William 0. Baker

50th Anniversary of Akron Section of the American Chemical Society, Hilton West Hotel, Akron, Ohio

October 18, 1973


I am honored to join in this Golden Anniversary celebration of the Akron Section of the ACS, not only because of my respect, affection and long association with the members of its community, but also because this Section represents an eminent half-century of discovery, learning, and application of knowledge for the advance of education and of industry, both in Akron and throughout the world. Indeed, there may be no comparable concentration of technical progress, economic impact and gain, of the public purpose as closely associated with scientific bases as this one. It is true that the great steel cities and textile centers of Britain and the continent during the Industrial Revolution had even more dramatic social influence than Akron during the 50 years of polymer industry that we salute this evening. However, the Akron era, very largely because of the professional associations represented here, and aided by the consistent educational conscience of the region, has kept closer to science and the understanding of basic principles than any similar endeavor of comparable economic and public significance.

The matter before us now, of course, is not only to take modest satisfaction in that remarkable circumstance and to salute the host of devoted and wise members of this Section, who in their careers here achieved this notable role for Akron and the nation, but also to look to the future. In a time when futurology is outworn or overdone, we still do well to adopt the historian's ancient strategy of looking a. little at the past to see whether we can expect to come ahead on the scale of the last 50 years, and whether we should aspire to n ext decades as fruitful as these past five. Well, we can certainly say that it takes some courage to match them, but that is exactly what we are. here for, to assert our resolve to match and surpass.

First, let’s look at what this Section was thinking about when it started. This was, of course, several years before the appearance of the ACS publication, Rubber Chemistry and Technology. Nevertheless, the, publications of rubber chemistry and engineering were well sampled in the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry of that day. Many hints of the future, but equally reminders of what we should seek to do from now on, appear in those reports. On the basic side, our old friend, Dr. Harry L. Fisher, reported from the laboratories of the B. F. Goodrich Company (I&EC 15, p. 860 (1923)) about the empirical formula of Hevea rubber and the substantiation of the C5H8 ratio. It was already much too early to be sure that these units, first identified by Faraday, were indeed linked in polymer chains, and colloid chemistry was just reaching its peak about this time, with symposia sponsored also by the ACS first held. A hint of the relations of physical properties and basic behavior of rubber in use, such as in tires, as related to its chemical structure and composition, appeared in the paper by Ellwood B. Spear and J. F. Purdy, on the Measurement of Temperature—in an exceedingly radical form by the use of thermocouples. This work, from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, symbolized the long and distinguished role of those laboratories in the physics of polymer systems epitomized by the tenure of Dr. Samuel D. Gehman, as one of the first and longest-active industrial physicists in the nation, and a pioneer in the interaction of industrial research with physics. Spear and Purdy had found that measurement by means of gas expansion in the tire due to heating had some limits, and that anyhow the carcass got as much as 60° F Hotter than the air in the tube, which has been a disturbing verity ever since. Indeed, also around this time the Magnesia Association of America sponsored work reported in Pittsburgh the year before, on the “Resilient Energy and Abrasion Resistance of Vulcanized Rubber,” by H. W. Greider from the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, another of our esteemed ingredients in the introduction of physical measurements into the chemistry and compounding of the products of Akron.

Concordant with this, and again with a name familiar to us all, (it came from the Research Laboratories of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company), was the report by Ira Williams on “Thermal Properties of Various Pigments and of Rubber,” where, once more, a fundamental look at how thermal conductivity could be measured and related to filler content and polymer compounding. was reported to the American Chemical Society.

A little hint, just a whisper, of the future modifications of Hevea and the intrusion of different molecules, of polymers, into the sacred rubber preserve came that year from a report of J. McGavack from an alien quarter—that of the United States Rubber Company in New York—in the paper “Substitution and Addition of Chlorine to the Rubber Molecule.” Naturally there was no such dramatic assertion that the properties of a modified polymer would be useful for anything (granted, if that had been suspected, perhaps the publication would have been much longer deferred), but rather there was a feeling that for some inexplicable reason, hopefully of curiosity, what was quaintly called the “Boswell hypothesis” that rubber was indeed fully saturated might be wrong. the reaction was studied by McGavack, as he put it “from the dynamic standpoint,” in his effort to establish the widespread hypothesis that '”the rubber hydrocarbon is an unsaturated aggregation of carbon and hydrogen.”

