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John Swallow - Hall of Fame Entry
  Author: Plastics Academy Staff
Added: 05/04/2008
Type: Summary
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John Swallow - Hall of Fame Entry


John Swallow  



Induction: May, 2008  

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Dr. John Swallow (1903 – 1968) was born in Kingsbridge, Devon, England and was educated at Colfe's Grammar School and afterwards attended Queen Mary College London. Upon graduation, he spent two years studying low temperature reactions under Professor Kamerlingh Onnes at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He joined the Brunner Mond Company as a research chemist at Winnington, England in 1924, just prior to Brunner Mond joining ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) in 1926.

In 1928, Dr. Swallow visited Dr. A. Michel's laboratory in Amsterdam, an event that led to a proposal by Dr. Swallow and M. W. Perrin to carry out research on chemical reactions at high pressures of between one thousand and twenty thousand atmospheres. The proposal was approved by the Board of ICI Alkali Division in 1932. An outcome of this research work was "a waxy solid found in the reaction tube" that was reported by R.O. Gibson in March, 1933. This led to the discovery of polyethylene and it was Dr. Swallow that is credited with the first to recognize its true significance. Along with Gibson, Fawcett and Perrin the development of the polymer was recognized and patented in the United Kingdom in 1936. The first ton of polyethylene was produced in December 1938 and commercial production commenced in 1939.

Dr. Swallow quickly established an international reputation as a polymer scientist and his interests in plastics received additional stimulus through his wife Irene, the daughter of Mrs. Alfred Rée, a member of the DuPont family. This family link and his reputation in the world of science allowed Dr. Swallow to learn details of the work of Carrothers, which led to the discovery of nylon and a fascination with the field of elastomers and synthetic rubbers.

Dr. Swallow was named Research Director of ICI Plastics Group in 1942, later ICI Plastics Division in 1945. During the war, in addition to polyethylene, the main emphasis of ICI plastics research was the development and manufacture of its acrylic sheet and molding material, thermosetting resins and molding powders, and PVC products along with nylon monofilaments under license. He is credited with building a first class research and development facility for ICI Plastics and under his leadership many new materials were developed and new applications realized for existing products. In these post-war years ICI Plastics introduced polyester yarn, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), rigid PVC sheet, nylon 66 and cements for acrylics.

Dr. Swallow was named Chairman of ICI Plastics Division in 1951, a position he held until his retirement in 1963. During his tenure as Chairman, he guided the Plastics Division through a difficult period of adolescence with commercial development of existing products and the introduction of new polymers, including polyester film, butadiene copolymers, vinyl copolymers, polypropylene resin and film, and acetal copolymers.

• 1955 Delivered the first Christmas Lecture on "The Wonder of Plastics
• 1957 Named President of the Plastics Institute
• 1962 Awarded the Swinburne Award in recognition of his contribution to world science and commerce

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