Interview with Ferdinand D. Bickel, 1959 February 20 [audio]

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  • Bickel's family origins; Father's mechanical inclination; Education and early working life
    Partial Transcript: "My father was one of several boys of German ancestry whose father and mother came over about two years before he was born..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about his family origins, stating that his father's parents were German immigrants who came to Iowa. He does not know his mother's origins. He says that his father lacked business sense but was mechanically inclined. He says that he went to the University of Wisconsin and after graduating worked as a civil engineer for Beloit, Wisconsin. After that he worked for the Steel Corporation in Northern Minnesota. He says that he worked his way through school working as a steward and then as a lab assistant at the university. He says that he stayed at his job with the Steel Corporation for thirteen years.
    Keywords: Beloit (Wis.); Childhood; Engineering; Mechanics; University of Wisconsin; Waterloo (La.)
  • Work as an engineer; Quitting and coming to work at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "My particular job was directing the work of about twenty-five other engineers and developing mine layouts...
    Synopsis: Bickel describes his responsibilities as a mining engineer. He left the job in 1929. He had wanted to leave for longer but didn't due to his deep civic engagement in the community. He talks about how he learned of DuPont and got his job there, stating that if he knew what DuPont was sooner he would have tried to get a job there much earlier. He talks about some of his co-workers when he first moved to Wilmington. He talks about his job at DuPont. He says that DuPont's newest product at the time he started was Duco. He talks about the manufacturing process of smokeless powder.
    Keywords: Duco; E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.; Engineering; Ingersoll-Rand; Management; Manufacturing processes; Mining; Nitrocellulose; Smokeless powder; Wilmington (Del.); Work
  • Transitioning to the explosives department; Salary and benefits at DuPont; DuPont during the Great Depression
    Partial Transcript: "Yes, I had originally asked for it when I first came to the company, but there was no opening at the time..." "I have no complaints, I was very well treated."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about joining the explosives department at DuPont and describes the training he had to take in order to transfer. He says that the training was about different departments in the company, reading, and manufacturing and included a written and oral exam at the end of the course. He says the course was mostly theory and that he feels it was effective as it could be, citing his belief that there is nothing that can replace practical experience in the field. He describes salaries and benefits at DuPont, stating that the company believes in rapid advancement. He says that his department did not suffer much during the Great Depression.
    Keywords: Compensation; E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; Explosives; Field experience; Great Depression; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Salary; Theory; Training
  • Policy makers at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "Les Mahoney was director of sales at the time... he was a member of the old school..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about policy makers at DuPont during the 1930s. He says that standards rose at DuPont over the years and that he worked with people who he believes would never be considered for their jobs today. He talks about the hiring process and the importance of a candidate's personality in interviews. He remarks that DuPont makes opportunities for employee's children, but notes that after they are hired they are not guaranteed extra favors.
    Keywords: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; Hercules Powder Company; Hiring; Interviews; Management; Standards
  • Working at DuPont's explosives department
    Partial Transcript: "... I moved out to Pittsburgh in December of 1930..." "..it was new to me and very intensely interesting..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about his work in DuPont's explosives department. He briefly discusses the management and organization at DuPont field offices. He talks about the nature of his work. He says that some of the largest buyers and users of DuPont's explosives get their own DuPont employee or team embedded into their company. He says that even though he was there for technical expertise he was expected to work in the field too, digging holes if needed. He says that DuPont never charged for these services for both philosophical and legal reasons.
    Keywords: Explosives; Management; Organization; Training
  • Work strip mining coal; Quarrying; Road construction; Safety and danger
    Partial Transcript: "Well, I'd say that I.. they had two or three fellows that did nothing but coal work...I would occasionally go into mines... but my work was outside..." "No dynamite has ever duplicated the action of black powder..."
    Synopsis: Bickel talks about the nature of his field work assisting in strip mining coal. He discusses the economics and process of stripping coal. He says that, overall, stripping uses more explosives than an underground mine. He talks about the explosives used and explains the differences between black powder and dynamite. He goes into more detail of his work.
    Keywords: Black powder; Blasting; Coal; Danger; Demolition; Dynamite; Explosives; Mining; Mining equipment; Quarrying; Risk; Road construction; Safety; Strip mining
  • Types of explosives; DuPont's competitors; Ammonium Nitrate explosives
    Partial Transcript: "I think we covered the general categories, there are various subdivisions under the general classifications that I mentioned..."
    Synopsis: Bickel goes into greater detail about how he did his job. He uses removing clay from a mine as an example and says that in order to best remove it one would have to know what kind of dynamite and how much of it to use. He talks about competition and other types of explosives and how ammonium nitrate prills are less expensive than dynamite.
    Keywords: Ammonium Nitrate; Atlas Powder Company; Clay; E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; Explosives; Hercules Powder Company; Mining