Kurt Piehler: This begins an interview with Mr. E. Robert Hoppe on July 21, 1994, with Kurt Piehler. I would like to begin by asking you about your parents. Why did your parents come to the United States?
Robert Hoppe: ... My father came because ... they had one hundred percent conscription over in Germany. ... His family didn't want him in the Army of the Kaiser, so, they shipped him over. He came over at thirteen years of age.
KP: In large part because his family did not want him to serve in the German Army.
ERH: Right, and all my mother's brothers, the same thing. She had three brothers. The same thing, they were all shipped over by their family. The families never came over, but, they shipped all the children over.
KP: Why were they so opposed to having their sons serve in the military?
ERH: Well, they objected to the policies of the ...
KP: Of the Kaiser's government?
ERH: ... Yes.
KP: Were there any religious reasons for their objections?
ERH: No, they were Lutheran and they remained Lutheran.
KP: When your father came to the United States, where did he work at first?
ERH: In a grocery store in Brooklyn, as far as I know. This is before I was born. ...
KP: What did your mother do?
ERH: She was a domestic.
KP: Did she begin working right after she arrived?
ERH: Yes, at thirteen years of age. She cooked and kept house, not knowing the language or anything.
KP: Did she also work in the New York area?
ERH: Yes, at first. Then, they moved to Jersey City. I don't know what year that was. Well, ... my sister was born in 1911, it was after that, so, it must have been about 1912, '13, somewheres in there. They moved to Jersey City and they opened a delicatessen store of their own.
KP: How long did they keep their store?
ERH: Yes, not very long, evidently. I don't know the reason for not [keeping it], because they moved before I was born. They moved, ... I think it was 1918, to Plainfield, New Jersey, and I was born in '21, in Plainfield.
KP: While you were growing up, your father worked for the Borden Milk Company.
ERH: ... Yes, he was working there when I was born, yes, horse and wagon, originally.
KP: Oh, really, it was still a horse and wagon operation?
ERH: Oh, yes. ... I must have been ten, twelve years old. I still remember the horse and wagons coming down the street, and he'd come in, stopping by the house sometimes, and leaving the wagon and the horse in front of the house, ... and bringing home big boxes of horse manure, for the lawn. They used the big butter boxes. ...
KP: They used horses and wagons in Plainfield.
ERH: Oh, yes.
KP: That would be in the early 1930s.
ERH: Yes, late '20s and ... into the '30s, it had to be, sure, because ... even the ice man delivered ice with a horse and wagon. I recall hitching a ride on the sled in back of the ice wagon, ... holding on, ... and the delivery getting mad as the devil, 'cause [of] the extra weight the horse had to pull. There might be five, or six, or more kids in the back, ... in a line. [laughter] Yes, ... it's something you never think of, but, change, change, change. ...
KP: What kind of attitude did your parents have towards the First World War?
ERH: Oh, they were one hundred percent against the German regime over there.
KP: Did your family belong to the Social Democratic Party?
ERH: We're Republicans, ... all the way through.
KP: Did they want Germany to be a republic?
KP: Did your father face the draft? Was he married at that point?
ERH: He was married, yes. They were married in, ... let's see, he was married at twenty-two and ... he was married in 1908. My mother and he were the same age. They were both born in 1886. So, they both came over just before the turn of the century. As a matter-of-fact, I have them ... listed on the wall over there at Ellis Island.
KP: Okay. Did both of them come through Ellis Island?
ERH: Oh, yes, steerage. ... I can remember the stories, yet. My mother used to talk about upper berths, people being sick and throwing up all over the people down below them, you know, seasick. ...
KP: What else did they tell you about their experience?
ERH: ... As I recall, they said it was quite hectic going through the routine there at the island, but, they had no problems as far as being held up, or quarantined, or anything. ... I'm not sure. ... I don't know if they had any relatives over here at the time or not, if there were any sisters of theirs or brothers. Most of them came over a little later, 'cause my mother was the second oldest. She had an older sister, but, she was the second oldest of three girls and three boys, so, there were six of them. ... You're probably of German origin yourself.
ERH: With a name like Piehler.
KP: Piehler, yes.
ERH: Kurt, also. ... There was a Kurt Leuser who was in my class in college here. He was of German origin, of course.
KP: Actually, a good portion of your class is of German origin.
ERH: The chem class?
KP: The Class of 1942.
ERH: Oh, yes, Dutch Reformed. In those days, it was still William, the Silent.
KP: How did the Great Depression affect your family?
ERH: Well, we were one of the fortunate ones, very fortunate. My father worked every day all through the Depression and he averaged, I still recall, forty dollars a week, ... which was tremendous, because others ...
KP: Had nothing.
ERH: Nothing, like, we had friends living across the street. He was a carpenter. ... [As] a matter-of-fact, to this day, I don't know how they existed, because he had no work. ... What was it, from early '29, no, 1930? No, oh, gosh, through '35, '36, even later. ... Actually, the Depression was still on when I started school here in '38.
KP: I have heard that most people had a tough time getting through, financially.
ERH: Yes. ... [As] a matter-of-fact, I was just looking the other day, tuition, when I started here, I think, was 125 dollars a semester. ... The whole thing, with lab fees and everything, came to 190 dollars, 'cause I commuted ... from Plainfield. I didn't live on campus.
KP: How did you commute?
ERH: I had a car.
KP: You had a car.
ERH: Two hundred dollars, I remember, yet, paying for it. My father and mother bought me a '34 Ford.
KP: That was how you got back and forth.
ERH: Yes, it's about fifteen miles, ... everyday.
KP: You mentioned that there were still horse and buggies in Plainfield at this time. What else do you remember about Plainfield, about the community and the people living there?
ERH: It was a terrific town, years ago. Better than fifty percent, ... I'd say sixty to seventy percent, of the working men commuted to New York. It was a commuting town. ... Then, it got taken over. The whole town, now, is bad. 'Course, it wasn't bad when I moved out of there, yet. I moved out in '48, when I married. It wasn't too bad, but, ... were you around here when they had the strikes and everything?
ERH: ... Not the strikes, the appearing of violence? It was really bad. You didn't live around here?
KP: Actually, I lived near Roxbury at the time.
ERH: Oh, I did, too. That's where I was, in Roxbury at the time. That was in the '60s.
KP: Actually, in 1967, I was still living in New York.
ERH: Yes, I think ... '67 was the year it was.
KP: In your high school, how many people were foreign born or the sons and daughters of immigrants? How many were native born?
ERH: Not very many. I think I was quite in the minority. As I recall, when my mother came to school for PTA meetings and to meet the teachers there, she had quite an accent, a German accent, you know, and she never did lose it. She was over here for, ... let's see, 1900, ... she died in '47, so, over forty years.
KP: She never lost her accent?
ERH: Never lost it, no, but, offhand, I can't think of anybody else in my class that was [the child of immigrants]. ...
KP: In your high school?
ERH: In high school?
ERH: Oh, high school you're talking about ...
KP: Or, elementary school.
ERH: Well, I was thinking of elementary school, because, in high school, there were so many that I didn't even know by the time I graduated. ... Our high school in Plainfield, at that time, was bigger than Rutgers when I came here. Rutgers had 1700 in the school and our high school had 1800.
