s Heritage Council, is a professionally certified chemical engineer and DuPont Company retiree who also holds a master’s degree in history. Herb has been a collector of early chemistry books and related materials for more than 40 years, gathering a collection that now includes more than 3,800 titles. Herb is the recipient of such awards as ASTM’s Funk W. Reinhart award for “outstanding and unusual contributions to terminology standardization,” the Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Olney Medal for “outstanding contributions in the field of textile chemistry,” and its Chapin Award for “dedicated service to the organization.”