Interview with Don Sturgeon, 2014 July 30

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  • Family and educational background
    Partial Transcript: "I'm glad to be here..." "Towards the end of my graduate studies DuPont sent down... a Phd, for heaven's sake, to interview candidates..." "I chose PRL, Pioneer Research Lab..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about his personal background and how he came to work for DuPont. He says that he was born in and completed some of his studies in Argentina before moving to Florida for his doctorate. He says that DuPont interviewed him as he was finishing his dissertation. He says that of three labs he chose to work at the Pioneer Research Lab.
    Keywords: Argentina; engineering mechanics; kevlar; Pioneer Research Lab; University of Buenos Aires; University of Florida
  • Beginning to work at the Pioneer Research Lab
    Partial Transcript: "I was hired in '66... and by the end of '66 I had transitioned from the group that had hired me...I moved to the organic fibers group..." "As they looked around within the lab for someone that might have an engineering materials background, they found yours truly."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about starting to work in a DuPont research lab. He says that he joined the Kevlar team early in his career because the project needed someone with an engineering background.
    Keywords: engineering; Kevlar; organic fibers
  • Starting to work on the Kevlar project
    Partial Transcript: "I may be wrong, but I think that the work of Stephanie Kwolek... probably was '65 so within a year of that invention, if you will I was bought on to specific assignment.. was improving the flexible strength of at the time Fiber B..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon describes the circumstances surrounding his joining the team working on Kevlar. He notes that the project needed an engineer because the team only had chemists. He details his job improving the quality and strengths of Kevlar against different kinds of stressors.
    Keywords: chemistry; engineering; Fiber B; PRD 27; Stephanie Kwolek
  • The emotional experience of working on Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "I think there as certainly excitement with the tensile properties that were recorded..." "Now we have an organic fiber that has the tensile strength of Nylon..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about the emotional experience of working on Kevlar. He describes the emotional high felt in the lab when they developed an organic fiber that was stronger than Nylon. He says that from early on Kevlar was developed as an industrial fiber, with the initial goal of using it to reinforce rubber. He describes what kinds of fibers are used to reinforce rubber and why.
    Keywords: Dacron; industrial fibers; Industrial Products Research Lab at Chestnut Run; Kevlar; Nylon; organic fibers; Polyester; polymers; Rayon; rubber; textile fibers
  • Attempting to sell Kevlar to rubber manufacturers
    Partial Transcript: "At some point, the company felt it was time to expose it to their customers..." " I think the bottom line in terms of reaction to Kevlar as a reinforcement in tires, for example, was cautious."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about his understanding of the early days of selling Kevlar to tire manufacturing companies like Goodyear and Firestone. He says the the industry was cautious about Kevlar. He says that part of the issue was because tire manufacturers had already made significant investments of their own in making a better reinforcement material for tires, so they were not prepared for or as willing to use it as DuPont had hoped. He talks about how changes in tire manufacturing made it even more difficult to use Kevlar in tires.
    Keywords: DuPont; Firestone; GoodYear; industrial Nylon; Kevlar; rubber
  • Kevlar as a part of DuPont's "New Venture Era"
    Partial Transcript: "..my recollection is that it was, perhaps even remembered it was even designated NP9- new product nine..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about Kevlar's designation as being a part of DuPont's "New Venture Era." He talks about his memories of its budget being kept small at first but says that it grew tremendously during the research process.
    Keywords: DuPont; Kevlar; New Venture Era
  • Changes to the fiber market after 1965
    Partial Transcript: ""I think it was a tribute to our management that we were shielded from any anxiety of that kind." "I think what pervaded the lab at the time was a sense of can-do, enthusiasm..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeons talks about anxiety in the 1960s fiber market. He says that his team was largely shielded from that anxiety and instead they remained enthusiastic about the research and development process.