KP: Rutgers was smaller.
ERH: Smaller than the high schools, yes.
KP: What attracted you to Rutgers? Had you applied to other schools?
ERH: Yes, I applied to Columbia, and then, ... they didn't let you know until real late if you were accepted or not. I guess it was in the summer, already, of '38, and I still didn't know, and then, it was real late, it must have been July or thereabout, I got word, and my mother said, "Well, you're going to go to Rutgers." ... She insisted on it.
ERH: I don't know. I really don't know. Maybe it was because it was close by. Maybe she didn't want me to go far from home. I don't really know. ... I don't even know how we made arrangements, ... by phone, by letter, or what, I forget, but, anyway, we ... made arrangements and we spoke to Dean Read. We had an appointment, and we had a conversation with Dean Read, and I was accepted. I really don't know. ... [laughter] It's sort of fuzzy.
KP: Did you know you wanted to be a chemistry major from the beginning?
ERH: Yes, I enjoyed chemistry terrifically in high school. I got straight As in it all the way through and I enjoyed it. I had a girl sitting next to me and I was always helping her with lab. ... She was a nice girl, too. I remember her [name] yet, Kathleen O'Heir. She was a very pretty girl and I enjoyed chemistry and everything about it. ... I just had my mind set on it, I guess, when I was a junior in high school. I had chemistry as a junior in high school.
KP: Did you know what kind of a career you wanted when you started in chemistry?
ERH: No, not really, no.
KP: Were you concerned about the level of employment prospects in the chemistry field?
ERH: Not really. ... You mean before graduation?
KP: No, when you first entered college.
ERH: Oh, well, yes, it was a concern, because the Depression was still on. ... Everybody was thinking about job possibilities. It was rough. A lot of people didn't have jobs, college graduates, ... at that time, ... a lot of them. It was very rough.
KP: You mentioned that Professor Cottle was your favorite professor.
KP: What did you find so appealing about him?
ERH: He was [in] organic chemistry. I don't know. He had a very quiet way about him. ... He was very receptive to questions, ... in class or out of class, and, I guess, his subject was really
interesting, organic. It's a real tough subject.
KP: I know what you mean. I know students who have taken it. It is usually the course that gets people.
ERH: Yes, but, I enjoyed it, mainly, I guess, because of him. ...
KP: You worked during the summer of 1940 at Congoleum-Nairn.
ERH: That's what it was then.
ERH: I was just thinking. ... I had gotten that job through [the] Rutgers Placement Bureau. ... I had put a bid in for a summer job and, luckily, I did get one. I had tried the other couple of years, but, I didn't. It was, I think, in my junior year [that] I got this job. ... I commuted from Plainfield over to Congoleum-Nairn.
KP: In Kearny?
ERH: In Kearny, yes. That was quite a jaunt in those days, and it was quite busy, and I had a '34 Ford, yet, that I drove back and forth to school. ... I don't know how familiar you are with mechanical brakes. Did you ever have any experience with them?
ERH: Boy, I'll tell you, they just had rods going to each wheel, and they were attached to the brake pedal, and the rods would stretch, and you'd get uneven braking, and, sometimes, they would break. Boy, I hit more things by just not being able to stop, a water hydrant, one time, and then, bumping into a car in front of me, and somebody hit me over there in Kearny, too. I was stopped at a light and they didn't stop. ... It was rough, but, I was getting, I guess it was, seventy-five cents an hour.
KP: Were you doing anything related to chemistry?
ERH: No, no, nothing related to it, really. It was just wrapping rolls of linoleum in heavy craft paper and putting a disc on the end to keep them from getting boogered up. ... I think, by the time I got out of there, I was getting ninety cents an hour, and I only worked there about two months, but, I did save enough for a whole year's tuition at Rutgers the next year. That's how inexpensive it was to attend the school at that time.
KP: How did you pay for your first two years of school? Did your parents pay for it?
KP: Did you feel that you were fortunate because your parents could afford to pay for your tuition?
KP: I know a lot of your classmates had a rough time paying for college.
ERH: Yes, they could just barely, even at that ... low rate, or low cost, I should say, but, I had an older sister, she was ten years older than I, she was working, too. She was working ... as a bookkeeper, I guess, in a furniture store in town. So, she contributed to the family fund in the way of board. ... My mother did skimp and save. ...
KP: Your mother really wanted you to go to college.
ERH: Oh, I guess so, way back. As far as I was concerned, I probably wouldn't have gone if she hadn't pushed me.
ERH: She was instrumental all the way along.
KP: Did you think that you were going to begin working after graduation from high school?
ERH: Well, I assumed I probably would have had to, ... but, she was the one who pushed for going on to college, as most mothers [do]. I know my wife [did], too. Well, I push[ed], too. We have four children which we put through college, all four, and graduate school, too. One of them went to college [for] twelve or fifteen years.
KP: I went to school for about twelve years to get my Ph.D.
ERH: You did, too?
ERH: Well, he got his Ph.D., and then, he took post-doctoral work, yet, at Johns Hopkins. So, he went a long time and he got married when he got out of college. ... He went to Wooster, out in Ohio, and, when he graduated from there, he got married right away, but, then, he had got a very nice wife, a good wife. She worked as a music teacher. She was a music major and she put him through all these schools. Oh, plus, he got stipends, too, National Institute of Health. When he was at Johns Hopkins, he got stipends down there. So, that, of course, helped tremendously, but, ... when they got down to Baltimore, when he was going to Johns Hopkins, she traveled about twenty-five miles each way to go teach. So, she was very good, still is. [laughter]
KP: As a commuter, did you feel isolated from what was going on at the college?
ERH: A lot of times, yes. I did have friends who lived at Winants. I don't know if you contacted or [have] gotten any reply back from Arthur Jianine.
KP: Not yet.
KP: Not yet.
ERH: You didn't. Do you recall his name?
KP: No, I do not.
ERH: Yes, okay, but, he lived at Winants, and, a lot of times, we'd go there after classes, if we didn't have a class right away, or something like that, or even spend the night in his room, on the couch, ... or something like that, and we'd spend evenings there, studying for exams together. So, I wasn't altogether ...
ERH: Isolated, but, a lot of times.
KP: You also spent a great deal of time in the lab.
ERH: Oh, yes, Saturdays even. From eight to twelve every Saturday, which I thought was funny [at[ first, but, ... [it was] required.
KP: You got used to it.
ERH: Oh, yes, yes.
KP: You applied for advanced ROTC.
ERH: Yes. Did I put that in there?
KP: Yes. However, you did not get in.
ERH: They only took two chem majors, for chem warfare. ... There wasn't much demand for chem warfare at that time and they only took two.
KP: Two people from chemistry got in and you were not one of them.
ERH: That's right, although I had straight As and I had medals and everything.
KP: You had done well in ROTC.
ERH: Yes, I enjoyed it, too. I liked it.
KP: Had you thought of staying in and going into the advanced infantry?
ERH: Yes, I applied for advanced ROTC. I wasn't accepted.
ERH: ... Then, when I got out of school, I don't know if you've ever heard of [this]. I don't know if you're old enough to [have heard of it]. Have you ever heard of the V-7 Navy program?