Likewise, there are other names well known in Akron, but temporarily positioned elsewhere, who published in that ACS compendium of a half-century ago. Wiegand and Braendle were toying, in good mechanics style, with effects of orientation and crystallization, which they profoundly ignored, in their paper, “Persistence of Calender Grain After Vulcanization.” Such detachment might have been expected from. their location at Ames Holden McCready, Ltd., in Montreal. But nearby however, we had some other movements shaping up, with a paper by a scholar at the Ohio State University in Columbus named L. B. Sebrell, and his associate C. E. Boord. This—on “1-Mercaptobenzothiazole and Its Derivatives as Accelerators of Rubber Vulcanization”—represented the splendid doctoral dissertation of author Sebrell, and marked nicely a new era of radical chemistry and organic synthesis in the progress of rubber technology. It only remains to be noted that in October of 1923 a general essay on this matter appeared from McGill University in Montreal, entitled “Accelerators of Vulcanization” under the name of G. Stafford Whitby.

So there we see the scope which we must match. And we can see the levels of our knowledge of October of 1973, compared to where we started in 1923, because the American Chemical Society and its correlates have published and induced the sense of community and of scientific and technical quality in industrial free enterprise.

Now as to the future, your activities are unceasing in looking forward, as shown for instance in your hosting of the Fifth Biennial Polymer Symposium three years ago. There we laid out, on the one hand, the extraordinary ecological role of polymer synthesis and the way Akron’s synthetic rubber had relieved the world of an intolerable burden of natural rubber plantations to meet modern demands. This burden would have gravely limited the agricultural production of the Orient and otherwise hindered our international security. On the other hand, we looked at the challenge of competing technologies and the opportunities of new discovery. On competition, we spoke somberly of the reduction in patenting, already hinted at those three years ago. I am sorry to report that our worries were real, and that in comparison to about 17 per cent of our American patents issued a decade ago, nearly a third (and the proportion will grow) that are issued now come from foreign inventors. So, since the business of much of our profession is research and development, discovery and invention, high among the priorities for the future must be the reversal of this trend, through Akron’s and America’s primacy in polymer inventions and patents. 'This alone is a great mission for the Akron Section, for we shall find the invention of the future more than ever imbedded in the basic science and technology, whose cultivation and distribution is so much a part of this Society.

The other things that we discussed at this symposium of three years ago are even more compelling now since they involved new insights into chemical bonding, Phillips’ principles of charge distribution, concepts of stabilization and control of valency, and of course measurements of energy transfer and chemical activation made possible directly by the Rentzepis spectroscopy of picosecond pulses from the laser. Those themes have advanced speedily in science as a whole, and in their implications for polymer science and technology. So we shall on this occasion only re-emphasize the crucial part of the Akron ACS Section in stimulating intellectual life and meaning throughout this fabric of our daily jobs and, very necessarily, commercial successes.

There is another matter, however, for the future that had loomed up evermore forcefully in this past year. It is the challenge to our total resources that the new world competition, the preservation of environment, and the maintenance of our freedom, all combined with the high expectations of societies around the world, impose upon us. It means that we must seek new and ingenious combinations of our public and personal resources, of our institutions, and of course of our materials. We had a chance to report on the emerging aspects of this matter before we knew how completely demanding the needs would be. Just five years ago, at the Dedication of the Auburn Science Center of the University of Akron, there we called for the Joining of Universities and Industries to meet the Purposes of Science, and cited the role of information processing systems, of digital computers, and of knowledge automata to provide a new common ground for the meeting of the academic and industrial communities. The meanings of that hope have grown mightily in the past few years, but the need for it, even faster.

So it is the great good fortune of the Akron Section, but also of our public needs at large, that you have an educational-industrial congeniality. unsurpassed. Presumably its essence lies in the commonality of polymer science and of the industrial technology to which you are so heavily committed, and in the fact that this pursuit is one of the liveliest and most challenging subjects of the last part of the century. But still there remain, as I can assert from our work in the new National Institute of Education in Washington, shared with Dr. Guzetta of the University of Akron, deeply imbedded convictions that polymer science and engineering are not academic subjects, but barely objects to which learning may ultimately be applied. That this is an archaic and invalid stand is widely evident. We shall cite here but one case of how these old barriers between narrow disciplines and useful and intellectually satisfying combinations of learning are being broken down. But as we get to that example, let me accent again that the activities of the Akron ACS have been, and even more in the future can be, major aid to this invaluable new correlation of learning and doing, such as what Professor Maurice Morton and his associates have so firmly established here.

