Log in


Joseph Priestley Society Luncheon: Jeffrey A. Johnson, “The Great War and the German Chemical Industry: Origins of the Dual-Use Dilemma”

  • 12 Mar 2015
  • 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
  • Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

Joseph Priestley Society Luncheon: Jeffrey A. Johnson, “The Great War and the German Chemical Industry: Origins of the Dual-Use Dilemma”

Jeffrey A. Johnson Professor, Department of History, Villanova University

Event Link on CHF Site

Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

11:30 a.m. : Networking Reception
12:15 p.m.:  Luncheon
1:00 p.m.:  Keynote Address

Background: World War I has often been called “the chemists’ war” because of the widespread use of chemical weapons by both sides during that conflict. Yet in many ways war production requires the chemical enterprise, as noted in a British report of 1919: “In the future . . . every chemical factory must be regarded as a potential arsenal.” This fact continues to be referred to as the dual-use dilemma. Professor Johnson is one of the noted experts on the history of the chemical industry during the ‘Great War.’

Dr. Johnson will describe the wartime mobilization of the German chemical industry, and the resulting transformation of an international manufacturing business for dyes, pharmaceuticals, and other mainly peacetime products to a war industry producing explosives and chemical weapons. Prior to World War I, the manufacturing versatility associated with the production of chemicals had gone almost  unrecognized by those outside the industry. By 1916 the German military had begun to institutionalize this duality of 

of the chemical industry in so-called ‘preparedness contracts,’ whereby the military subsidized the construction of new chemical plants designed not only for the current war but also for conversion to subsequent peacetime production and then reconversion to military uses in the next war. These events had, however, crucial implications for the international structure of the chemical industry in the postwar era; that is, how could the Allies permit the German chemical industry to resume its full peacetime production without simultaneously leaving open the possibility of resuming production for war at short notice?

Biography: Jeffrey Allan Johnson began his undergraduate studies at Rice University intending to major in chemistry, but a bit of time in the laboratory convinced him to try another approach. He obtained a Bachelor’s degree in history, and went on to completed a European history doctorate at Princeton University with a dissertation on the founding of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry, which led to his first book--The Kaiser’s Chemists: Science and Modernization in Imperial Germany (University of North Carolina Press, 1990). Little did graduate student Johnson imagine that this topic would in 2012 make him the keynote speaker at the centenary of today’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz.

In 1986 Johnson joined the History Department at Villanova University where he is now a Professor of History. Shortly after his arrival at Villanova, he made contact with the recently established Center for History of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania led by the outside reader for his dissertation, Arnold Thackray. This Penn center was the nucleus of what today is the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

In the summer of 1989 Johnson completed reviewing the galley proofs for his book listed above during a two-month exchange fellowship beyond the Berlin Wall, shortly before some of his new East German friends would help tear that wall down. Since then Johnson has continued his research on German chemical history ca. 1865-1945, publishing on professional societies and academic institutions, education and quantum chemistry under the Nazis, women in chemistry, the academic-industrial symbiosis, chemical warfare, and the shaping of national science policy. He is joint author of German Industry and Global Enterprise—BASF: The History of a Company (Cambridge University Press, 2004), coeditor of Frontline and Factory: Comparative Perspectives on the Chemical Industry at War, 1914- 1924 (Springer, 2006), and guest editor of “Chemistry in the Aftermath of World Wars” (Ambix 58/2 [July 2011]). Since 2010 Johnson has been president of the Commission on the History of Modern Chemistry within the history division of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, a sister organization to IUPAC.


Please register at the CHF web site

The ideas, advice and positions expressed by individual members of the Chemical Consultants Network are the member's own and not the responsibility of CCN or its sponsors, the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

© 2017 Chemical Consultants Network 

Chemical Consultants Nework is jointly supported by AlChE and ACS

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software