KP: Oh, yes, yes.
ERH: Well, I applied for that when I got out of school, for the Naval Reserve V-7 Program. I had all my papers, and all the forms signed, and everything all set to go into the recruiting station, and then, I got a job offer from Hercules. ... My mother talked me out of it. She said, "Well, you can always go try the job first," you know, and what have you got to lose.
KP: You really wanted to enlist.
KP: Your mother was the decisive factor, saying that you should not go?
ERH: Yes, or she'd rather I didn't.
KP: What were your mother's fears? Was she afraid that you were going to get killed?
ERH: Well, I guess so. War is war. [laughter]
KP: Did she have any misgivings that you could potentially be fighting against Germany?
ERH: No, she had no love for the German country as such, no.
KP: What was her attitude towards the rise of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s?
ERH: Terrible, terrible.
KP: Your mother was very content with the United States.
ERH: Oh, yes. Oh, gosh, yes, and the father, too, of course.
KP: Did your mother and father agree in terms of politics?
ERH: Oh, yes, solid Republicans, [laughter] as myself, good, old Christie.
KP: You got a job offer from Hercules. How did that come about?
ERH: They recruited at the school, and they gave me an offer, and I accepted it. It was 160 dollars a month and it was raised to that. I think it was started [at] $120 a month, but, before I got the job, a few weeks before, they increased it to $160 a month.
KP: In the 1940s, that was a lot of money.
ERH: It wasn't bad, but, it wasn't ... top salary. ... Hercules was very good that way. ... They'd give you increases very, very frequently.
KP: Had you intended to go into munitions manufacturing?
ERH: Hercules was involved in other things besides that, but, I happened to get in[to] that. Actually, the first job wasn't in munitions as such, but, it was in the manufacturing of nitrocellulose, which went into munitions. It was shipped from Wilmington, Delaware, up to Parlin, New Jersey, actually, and that's where they made the gunpowder. Then, later, I got up to Kenvil myself, ... but, I worked at Parlin. Do you know where Parlin is, Sayerville? It's a section of Sayerville, actually, outside of South Amboy. ... I worked there from '42 to '58, sixteen years I was [there].
KP: You had applied to other places and Hercules was the one that came through with an offer.
ERH: Yes. ... Monsanto, ... [in] those days, it was Allied Chemical, ... they changed the name since then, of course, ... and several others, I forget, but, I chose Hercules. I guess I got a couple other offers, too, but, I don't remember. It was so long ago, fifty years, but, I know I went up to Massachusetts. Monsanto had paid for a trip up there for our interviews, for several of us chem majors.
KP: Was that the farthest trip you had taken up to that point in your life? How far had you traveled in the United States, both before and during college?
ERH: I think, Niagara Falls.
KP: That was the farthest from home you had traveled?
ERH: Yes, about four hundred miles. That was back in 1932, I remember the year, yet.
KP: Did your parents take you on a family vacation?
KP: What was your first job with Hercules?
ERH: Well, it was in training for production supervision.
KP: Where did you receive this training?
ERH: In Parlin. ...
KP: You trained right in Parlin?
ERH: Yes, well, I was scheduled to go to Wilmington, Delaware, when I got the job, down there in the research laboratory, and I went down there, and registered at the YMCA, took all my belongings, took my car and everything down there. ... That was on the weekend. So, Monday, I went over to the office for an interview and they said, "Well, where would you like to go?" [They] shipped me right out. There, I paid for a week's rent ... and everything at the YMCA and they shipped me out. ...
KP: You chose Parlin?
ERH: I chose Parlin and I was lucky enough to get it, 'cause it was very close to home. It was, maybe, fifteen, seventeen miles, ... almost the same as Rutgers was from Plainfield at the time.
KP: Did you live with your parents during the war?
ERH: Yes. I was an air raid warden, during the war.
KP: You mentioned that on the survey.
ERH: Did I?
KP: Yes, in Plainfield?
ERH: I don't remember that even. You see, that is too long ago and I don't remember. [laughter]
KP: Where did you enlist to be an air raid warden? How did that come about?
ERH: I was recruited. I don't remember how. ...
KP: This was fairly early in the war.
ERH: Oh, yes. ... Oh, it must have been right after I got out of school, before '43. It must have been in late '42, or [the] middle of '42, maybe.
KP: What were your responsibilities?
ERH: Oh, well, they had air raid warnings ... every once in a while and it was my responsibility to go up and down the block and make sure everybody had their shades down and their lights turned down. ...
KP: Did you have any problems with compliance?
ERH: No, no, no, even though I was the young kid on the block, you know. Everybody was pretty old. I was only ... twenty-one at that time. ... I recall, yet, during the war, all cars had to have half their headlights.
KP: Yes, because of the shore.
ERH: Did you know that?
KP: Yes, Ralph Schmidt told me about that.
KP: You still had your '34 Ford?
ERH: Yes, and then, ... I got another car. I got a ration order from the board for another car in '43, but, they didn't make any cars in '43, and I had to get a leftover '42, but, it was a new car ... that came through already with a black plastic half covering the headlights.
KP: You bought it that way from the dealer?
ERH: Yes. Now, the Ford, I had to paint that on myself with black paint. You had to put the black paint halfway down. That was to ... prevent the glare in the sky for submarine background, and so forth, even though Plainfield was quite far away from the shore.
KP: Did your family grow a victory garden?
ERH: I did while I was working at Hercules. A friend of mine had a mother-in-law who lived, oh, I guess it was Piscataway out there or New Market? Do you know where New Market is, right next to Piscataway and Dunellen, ... in that area? She had, ... I guess, four or five acres that, she was old, ... she never did anything with. We had a big garden. Sometimes, I don't know what happened, but, we planted a hundred tomato plants. Some days, I would go through there and pick three peach baskets full of tomatoes. We didn't know what to do with them. [laughter] You know, day after day, you'd be picking three baskets full. All around, the
neighbors didn't want any more. Oh, I had a big garden, yes, I did.
KP: Did you have any problems getting gasoline for your car?
ERH: No problem, working for Hercules.
KP: Really? You had priority because of your work?
ERH: I had, I'll show you, here's what I had.
KP: Oh, so, you were given a supplemental mileage ration ...
ERH: Yes, I think each one of those was worth five gallons, or something like that. I came across this. I don't know what the reason was, I imagine to go fishing, but, there's the okay they gave me to go down the shore.
KP: This is to go down to the shore? You needed to get insurance?
ERH: Not insurance. You had to get that from ... the rationing board.
ERH: ... They stated in there [that] they didn't give you any extra gas for it. You had to say that you had enough gas to get down there and back. ... The A-ration card, the tickets were worth only one gallon a piece. You didn't get too many of them. To get tires, you had to go down to the board and get a ration order for tires, [same for] butter, shoes. Of course, you're probably familiar with all that.
KP: Yes. Was there any sort of black market operating in your neighborhood?
ERH: ... We were never involved in it, but, I heard, ... at work, that there was something with farmers around here [who] were selling meat. Meat was hard to get. It was rationed and I'd heard some of the farmers were selling it. Of course, it wasn't cured and it wasn't inspected or anything. So, I never got involved in it, but, I know ... some did.
