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Ivan Ostromislensky: A Genius Forgotten in His Homeland

Life Dates: 9 September 1880, Orel, Russian Empire – 16 January 1939, New York, USA

Ivan Ostromislensky (Иван Иванович Остромысленский) — Russian and American chemist, one of the pioneers in manufacturing of the synthetic rubber. Ostromislensky graduated from the Second Moscow Cadet Corps, and then for some time studied mechanics and chemistry in the Imperial Moscow Technical School. In 1903 he continued his education in the Technical School in Karlsruhe (now Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) in Germany and simultaneously in University of Zurich, where he took the chemistry course taught by the future Nobel laureate Alfred Werner. After return to Russia in 1906, Ostromislensky first worked in the Imperial Moscow University in the inorganic and physical chemistry lab headed by Alexander Sabaneyev. In 1909, he became a privatdozent at the Moscow University. Then he took technician appointment in the Imperial Moscow Technical School, where he performed his first studies on manufacturing of monomers for rubber production together with Alexander Chugaev.

Ivan Ostromislensky developed the reaction where ethanol is oxidized to acetaldehyde, which reacts with additional ethanol over a tantalum-promoted porous silica catalyst at 325–350 °C to yield butadiene.

In 1912 Ostromislensky became a head of laboratory in the Russian rubber company “Bogatyr.” In 1913 he published the first Russian textbook on chemistry and technology of rubber (“Rubber and its analogs”). He was the first to study in detail the role of activators (other than sulfur) in vulcanization of rubber. He proposed to add organic bases to improve properties of synthetic rubber and carried detailed studies on novel approaches for the synthesis of the monomers to decrease the cost of rubber manufacturing. In particular, he patented over 20 methods for butadien synthesis, a number of which were later implemented in the industry in USSR, Germany and United States. Along with the synthetic monomers production Ostromislensky has studied the chemical nature of antigens and antibodies as well synthesis of pharmaceutical agents.

After the 1917 October Revolution he initially attempted to collaborate with the new Russian government, by assisting them in establishment of industrial manufacturing of artificial rubber. In parallel he headed a chemical-therapeutic laboratory in Moscow Chemical Pharmaceutical Institute. However, after the Government’s decree in 1919 that essentially nationalized all patent rights taking them away from the inventors Ostromislensky had made his mind to emigrate. In 1922 he moved to United States and settled in New York, where he continued to work successfully in major American chemical companies, such as United States Rubber Company, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Union Carbide. He created a number of processes and new polymeric materials, that are today well-known. Unfortunately he passed at the early age of 58.

Ivan Ostromislensky is highly acclaimed for his accomplishments in establishing chemistry and production of rubber.

Ostromislensky took active part the cultural life of Rusian diaspora in New York. He befriended Sergei Rachmaninoff, was one of the founders of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in U.S.A., was accepted in the Russian Therapist Society of New York. While evaluating his contributions, in particular, to Russia, one should take into account that Ostromislensky made a significant impact to the victory over German fashism.

Notably, it was his technology that was implemented by the American industry to address the increased needs in manufacturing of synthetic rubber during the WWII. This was a life and death question for the United States since in the beginning of the war the main supply routes for the natural rubber were controlled by the enemy. By the end of the war the production using Ostromislensky method reached nearly a million tons per year. Through the Lend-Lease the Unites States has shipped to the Soviet Union over 400,000 automobiles, most equipped with the tires manufactured by the Ostromislensky process. This is nearly two thirds of all the automobiles used by the Soviet Army during the war.

The circumstances of Ostromislensky life and career did help the recognition of his achievements during his lifetime. He was practically forgotten in his Motherland. The postmortum recognition came to him only in the United States, where he has been highly acclaimed for his accomplishments in establishing chemistry and production of rubber. He was among the first five inductees in the International Rubber Science Hall of Fame. The four others are Henri Bouasse (1866-1953), who established the foundations of the polymer physics, Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), who discovered the rubber vulcanization, C. Greville Williams (1829-1910), who discovered isoprene, and Carl O. Weber (1860-1905), who studied vulcanization and chemistry of rubber. Subsequently this list was supplemented with the names of Nobel Laureates Peter Debye, Giulio Natta, Paul Flory, Hermann Staudinger, Karl Ziegler, the titan of american polymer chemistry Herman Mark, the inventor of nylon Wallace Carothers, and several other outstanding scientists. As of today Ostromislensky remains the only scientist of Russian origin in this list.

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