Henry Aaron Hill (1915–1979) founded National Polychemicals in 1952 to supply chemical intermediates to the burgeoning polymer-products industry for use in various polymerization processes.

The first half of the 20th century saw the birth of a new polymer-products industry that introduced such now-familiar materials as nylon and Teflon. This rapidly growing industry created a demand for the chemical intermediates used in various polymerization processes, so chemical and petrochemical companies large and small turned to producing these substances. National Polychemicals, founded in 1952 by Hill, was just such a supplier of intermediates.

Persistence in the Face of Prejudice

Letter from Henry Aaron Hill to Henry McBay, 1978.
Letter from Henry Aaron Hill to Henry McBay, 1978.

Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Hill graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. After a year of graduate study at the University of Chicago, Hill went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1942. At MIT he met Professor James Flack Norris, a pioneer physical organic chemist and former president of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and “the first big man . . . who was more interested in my ability to learn chemistry than in the identity of my grandparents.” As an African American, Hill often encountered prejudice, the probable reason that he had to send out 54 applications before he landed a job with North Atlantic Research Corporation of Newtonville, Massachusetts.

Succeeding in Business

At North Atlantic Research, Hill investigated and developed water-based paints, firefighting foam, and several types of synthetic rubber, and eventually rose to the position of vice president. After leaving the firm he worked as a group leader in the research laboratories of the Dewey and Almy Chemical Company before finally starting his own entrepreneurial venture—National Polychemicals. Ten years later he founded Riverside Research Laboratories, which offered research, development, and consulting services in polymer production.

ACS President

From early in his career Hill was active in the ACS—most memorably in establishing standards for employer-employee relationships in the chemical profession and as the society’s first African American president (1977). The ACS established the annual Henry Hill Award in his honor, to recognize distinguished service to professionalism.

Featured image: Henry Aaron Hill, ca. 1976–1977.
American Chemical Society


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