KP: I interviewed a man yesterday who said that part of his job in the Army was to chase down chicken farmers who tried to sell their chickens illegally. They used to stake out chicken farms. Well, actually, they used to stake out the trucks that came up to Delmarva Peninsula.
ERH: ... Down there, where I live, there are all kinds of vacated chicken houses, literally hundreds of them. ... They're still there, but, they're not used, just falling [down].
KP: Down by Lakehurst?
ERH: Lakehurst, Toms River, all through that area there, Bayville, all through there, Lakewood.
KP: You trained to be a shift supervisor. How long did your training last and what did it consist of?
ERH: It consisted of, ... well, in the production of nitrocellulose, you had cotton linters, which were nitrated, and wood pulp, which was nitrated also, and ... that was your cellulose source, of course. ... It would go to a dry house, and the cotton bales would be picked apart and dried and ... go up to the nitrating house, where it was nitrated with mixed acid, sulfuric and nitric acid, and, from there, it went down to the purification area, where it was boiled in tubs ... for maybe forty [hours], up to sixty hours. That was to stabilize it, and then, from there, it would go to the poacher house where it was blended. You'd have to blend it for nitrogen and solubility, depending on what it was going [to] be used for, what type of gunpowder it was gonna go into, see, and then, from there, we would go to the packing house where it was centrifuged in linters ... and packed out in barrels. Then, the barrels would be picked up by shipping and put on the narrow-gauge railroad [to] take them out to the warehouse, or else, loaded directly into railroad boxcars. So, what I did, I trained in each of these areas for several months, no, maybe a month in each of these areas, cotton dry house, as they called it, nitrating house, purification area, and then, [I] was put on as a shift supervisor.
KP: You trained for about six months.
ERH: Yes, six, eight months, I would say.
KP: Then, you became a shift supervisor.
ERH: I had a hundred [to] a hundred and twenty people under me.
KP: Did you work at night?
ERH: Three shifts, seven to three, three to eleven, and eleven to seven.
KP: When would you be on?
ERH: Well, they'd change. You'd work eleven to seven, then, you'd swing over to three to eleven, and then, seven to three.
KP: You had no one, set shift that you worked?
ERH: No, every week, you changed.
KP: Your schedule must have been difficult.
ERH: Oh, it was rough. Every week, you know, it's rough. You no sooner get used to one shift ... and you're changing. Your stomach [reacts]. ...
KP: Do you know why they did not give you a set schedule?
ERH: Well, I guess it was undesirable to be on one shift steady, ... so, they split it up among the employees.
KP: Did you have different people working under you every time your shift changed?
KP: When your shift changed, your employees' shifts changed as well?
ERH: Right, right.
KP: They also had an erratic schedule.
ERH: Right, and you'd be surprised. There were a couple of years I worked there while the war was still going on. I worked there, what, from '42 to '45. All the able-bodied men were gone. We had all women, practically. We had, I guess, eighty percent women or more, and then, you wouldn't believe the jobs they did. You wouldn't believe [it].
KP: What kind of jobs did they do?
ERH: Heavy, heavy jobs. They'd pack up cotton in barrels. ... They worked in the purification area, hosing out the tubs. They had these great, big fire hoses where they would move the nitro-cotton and the nitro-cotton. ... It was ten, fifteen thousand pounds in each tub. They would move it to blenders and what have you and they did all heavy work, very heavy.
KP: How old were these women?
ERH: Some of them were as old as in their forties. Others were very late teens and twenties. ... They weren't too old, but, there, in Parlin, which is outside of South River, ... they were very husky women. They were mostly Polish or Russian and ... they were built. You'd be surprised. They were ... used to work, I guess, or their family was used to it, mothers or fathers.
KP: Were many of these women first generation Americans?
ERH: Many of them were.
KP: Most were the daughters of Polish and Russian immigrants.
ERH: Yes, they were.
KP: Were most of them from Parlin or from the surrounding communities?
ERH: Right there, yes, Parlin, South Amboy, South River, which is right there on the other end of town.
KP: You had to keep a very erratic schedule, but, what about those women who had children? Were there any problems that you recall?
ERH: I never heard much of it, if there was [a problem], ... probably because I wasn't in that predicament, personally. I wouldn't have been, maybe, told about it. I don't know.
KP: Did you have a problem with absenteeism?
ERH: Oh, we had absenteeism, but, not all that much. We had absenteeism and we had chronic absenteers ... that we had to send a medic out, checking up on them. As a matter-of-fact, that's how I met my wife. She was in the medical department there.
KP: Did she begin working there during the war?
ERH: No, she didn't. She didn't start until about '47.
ERH: She was in training, in Metropolitan Hospital, but, she was training to be a naval nurse. All her training was being paid for by the government, because she was going to be in the service. ... The war was over before she finished her training, but, they completed her training. They paid for her to finish it, 'cause she only had a year or less to go, and they completed it for her, and then, she worked at Columbia Presbyterian for a while, and then, she came out to St. Peter's. ... It used to be St. Peter's. I guess it still is St. Peter's in New Brunswick.
ERH: 'Cause she lived in South River. ... Her dad worked for Hercules before she did, ... and I knew him, but, I never knew he had a daughter, and then, this one day, ... the janitors used to clean the main office over, it was a big building, ... and he called me up, and he said, "Hey, Bob, you know, the nurse needs a ride home. She doesn't have a ride home tonight." This was after [the] second shift. "She lived in South River. Can you drop her off?" and I said, "Sure, who is it?" He said, "Oh, it's Harriet." I said, "Oh, I don't know her." So, I went over there, and met her, ... and I said, "Sure," I'd take you home. So, I took her home and I said, "Do you need a ride in tomorrow?" picked her up the next day, this was in March, the first part of March, and then, the next week, we went down to Philadelphia, to a sportsman's show. May, we were engaged. March to May [is] two months, but, we didn't announce it until July, because we figured people would say, "Jeez, that's so fast." So, we didn't announce it until [the] Fourth of July and we were married that following December.
KP: After being secretly engaged for several months.
KP: Did the nature of production at Hercules change over the course of the war? Did the war hasten production in your particular plant or introduce technological changes or new methods of production?
ERH: Well, there were always changes. Even employees made suggestions that were followed in a number of cases ... to make the job simpler, and faster, and less expensive, too, but, it wasn't until after the war that the continuous nitration ... [came] in. See, when we nitrated up there during the war, it was thirty-four pound charges run into a pot of acid. ... Each man took care of four pots and it was timed. ... When the light went on, he dipped the pot up and that was emptied, because the man down below had to wring it out in the centrifuge. He wrung the acid out. So, then, later, several years later, they did develop a continuous nitration process. It continuously was nitrated and went down to the purification area, instead of a batch.
KP: Did this process reduce the amount of men and women you needed to supervise the nitration?
KP: How much of the product could you make in a given shift?
ERH: Let's see, ... I don't think, at this time, it would be a trade secret anymore. [laughter] We'd make, let's see, about six or seven lots and there could be as much as fifteen thousand pounds in a lot.
---------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE----------------------------------------
KP: How dangerous was this process?