    Keywords: Dacron; fiber markets; Lycra; Nomex; Nylon; Orlon
  • Matching the properties of Kevlar to suitable applications
    Partial Transcript: "The most obvious family of applications for something like Kevlar...in composites it would be something that would be bought to bear or took advantage of it's very high tensile strength..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about the early applications of Kevlar. He says that in the beginning Kevlar was almost exclusively used in applications that required high tensile strength and light weight and cites an example of Kevlar's use in rockets and rocketry. He also talks about its potential use in uranium centrifuges. He also talks about research into Kevlar's long term strength and use.
    Keywords: applications; Atomic Energy Committee; carbon fiber; fiberglass; Kevlar; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; rockets; tensile strength; uranium
  • Overcoming Kevlar's weak compressive strength
    Partial Transcript: "What was more challenging and required a lot of internal work was how to overcome the one liability of Kevlar which was a relatively low compressive strength..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about the research and development process of overcoming Kevlar's low compressive strength. He said they did it by creating a hybrid composite of Kevlar and carbon fiber. He describes how this process evolved and described it's reception in the chemistry and engineering communities, and that its nature as a light weight, tough, organic material helped gain the attention of the aerospace community. Sturgeon goes into a sideline about how Kevlar's strength changes in extreme cold.
    Keywords: carbon fiber; compressive strength; hybrid composites; Kevlar
  • The early days of selling Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "Our management was... satisfied with the quality of the work we were doing and had allowed us to publish some of those application results..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about the early days of selling Kevlar to the aeronautic industry. He says that at first companies were unsure of it. When Lockheed had an issue with the weight of their latest plane, they chose to use DuPont's Kevlar after a viably test funded by NASA. Following this, Boeing showed an interest in using Kevlar for it's helicopters.
    Keywords: Boeing; composite materials; DuPont; Kevlar; Lockheed; missionary selling; NASA; organic fiber; Rolls Royce
  • Memories of selling Kevlar to Boeing
    Partial Transcript: "I remember distinctly a couple of colorful people..." "I guess we survived the kick against the wall test"
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about selling Kevlar to Boeing for use in their helicopters. He talks about a Boeing official who only allowed materials that could survive a kick against the wall would get into Boeing helicopters. He talks about which parts of airplanes and helicopters are made out of Kevlar. Sturgeon also talks about introducing Kevlar to the United Kingdom.
    Keywords: airplanes; Bob Hunter; Boeing; De Havilland; DuPont; Europe; helicopters; Kevlar; United Kingdom
  • Selling Kevlar to the United States Air Force
    Partial Transcript: "We had to at some point, contacted Uncle Sam... with our wares..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about selling Kevlar to the United States Air Force in the 1970s. He details his sales trip to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and says that the Air Force was not interested because they had already put a large sum of taxpayer money into developing carbon fiber materials. He says that they explained that Kevlar was a complimentary material to carbon fiber. He explains that in his opinion Kevlar and carbon fiber were not in direct competition with each other and they were both suited for solo and complimentary applications.
    Keywords: Air Force Materials Lab; Dayton, Ohio; DuPont; Kevlar; sale; United States Air Force; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
  • Selling Kevlar in Europe
    Partial Transcript: "So, anyway, we go to Europe we make our presentation to the British powers that be..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about selling Kevlar in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom. He says that scientists in the United Kingdom were already aware of Kevlar from non DuPont sources. He then discusses selling Kevlar on the European continent. He talks about selling Kevlar to Germans who were wary of the material as they wanted volumes of data as opposed to the chart that they had. He describes this experience as frustrating. Despite a frustrating process the researchers from DuPont were eventually able to cooperate with the Germans.
    Keywords: Airbus; Bob Hunter; Bob Wolf; Deutsche Industrie Norm; DuPont; Europe; Germany; Kevlar; Lehigh University; Rolls Royce; sales; United Kingdom; West Germany
  • Reasoning for not approaching the military as Kevlar's first customer
    Partial Transcript: "I cannot say when the first contact between DuPont as a corporation and primarily Natick Labs, in Natick Massachusetts... they were the center for the development of military gear, personal gear, etc..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about why DuPont did not approach the United States military as the first potential customer for Kevlar. He says that he does not know why this happened. He notes that DuPont was reluctant to get involved with the army for military applications. He talks about the development of Nylon and DuPont's wartime relations with the military. He suggests that the company did not like it when an outside force limited their business interests. He then says that the military did not like to rely on products that they only had one source for, as was the case with Kevlar. He then goes on to talk about some of the military and civilian applications of Kevlar.
