Gustavus John Esselen

- a brief biography

Gustavus John Esselen, II was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, June 30, 1888, the son of Gustavus J. and Joanna Blyleven Esselen. All of his higher education was obtained at Harvard University where he was awarded the A.B. (magna cum laude) in chemistry in 1909 and a doctorate in 1912. In that same year he married Henrietta W. Locke who with three children survived him at the time of his death on Oct. 22, 1952.

Until 1921 he was a member of the research staff of General Electric Co. in Lynn and then of Arthur D. Little, Inc. of Cambridge, MA. At the latter firm he was associated with Little and Wallace Murray in the fabrication of a "silk" purse from reconstituted collagen, in turn derived from a sow's ear. In 1930 he founded Gustavus J. Esselen, Inc., which subsequently became Esselen Research Corporation and then, following a merger, Esselen Research Division of United States Testing Co., Inc. During this period he was involved in solving a variety of problems submitted by industrial clients. Among these was the development of anhydride curing agents for epoxy resins and poly(vinylbutyral) as an improved material for safety glass, both of which enjoyed considerable commercial success. More than 40 U.S. patents were issued as a result of his research efforts.

Esselen was a member of the American Chemical Society for 43 years during which time his outstanding services to the society and the profession of chemistry were recognized and honored, not only in his native New England, but throughout the United States. He was twice chairman of the Northeastern Section, ACS (1922-23) and served as councilor and director of the national organization, during which time he was a member of the ACS Council Policy Committee. His chairmanship of the national ACS meetings held in Boston in 1928 and 1939 was an outstanding service. He was on the advisory boards of I/EC and C&E News, 1946-48. In 1948 he received the James Flack Norris Honor Scroll as "the person who has done most to advance the interests of the Northeastern Section." In 1950 he was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Chemists for his services to the profession of chemistry and chemical engineering. From 1919 to 1951 he was chairman of the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry. Prior to World War II he was a reserve officer in the U.S. Army's Chemical Warfare Service. During the war he was a committee chairman with the Office of Scientific Research and Development.

Esselen's distinguished contributions to chemistry and chemical engineering were in accordance with the highest ethics of these professions; his recognition of the duties of a professional led to his exertion of a wise and beneficent influence on all the professional societies to which he gave so generously of his time and led to his participation in numerous civic activities in the Boston area. Esselen was a very sensitive person, devoted throughout his life to the fine arts and music. His motto, contained on a tapestry in his office, was a quotation of Richard Wilstþtter, "It is our destiny, not to create, but to unveil."

Adapted from Edward R. Atkinson, in W.D. Miles (Ed.), "American Chemists and Chemical Engineers," American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 1976, p 147.