ERH: Well, at the nitrator, when they nitrated high-grade, which was called S-l at that time, ... 'cause that had the highest nitrogen, ... the higher the nitrogen, the more unstable it was. So, when they used to centrifuge that down on the floor below the nitrating level, they used to wear a heavy mask with a leather front on it and just a glass ... eyepiece, you know, and, sometimes, they used to go off while they were [in there]. This is all [by] hand, too. They used to have, like, a pitchfork, like a hay fork with bronze tips, they're non-sparking, see, and they used to go in there with this three-pronged fork and fork out the cotton after it was centrifuged. ... Well, sometimes, they would strike a spark, or else, there would be a contaminant in there, maybe a lump of grease, or maybe a piece of wood that got partially nitrated, or not all the way, but, got a hot spot, and that doggone basket would shoot right off, ... not the basket, but, the cotton in it, ... and it would come right out in ... the wringer man, as he was called, in his face, see. So, he had this protection on, so he wouldn't get burned. ... All the clothing the dipper men and the nitrating men wore was one hundred percent wool, which they issued to the men. It was made by Woolrich and it was one hundred percent wool, because acid didn't attack that as fast as anything else.
KP: It must have been very hot for them in the summer.
ERH: [There was] no air conditioning. It was very hot. It was stifling, and then, we had an acid area, too, where we used to burn ammonia gas in the presence of air, oxygen, ... oxidize the ammonia to nitric acid, and, sometimes, that building was 120 degrees where they were burning. You burned it on a platinum gauze. The gauze, ... well, it had to be burned in platinum, so you'd get the reaction to take place, and this platinum gauze was worth ... thousands and thousands of dollars, ... and this would glow, and the temperature of that platinum gauze was 900 degrees, and you had three of these units in this building, and, sometimes, that building was 120 degrees in the summertime. It was hot, very hot. Of course, the powerhouse was the same way. It was hot. We used to generate our own electricity, so, we had several turbines. ...
KP: The Hercules plant was quite self-sufficient.
ERH: Oh, yes. We even had our own water company, called DuHerNal. Du for Du Pont, Her for Hercules, and Nal for National Lead. Those three were in on it, DuHerNal. It was down in Spotswood. Have you ever heard of Spotswood?
KP: Yes. In fact, that is where I will be living next year.
ERH: Well, there's ... a lake down there called DuHerNal Lake. We pumped water from there up to Parlin.
KP: Up to Parlin?
ERH: Yes, which was about, ... I'd say, almost ten miles, yes, [through] a pipe about that size.
KP: What kind of security did your operation have?
ERH: We had armed guards. ... I bought a gun from them after the war, when they got rid of the guard force. I bought a .38, official police, for thirteen dollars, [the] holster was another dollar, and a hundred rounds of ammunition [at] a penny a piece. [laughter] Yes, yes, they sold all the guns and everything after the war, yes, but, they were all armed guards.
KP: Were there any concerns about sabotage, initially?
ERH: All through the war. All during the war, they had armed guards and you had to have a pass with your picture on it to get in, of course.
KP: How much Army supervision did your plant operate on?
ERH: ... They had government inspectors ... come around and check the records, yes. They had the Army-Navy "E" awards that they would give for excellence in production.
KP: Did the military do any field investigations of your background or your employees' backgrounds?
ERH: Lord knows. I suppose they did. Being of German origin, more or less, ... I imagine they must have.
KP: Did they ever personally interview you?
ERH: Nope, never had a reason to, I guess, but, I often suspected that they might.
KP: Did you need any type of clearance to work in your plant?
ERH: I didn't have top secret [clearance], I guess, but, they must have had some kind of top secret [clearance].
KP: Certain processes were considered secret and you were enjoined by the government not to talk.
ERH: Yes, and then, there was top secret and I wasn't top secret.
KP: You were just secret.
KP: Your plant did not have a union during the war.
ERH: That's right. It was after the war that they [formed one], yes, that's right. ... Did I mention that?
KP: Yes, you mentioned it on the survey.
ERH: They didn't have a union during the war.
KP: However, a union did develop after the war.
KP: When did the union emerge? Was it right after the war?
ERH: No, as a matter-of-fact, I think they had two elections and it was turned down. I imagine it was about ... '47, '48, somewheres in there, I guess.
KP: Was this a CIO union?
ERH: It was the Chemical Workers, American Gas, something like that. ... I think it was a CIO, but, then, they later merged, of course.
KP: Yes, the AFL-CIO.
ERH: Yes, ... but, I believe that was CIO. I'm pretty sure. It's hard to remember, since I wasn't even a member.
KP: You were always in management.
ERH: Yes, oh, yes. I was never ... a union member.
KP: Ralph Schmidt mentioned that when he started at Merck, his relationship with his foreman, initially, was very similar to the relationship between a young second lieutenant and his sergeant. What were your experiences with your foremen?
ERH: All the foreman worked under me. I had about five foremen under me.
KP: What was your relationship with them like?
ERH: Of course, I had superiors on the day shift. When I was on second shift, I had superiors there until five o'clock, when they went home, and, on the night shift, I was it, and, if ... anything happened, fires or anything, I had to take care of [it]. Sometimes, we had acid leaks. One time, ... the valve on the bottom of one tank leaked and acid got into another tank and the combination threw off terrific heat. I happened to walk through those tanks that night, and ... [the] heat came like a big radiator, and I said, "Wow, something's wrong there," and I went up to the scalehouse man and took care of it. You see, they had to mix these acids. For each nitration lot, there's a different acid mixture. They had a lab run the analysis. ... I went up there and we, right away, pumped that over into another tank. ... [We] brought up the concentration with oleum, which is strong, acid--strong, sulfuric, 108 percent. In other words, you could add eight percent water to it and still have one hundred percent acid, and we added that to it, and brought the weak up in strength, and got it all right, but, I discovered that that night. ... During the day, we had area supervisors. We had about five or six areas, so, ... the area supervisors worked steady days, and then, the plant manager and his assistant worked steady days. So, on the day shift, ... I had about six or seven superiors.
KP: What about when you were on the night shift?
ERH: You was it, and, if something came up that you didn't know, you had to call the plant manager and ... check it out. It was two, three o'clock in the morning, I'd sometimes call him. Very seldom I called him, but, I had to call him on occasion. ...
KP: How long had the foremen been with Hercules when you started?
ERH: Some of them [for] a number of years.
KP: Do you think that they viewed you as a young, college upstart?
ERH: Yes. With some of them, you could sense it and others, [it was] entirely different. It depended upon the individual.
KP: Some took you, in a sense, under their wing?
ERH: Right, but, [in] others, resentfulness was shown, yes, yes, definitely.
KP: Are there any instances that you remember where a foreman was particularly helpful or particularly unhelpful?
ERH: Oh, yes. This one foreman, I remember his name yet, Al Rusin, ... he was very helpful. Others, they would do things behind your back. ... You'd give an order for this or that, and, later, you discovered that it wasn't followed, ... so, then, you'd raise Cain. ... They should know better, but, all in all, I didn't have as much trouble as you might suspect, you know, because, like you say, some of the foremen, ... well, I was twenty-one, some of them were thirty-five, forty years old, ... had been there for a number of years, maybe ten, fifteen years when I started.