    Keywords: ballistics; Dupont; Kevlar; Natick Labs; Natick Massachusetts; Nomex; Nylon
  • The excitement of creating Kevlar and some of Kevlar's pitfalls.
    Partial Transcript: "...we knew that we had an exciting product..." "There was so much to do and there were so many potential pitfalls... for example, as extraordinary as Kevlar is... it also has a lousy UV, ultraviolet stability is not good..." "There was not too much time to gloat..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon returns to the excitement of being on the team that invented Kevlar. He talks about some of the pitfalls of Kevlar and cites its weak strength in the face of prolonged UV exposure and discusses an incident where competitive sailors used Kevlar in their sales despite the warnings. He also notes the Kevlar does not dye well either. He discusses the processes used to test Kevlar's strengths and weaknesses. He says that addressing Kevlar's pitfalls kept him and his team busy, and that while they were excited about the invention they did not have time to celebrate it.
    Keywords: circuit boards; compressive strength; Dacron; innovation; Kevlar; pitfalls of Kevlar; polyester; research; testing; ultraviolet; UV
  • The normalcy of the length of Kevlar's development cycle
    Partial Transcript: "The cynics would say that the managers of the time... had no expectation one way or the other..." "...I think the organization was collectively fortunate to have the... physical chemical talent... we were fortunate to have people within pioneering with enough of an enthusiasm and understanding of the mechanics of materials.
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about the development cycle of Kevlar. He says that they were fortunate to have the talent they had on the team and management that allowed them to take their time in product development.
    Keywords: development; DuPont; DuPont's new venture era; innovation; Kevlar; management
  • Kevlar at the end of DuPont's new venture era
    Partial Transcript: "The situation that I remember that caused some concern was when the Bronfman's Brothers bought into DuPont." "It's a credit to the management... that they protected us."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about Kevlar's development at the end of an era when DuPont was spending large amounts of money on development. He credits the success of Kevlar's creation to the management who kept the team shielded from outside pressures and allowed the project to develop naturally. He talks about what happened to the Kevlar team shortly after it was developed.
    Keywords: 1960s; 1970s; advertising; Akron, Ohio; Bronfmans; Carruthers Research Lab; Chestnut Run; development; DuPont's new venture era; Industrial Products Research Lab; Irving Shapiro; Kevlar; management; marketing; Nylon; Nylon 12; Pioneer Research Lab; research; Richmond, Virginia; rubber; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Sturgeon's career after the invention of Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "I made R& D supervisor in Kevlar Special Products... in Seaford, Delaware..." "In '80 I came back to Kevlar..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon discusses his career after the invention of Kevlar. He says that he worked as a supervisor in Seaford, Delaware in order to gain plant experience. He says that after that he returned to Kevlar and was one of the people who sold it to the rest of the world on missionary selling trips.
    Keywords: development; Fort Nanticoke; Kevlar; missionary selling; Nomex; Nylon; research; Seaford, Delaware
  • Definition of missionary selling
    Partial Transcript: "Number one, you're a true believer in your product..." "It's a selling that will allow you... to speak knowledgeably about the... performance, value, and what some of the technical aspects are."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon defines the term missionary selling. He says that it is a type of selling characterized not by sales, but by talking about the product on a deep, technical level, discussing the manufacturing and research process. It is meeting with prospective customers with a deep development based understanding of the product. He talks about people who made and sold false Kevlar, which was just cotton dyed yellow. He also discusses how a missionary salesperson can sometimes be a tech services person - someone that can look at the prospective customer's work and suggest a role for what they're selling.