In the forthcoming study, sponsored by the Committee on Science and Public Policy (COSPUP) of the National Academy of Sciences, and by the National Science Foundation, on “Materials: Meeting Man’s Needs,” the role of materials systems as a result of modern materials science and engineering is developed as one of the major technical resources of the second half of the century. Particularly in the science of solids and crystals, new chemistry, new industries, and new capabilities have influenced vividly the nature of our society and have enabled the ventures of space exploration and the defense of freedom through nuclear weapons and rocketry. But much of this was already a familiar enterprise for the Akron community and the members of this ACS Section. Without the intervention of the crystalline state, save for the unique polymer crystals of stressed rubber, the fibrous ordering of cellulose, and the particles of zinc oxide sulfur or inorganic fillers, you had adapted materials symbiosis to the wheel. Heretofore the wheel was the proud, but rigid, prime machine of civilization. But when rubberized, its era surged anew to change the world. True there were ingenious efforts elsewhere, especially in Britain, as well, but in transport, agriculture and military equipment the rubber treads from Akron caused paving of the ways. For the first time on such a scale, chemists linked the macromechanics of physical design to the micromechanics of networks of molecules, in modes which have later spread to all of the great industry of materials processing and fabrication. This was accompanied in the keenly competitive atmosphere at Akron by a sense of professional integrity. The meetings and ACS-sponsored publications from the Akron Section set a pace which the later world growth of polymer science and technology was glad to recognize.

Indeed, the world’s attention shifted here in December of 1942, just 31 years ago, when the American rubber industry was nationalized on behalf of defense against world conquest and dictatorship. Those of us who gathered at the technical sessions in a small room in the old Hotel Mayflower, under the leadership of my late associate, Dr. Robert R. Williams, saw the exercise of professional conscience in which the Akron Section can take great pride and credit. Carefully attended proprietorship, blended with respect for authenticity and the scientific method, enabled the coalition of skills which founded the largest industrial-technical venture up till then in history—the National Synthetic Rubber Program. Its extraordinary qualities have been amply documented and reviewed, such as in the memorable celebration your Section organized and sponsored a few years ago. This program had one special quality of carrying forward concurrently basic research and the most practical engineering in the production from new polymer and monomer facilities. This was and remains a feature approached only by the Manhattan Project and the ballistic missile program of the late Fifties.

Now it is just such pattern which has encouraged us to create in the new time of national need in energy and domestic economy, as well as in world trade, a revised Federal science system which depends evermore heavily on the participation of scientific and technical societies in helping to guide the public purpose. These conceptions are quite fully reviewed in our testimony of last summer to the Hearings of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, and so we shall not impose the details, which will be available in that majestic journal, The Congressional Record, very shortly. These ideas have also been summarized in various ACS news reports, however, and the useful thing may be to note that there is already large progress in connecting our technical and scientific societies to the planning and implementation of the new challenges ahead. Certainly these challenges will require adjustments and economies in our Automobile Age. Thus what kinds of tires and traction units will emerge from Akron may be drastically influenced by the inputs of Akron into the Energy Policy Office, through the American Chemical Society, whose channels of communication to the Government we have already firmly established.

Accordingly, the oncoming half-century for the Akron Section contains bold tasks of as high import and opportunities as historic as those which have been accomplished in the past. On one hand, it seems possible to advance by novel combinations of science and technology, of universities and industry, the practice and commerce of polymer business as dramatically as has already happened. This may of course involve quite different tactics, such as creating many more composites, and further exercise of materials systems, using techniques of unprecedented economy and conservation of materials, and of many more in situ syntheses. But with the vigor and independence well established here, and the vigilant maintenance of professional standards, this can all be done.

The other and rather newer mission is more chancy. It is this role in public policy and public purpose which our precious (and small) scientific and technical community must exercise. As we said before, the complexity of the public systems, including transport and energy, in which you are so deeply involved, is such that neither a single, monolithic Science and Technology Office in the White House, nor the better but still inadequate system of distribution of responsibility among public agencies, can suffice. The efforts we have begun, in which a hierarchy of technical societies represent the carefully debated judgments of a large portion of the national community, seem the only way to apply the necessary wisdom to the issues which must be resolved. Dr. James D'Ianni, for instance, from your Section has represented this capability in the ACS Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs with skill and sensitivity. The Akron Section is especially qualified, with its blend of interests and massive industrial experience, to influence the Washington Office of the ACS and that of other professional groups in finding the best organization and solution for things like the energy and materials issues.

So we wish you all personal and professional great fortune in the times ahead. The Semicentennial of this association is not trivial in relation to the Bicentennial of our Republic, and in the future both will age together—our free nation, our society, and our community of science and engineering—ever -younger in spirit, even if older in wisdom. Research, invention, and technical production will be vital parts in supporting our system. Only our domestic cooperation and communion as in our societies can assure the strengths of science and technology for the deeper public purpose of coexistence in world ideologies. We look forward to the next meeting of what can already be called the Hotel Mayflower descendants.