KP: When the veterans returned, what happened to the women?
ERH: They all disappeared, yes. Just about all of them were gone.
KP: Were they fired? Did most of them quit when the war ended?
ERH: Most of them were just let go.
KP: Just let go?
ERH: Yes. They didn't quit, 'cause they were making pretty good money. When the war was over, they were getting as much as $1.75 an hour and that was good at that time, ... $1.75. I never thought it would go up to what it is today. [laughter] This is unbelievable. ... I saw it, when I started there, top rate was about sixty-nine or seventy cents an hour, something like that, ... for top operators.
KP: During the war, it went from seventy cents to $1.75.
KP: $1.60 was the minimum wage in the early 1970s.
ERH: Yes, ... it looked pretty good.
KP: You lived with your parents in Plainfield when you were working at Hercules. How did the war change your community? For example, did you face an influx of new residents?
ERH: ... Gosh, I don't know. ... It wasn't that apparent that I really [did] take notice of it or read it in the newspaper. ... At the time, I don't recollect, and then, like I say, I moved out about three years after the war was over, '48.
KP: You lived with your parents. Was that arrangement made by choice or was it due to the very tight housing market? For example, had you thought of moving closer to the Parlin plant?
ERH: No, I didn't mind the commute. ... Economically, you couldn't be better. [laughter] ... I recall yet, I gave my mother seventy-five dollars a month for room and board, not that she requested it, or asked for it, or anything, but, I did. My kids never gave us a cent. [laughter] I know I was always after the wife, that she should request something at least. ... Of course, our children, they ... got out of school. The oldest one, he was married at twenty-two years of age. He got out of school, and he went two years to Duquesne and got his MBA, and he was married right away, and he put himself through graduate school. He got a job in a hardware store, worked part-time. We went out to visit him. He had an apartment there and he had gotten all the furniture down at the "Helping-Hand." He had a coffee table there that was a spool from the Western Electric. You know how they had the spools that the wires wrap [around]?
ERH: That's what he had for a coffee table. My wife and I, ... later, we said, "Oh, my God, how are they ever gonna make out?" and she had just graduated ... the year after he did. He graduated from Washington & Jefferson, and she graduated, I guess, the year later, and he got married, I guess, before she graduated. I don't know how they did it, but, they did it. Now, he's earning $140,000 a year.
KP: None of your children served in the military.
ERH: They didn't even, ... yes, they did sign up for the draft, just before the Vietnam War was over. ... My second oldest, he had a real low number, too.
KP: He was not called up.
ERH: No, no, he was going to be called. ... He had a real low number. Our children were very close in age. We had four children in about four-and-a-half years, 1950, August, and the last one was born in January, '55, four-and-a-half years for the four, ... which was very rough, and then, putting them through college, all of them, too. They all went to graduate school, except the daughter. She didn't go to graduate school, but, she went to college four years, also.
KP: Until when did you work at the Parlin plant?
KP: What changes did you see immediately after the war? What did you notice about the returning workers, the veterans coming back to the factory? Did many of them, in fact, come back to the factories?
ERH: Yes, yes, they did, and I think there was a certain amount of unrest, because we did have, I don't know, was it one or two strikes after that? ... I remember one strike lasting, oh, gosh, at least a month or more. ... [It was] kind of risky going in on the last shift ... when they had a picket line.
KP: What would happen or what could happen?
ERH: Well, nothing happened, nothing ever happened, but, they ... were standing there, had their fires going at night there, and asked you not to go in, ... but, you had to go in. The company demanded that you go in, of course, and you wanted to anyway, but, ... I would say there was ... quite a bit of unrest, but, not very much that I remember.
KP: Did many of the returning veterans have a hard time readjusting to their old jobs? Of course, you did not know them before the war.
ERH: Some of them I did, yes. Some of them didn't leave until I started there, yes, 'cause I started there in May of '42 ... and the war had just been going on a little less than six months, that the United States was in it.
KP: Did you notice any changes in them after the war?
ERH: Well, I don't know. I don't recall, really, any changes ... that terrifically, that I would recall so long ago, too, but, maybe, ... at the time, I would have noticed it, but, I don't remember. I don't remember.
KP: You were, in a sense, in the munitions business. Were you concerned, when the war ended, that Hercules would downsize or reduce its work force?
ERH: Not really, because nitrocellulose had so many other uses, lacquers, plastics, ... film. We used to ship a lot over to Du Pont for x-ray film and such. ...
KP: So, the workers in your plant were not worried that they would lose their jobs when the war ended?
ERH: No, not really, no, because, ... actually, there was a backlog for the commercial or domestic nitrocellulose, because most of it had been going to the war effort. Most of the nitrocellulose that we made was going to the war effort, of course, but, there was quite a back-up demand, yes.
KP: Did you keep three shifts even after the war?
ERH: They're still going three shifts. It doesn't pay to shut down an operation like that, you know.
KP: You had a very erratic schedule during the war. Did the shifts continue along the same pattern after the war?
ERH: Well, during the war, I worked six days one week and five the next, ... and, after the war, I went to a straight five day week, and that was different days off during the week, too. I didn't have Saturday and Sunday off during the week, because we worked around the clock, you know.
KP: Seven days a week?
ERH: Oh, yes.
KP: Twenty-four hours a day?
KP: Was the scheduling of the shifts as variable after the war? In other words, could one week be different from the next week?
ERH: In what respect?
KP: In other words, could you expect to work the night shift five nights a week?
ERH: No, they alternated the same way.
KP: Even after the war, they continued to alternate the weekly schedule?
KP: Do you know why?
ERH: Well, I guess not to keep a person on the same shift steady, you know, because of activities at home, I guess, or social life. ... You know, you do have a week of days that you could go out in the evening. Second shift is bad. You can't go anyplace in the evening, because you'd start at three o'clock in the afternoon. I had to leave home by two, and then, I'd get out at eleven. By the time I got home, it was almost midnight. ... So, what do you do? I remember, we used to stop, ... sometimes, at some of the beer gardens and play shuffleboard. I don't know if you've ever seen these long shuffleboards they have, you know, the quints you have to throw down there by hand. Yes, we used to play that a lot.
KP: After your night shift?
ERH: Yes, after second shift, we used to stop and play shuffleboard, but, I don't think I've been in a tavern since that time, but, we used to enjoy that.
KP: You were transferred from Parlin to Kenvil.
ERH: In Kenvil, yes.
KP: How did that come about?
ERH: ... We also used to make, besides nitrocellulose, I thought I mentioned, we made cellulose acetate, which was another section of the plant. Okay, they decided to go out of the cellulose acetate business, which was a cutback. It was reorganization.
KP: Was this in the 1950s?
ERH: Yes. Cellulose acetate had been a losing proposition for a number of years and they kept figuring, "It's gonna ... catch on, it's gonna catch on, it's gonna catch on," but, then, they finally wiped it out. So, we had 1,800 people working at the plant at that time and they cut back ... to about 1,200 or so, yes, and, at that time, '58, the Cold War was pretty much in full swing, and they were working on the Minuteman Missle, which we were involved in up at Kenvil. We were in all that rocketry stuff and they needed help up there, so, I was transferred.