    Keywords: fraud; Kevlar; missionary selling; sales
  • Sturgeon's personal pride in Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "From a moral, ethical, standpoint there's no question... the association with a product that has saved so many lives has to be way up there, although I personally didn't have significant contribution to that particular aspect of the end uses.. so clearly that is the number one." "What gives me the most tremendous amount of personal pleasure is... to contribute to a group of people, that without a doubt were among the best or the best in the world... and be able to contribute from a totally different perspective..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about what he is most proud of in relation to Kevlar. He says that he is most proud of Kevlar's ability to save lives although he had little to do with that development. He says that on a personal level, he is pleased to have worked with what he describes as possibly one of the best teams in the world by providing a perspective different than their own.
    Keywords: bulletproof vests; DuPont; Kevlar; Lockheed; pride
  • More discussion on missionary selling
    Partial Transcript: "By the way, publications generally... were generally pointed towards papers...that spoke to a particular audience..." "Card carrying PhDs answering the phone..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon returns to the topic of missionary selling. He says that they had PhDs manning the phone and that they sometimes got some strange calls. He details some of these calls, which included a man who wanted to use Kevlar to drill a tunnel from Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. He talks about another call from the Philippine Embassy inquiring about the feasibility of Kevlar nightgowns for Imelda Marcos.
    Keywords: Boston, Massachusetts; Imelda Marcos; Kevlar; missionary selling; Richmond, Virginia; sales; The Philippines
  • Memory and recollections of the development and success of Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "Bona fide recollections of complex undertakings are often colored by the particular role in the affair of the individual..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon gives his thoughts on the subjectivity of memory as it applies to the research and development of Kevlar.
    Keywords: Kevlar; memory
  • Pushing the envelope at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "Do you want to talk about pushing the envelope?" "If you place yourself in the timeline where we have found a way to weave Kevlar... you're constantly thinking, where could a reinforcing fabric like this be used?"
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about pushing the envelope with applications for Kevlar and discusses using Kevlar in balloons and other lighter than air craft. He also talks about studies done about using Kevlar as a retractable roof in stadiums. He also discusses some other failed attempts to use Kevlar in different products. He says that Kevlar remains too expensive to adapt for everyday use.
    Keywords: aircraft; boats; California; Canada; DuPont; high speed trains; Kevlar; lighter than air craft; Montreal, Quebec; stadium
  • Organizational inefficiencies and missed opportunities
    Partial Transcript: "If you look back at the Pioneer Research Lab at the time this originated, clearly there was a stove piping of managerial groups..." "Like any organization, there was competition for resources..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about some of the missed opportunities at the lab where he worked. He says that many potential ideas were lost from a lack of cross discipline work, but he also says that too much of that was harmful too. He also talks about some issues with the patent division and attribution of inventions. He says that problems with the patent division made it so that things were invented "twice" or "reinvented" when there was no need.
    Keywords: Kevlar; management; patents; Pioneer Research Lab
  • Challenges to Kevlar from DuPont management
    Partial Transcript: "A challenge to bring along Kevlar, expensive though it was, was also the unfamiliarity of senior management with some of these industries we were moving into..."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about some of the challenges posed by managerial unfamiliarity with the industries to which Kevlar was most well suited. They were unfamiliar with industries that used a lot of hand labor and this made them uncomfortable. Sturgeon says that what might have been some valuable acquisitions went to the wayside because of this. Sturgeon also talks about more stove piping issues with DuPont's management on the departmental level.
    Keywords: aerospace; aircraft; DuPont; Kevlar; missiles; sales
  • Changes in DuPont's organization
    Partial Transcript: "There was a time at which a business unit called "Advanced Fiber Systems" was created, and another one called "Advanced Composites."
    Synopsis: Sturgeon talks about the creation of new departments at DuPont meant to exploit all the uses of Kevlar. He jokingly says that the creation of these new departments were new managerial stovepipes created from old ones. He says that these departments did not last long, and changed often.
    Keywords: composites; DuPont; fibers; Kevlar; management; polymers
  • Sturgeon's final thoughts on Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "It was fun [working on Kevlar.]"
    Synopsis: Sturgeon offers some of his final thoughts on Kevlar and the Kevlar oral history project. DuPont Company's attitude towards fabrication and automation.
    Keywords: automation; DuPont; fabrication; Kevlar; pharmaceuticals; Teflon; William Gore