KP: At Kenvil, what were your responsibilities?
ERH: I was transferred to the lab. Well, before I left, I was transferred. In '55, I was in the lab, too, at Parlin.
KP: What were your responsibilities?
ERH: I was the supervisor of three different labs, the cellulose acetate lab, the acid lab, and the nitro-cotton lab.
KP: What were the labs' responsibilities?
ERH: Well, the acid lab, they would calculate the mixes for the nitration, as I said before, the quantities of sulfuric and nitric acid that would be added to each mix, and that would determine your nitrogen level of nitrocellulose, and, in the cotton lab, they would run nitrogen on different lots. You see, it was all a batch process. So, these lots would come through as batches or lots. ...
KP: It was the lab's responsibility to determine the proper mix.
ERH: Control, control, yes, and, also, in the cotton lab, it would be control. They would run the nitrogen of the nitro-cotton, and the solubility, and the stability. [For] stability, there was a German test which was a heat test. You'd heat it up and have a paper in the tube ... that was a violet paper that turned color. [If it took] less than, I forget the time now, it's so long ago, I think it was fifteen minutes, or twenty minutes, or something like that, ... it was unstable and had to be restabilized, and, if the nitrogen was off or the solubility was off, it had to be blended with another lot ... to bring it up or down, whatever, and acetate was more or less the same way. They ran viscosity, and, out there, they acetylated, though they didn't nitrate. They used acidic acid, of course, to make the cellulose acetate.
KP: You were in the lab, and then, you transferred up to Hercules and moved to Roxbury.
ERH: Yes, ... my oldest boy was in second grade at that time. So, you went to Roxbury schools?
KP: I went to the high school.
ERH: Oh, just the high school?
KP: I went to Mt. Arlington for elementary school.
ERH: Oh, yes, that's right. All the Mt. Arlington folks came over, that's right.
KP: They came over to the high school.
ERH: Yes, yes. Well, see, my oldest son was in the ... second grade, and the second oldest was in first grade, and the girl was in kindergarten. So, then, they were all really young and the youngest one wasn't even going to school yet when we moved up there.
KP: You were in the lab at Hercules at this time?
ERH: At Kenvil.
KP: At Kenvil. What were your responsibilities in that lab?
ERH: I supervised the operation in the lab. ... Also, they nitrated there. They had acid mixes that they mixed that they used to nitrate glycerin to make nitroglycerin and we nitrated ethylene
glycol. Are you familiar with ethylene glycol?
ERH: That's the chemical you put in your car radiator.
ERH: We nitrated that, too. We made ethylene glycol dinitrate. That's highly explosive.
KP: Did you have any major explosions?
ERH: Oh, God, big ones, yes.
KP: In both plants, how many explosions were there?
ERH: The only explosion we had at Parlin was, two men had obtained some dynamite from Kenvil, we used to make dynamite up there years ago, and they blew up a wall that was no longer used, a concrete wall, had been standing there for years, and they wanted to get rid of it. So, I guess, they set the dynamite off, and it didn't go off, and then, somebody went over to investigate, and it went off. The wall fell on him.
KP: Did it kill him?
ERH: Yes. That's the only fatality I ever remember at Hercules.
KP: At Parlin?
ERH: Yes, at Parlin, Hercules.
KP: What about Kenvil?
ERH: At Kenvil, we had several. Yes, ... several I would say.
KP: There has recently been two explosions.
ERH: Yes. ... I can't remember the number of explosions and we had ... several fatalities, men killed. We had 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin go off one morning, when I was just going in the main gate. Do you know where the main gate is?
ERH: That's out on Howard Boulevard, now.
ERH: It used to be [on] the other side, over there on Hercules Road, if you know where that is.
KP: Yes, I know.
ERH: That was the main grade. It used to be the main office and everything was right there, too.
KP: Why did they move?
ERH: Tax purposes. They knocked the other main office building down and got it off the tax roles and such. ... They did it with a lot of other buildings there that were not being used, but,
then, they moved over to this other building where they are now, near the Howard Boulevard gate. ... We were coming in that other gate. ... I was riding in with another friend of mine, and he was driving, and we'd no sooner gotten through that gate when this 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin [exploded]. ... It had been raining with a thunderstorm, at that time, [was at full force]. ... First, we thought it was thunder, ... but, then, "Boom," and, up in the air, this mushroom cloud came, and the car, literally, lifted and came back down. ... We said, "Uh-oh, ... let's get out of here." So, we backed up and went out the gate again, ... 'cause you're better off away from those events. They didn't want you around there anyway, and there was a man killed in that one, that time. He didn't get out.
KP: When there is an explosion, who responds? What was the safety procedure, both at Parlin and at Kenvil?
ERH: Well, they get the outside fire departments, ... besides their own. They had firemen of their own, ... people they trained, first-aiders that they trained on their own, but, they called outsiders right away and got a hold of the hospital in Dover. ...
KP: Hercules was involved in missile research at the Kenvil plant?
ERH: Well, yes, very much.
KP: Were you involved in any of that research?
ERH: Yes, we made and analyzed [the] material that the research engineers were developing. So, we ... would analyze it and go off and make changes in their formulations and what have you.
KP: Were you working on the thrust or the explosive force? In terms of your analysis, what would you help them with?
ERH: Both. It would be ... chemical content analysis, and then, also, well, the ballistics lab would take care of any of the firing. We had a ballistics lab there, located out there by the gate. They would do all the test firing, cartridges, dynamite. We used to fire cartridges as big as .30 millimeter. They used to make a boom. When I first got to that plant, they used to test dynamite regularly, and, when that dynamite went off, the whole ground underneath you shook. ... Boy, I used to jump every time, but, ... after about two weeks or so, you never even heard it,
... and the deer, [it] never bothered the deer. You know, we're loaded with deer, ... not so much anymore now. They took a lot out, but, there's some in there yet.
KP: Growing up, I often heard explosions at the Hercules facility. That must have been the dynamite you were testing.
ERH: Testing, yes.
KP: We got used to hearing those sounds, especially in the summer.
ERH: Yes, oh, yes. Well, the .30 millimeters made quite a boom, too. That was quite a charge.
KP: In the early 1970s, someone planted an explosive at the Hercules plant in Kenvil. Do you remember that?
ERH: ... I remember, it was a PETN plant. Do you remember that? Do you? [I] almost forgot about that until you mentioned it, yes, the pentaetheretol-tetranitrate, PETN. They were supposed to have planted a bomb or something down there. I got it on the radio. I was up in the morning, ready to go in to work, ... and I heard this, and [I] said, "Wow." So, I went in, we had special passes to go in supervision, with a picture on it and what have you, but, they never did find anything down there. I think they found like a clock or something, ... but, nothing was rigged up. I think somebody did it as a hoax. Yes, it came over the radio. You remember that?
ERH: I practically forgot about that. That's a long time. It was in 1970?
KP: 1971, I think.
ERH: Well, look, ... that's twenty, twenty-some years ago.
KP: I remember, we got the day off from school because of it. I think it was a group opposed to the Vietnam War. I cannot remember exactly.
ERH: Yes, well, gosh, you know, I practically forgot about that. Yes, indeed, I remember that. That pentaetheretol-tetranitrate went into heart pills. We used to sell some of that to Warner-Chilcott and Warner-Lambert and they'd put it in heart pills. Also, they bought nitroglycerin from us ... to make those nitroglycerin heart pills. We used to ship nitroglycerin all the way out to Missouri, the Marion Laboratories out there. You know what they make? They make heart pills also.
KP: You worked for Hercules, which made munitions materials, but, you never felt that you were just making weapons of destruction or potential weapons of destruction.
KP: The chemicals you worked with had such varied applications.
ERH: Yes, more or less, yes, but, most of it went into ...
KP: Into bombs.
ERH: Or bullets. We made everything from .22 powder, are you familiar with the size of a .22? small, up to, well, rocket powder, ... all the way up to the large-size material.
KP: Did it ever bother you that the material you were producing went into weapons?
ERH: Never bothered me. [laughter] Should it have? Some people, it might. I imagine some people it did. I don't know.
KP: Did you always feel that it was being done for a good cause?
ERH: Sure. We used to make powder over there. There's one roll powder we made, it was developed over there, ... we made it in the morning on the rolls, packed it up, put it on the plane that was over in South Africa that night. Not South Africa, ... North Africa, where Rommel was, or you're not familiar with that?
KP: Oh, yes, in North Africa.
ERH: Yes, and they were tested against tanks. It was anti-tank, initially. They wanted to test it against tanks, because they were having problems knocking Rommel's tanks out, the Desert Fox.
KP: Yes. So, this was a special kind of powder.
ERH: Yes, experimental thing.
KP: Who developed it?
ERH: It was so fast. It was just made that morning, and it was on a plane that night, and, by the next day, it was being tested in guns.
KP: Was it developed by Hercules?
KP: At your plant?
KP: Did you do any other kinds of government research at Kenvil during the war, in addition to the special munitions used against tanks?
ERH: No. All of it, originally, was researched, ... and then, redeveloped, ... improved. As time went on, every little improvement was adapted. ... Total change might have been great after a while, but, each time was just a small change, but, ... they did a lot of changing, a lot of changing in production methods, too. Most of the operations, now, are behind concrete walls and operated by remote control through closed-circuitry television.
KP: You no longer have people sitting there batching.
ERH: Right, exposed to it like it was. There are certain operations that might be close to it yet, but, most of it is remote.
KP: That has been an improvement.
ERH: Oh, yes, like the nitrator. That was always a batch set-up. They used to take about two thousand pounds of glycerin. We used to nitrate synthetic glycerin, and, also, regular glycerin that came from the manufacturing of soaps, ... and, also, the ethylene glycol that I mentioned before, and you had to take two thousand pounds of that, put it in a ... vessel, and then, add the acid and stir it, refrigerate it, keep it cold. It had to be kept cold. Boy, if it got hot, "good night." ... It would just go right off, but, that was changed to a continuous operation where only the most that could go off was, maybe, two or three pounds of nitroglycerin at a time, not three thousand pounds.
KP: Is that a big difference?
ERH: Yes, it was nitrated in a pipe. The acid was added as the glycerin flowed through ... and it nitrated as it went along. ... It was a very small amount [that] could blow up at any one time, and it had blown up, even after they went to continued, ... small sections, but, nobody ever knew it, because it was such a very small amount.
KP: Did you notice it in the production?
ERH: Oh, you'd notice it in the production, yes, 'cause it would blow the pipe apart or something, sure.
KP: But, that would be the extent of it.
ERH: Yes, it wouldn't be any big loss, monetary or human loss, but, before, when three thousand pounds went off, it was like ... a war. That was a big bang. ... On that one explosion I was talking to you about, fifty pounds of lead traveled about a mile and landed in back of our lab, ... a fifty pound piece of lead.
KP: What else about Hercules have I forgotten to ask about, especially related to the war years?
ERH: ... I really can't think of anything else. You touched on a lot of things that I had forgotten about. I know, one night, going home from second shift, it must have been close to midnight, I used to travel right through Kilmer. ... You know where Kilmer was?
ERH: ... I always used to pick up the soldiers that were hitchhiking [on] the other side of, you know, [Route] 27, Lincoln Highway there. ... Between Route 1 and 27, there was three soldiers hitchhiking. I picked them up, and I started up, and they were talking, and one was talking to me, and I said, "Hey, is your name Eddie Hanewald?" He says, "Yes." That was my cousin. I recognized his voice. It was pitch dark, ... but, I recognized his voice. He was getting ready to go overseas, shipped out from Kilmer.
KP: You lost one cousin in the war.
ERH: That was another one, yes. He was at Normandy.
KP: Did you know him well?
ERH: Yes, sure, Charlie.
KP: Charles Hoppe.
ERH: Hoppe, yes.
KP: Any memories of him that stick out? Did he go to college?
ERH: No, I guess he was in his teens yet. He was very young when he was in the war. ... I think he was only at the beachhead one or two days and we got word that he had been killed.
KP: Do you remember any other classmates who did not live through the war, anyone among the chemists who served in the military and died?
ERH: No, I don't know of any of the chemists.
KP: What about anyone else in the class?
ERH: There was Vinnie Utz, of course, if you heard of him. He lost his arm. ... I think he's still living, isn't he?
KP: I would have to look it up.
ERH: He was a big football player during the time I went to school, and Ralph Schmidt was never in the military at all?
ERH: I thought he had been in, too.
KP: No. He could only go in if he was willing to be in the infantry.
ERH: Well, that's the way [it was] with me. ... I was called up two or three times to Newark for induction. I was classified 1-A. I'd go there, and [have] a medical exam and everything, ... and then, "Accepted-Army, Infantry." I said, "Well, I want the Navy," but, if you had ROTC infantry, you [were] Army. So, I was accepted twice, but, each time it came down, Hercules insisted on a deferment.
KP: Hercules was responsible for your deferment.
ERH: Oh, altogether, one hundred percent.
KP: You wanted to join the Navy.
ERH: Well, it must have been [that way] with Ralph Schmidt, too. He couldn't just say, "I'm not going because ... I don't want the infantry." He must have got deferments from his job.
KP: Yes, he did in fact. In fact, he was in crucial war work.
KP: You were all set to go, even though you would have preferred the Navy.
ERH: Yes, well, if I had to go, ... 'cause, originally, several years before, ... I was going for the V-7 program even, you know, and I didn't want the Army infantry, either. ... [laughter] Well, they ask you, "What would you prefer?" I said, "The Navy, and then, Army." You know, it didn't make a difference what the heck you said. Actually, you should have said the opposite and they'd have given [you], maybe, the Navy. I don't know, but, I was accepted twice in the Army and I didn't care. So what? I was accepted, I would go, but ...
KP: Hercules intervened.
ERH: Yes, Hercules said, "[No]."
KP: Were people with your qualifications in such short supply that they would have had a difficult time replacing you?
ERH: I guess. I really don't know. It must have been. They wouldn't have continually held on to me, you know, ... must have been, because why would they hold on to me? ... They did with a lot of others [as well].
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Reviewed by Bojan Stefanovic 2/27/00
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 3/19/00
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 3/21/00
Reviewed by E. Robert Hoppe 4/10/00