Photo of Ralph Landau

Ralph Landau

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Manufacturing

For his technical, leadership and entrepreneurial roles in the development of commercially successful petrochemical processes which have been licensed or jointly developed and have helped maintain U.S. leadership in petrochemical processing.

As a high school student in Philadelphia during the Depression, Ralph Landau read a newspaper article about the new “glamour field” of chemical engineering and decided that it was the career for him, according to an article from the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Landau went on to study chemical engineering, and was involved in designing some of the equipment used for the Manhattan Project during WWII while working for Kellogg Company. In 1946, Landau co-founded Scientific Design Co., Inc. with Harry Rehnberg and Robert Egbert with the intention to design and create chemical processing technologies for use in the newly developing area of petrochemicals.

At the time, most oil companies relied on outside research for process innovation. In contrast, Scientific Design worked with clients to develop and pilot new chemical manufacturing processes, then patented and licensed those technologies for wider sales. One of Landau’s major successes was improving the process for producing terephthalic acid—the main raw ingredient in polyester fibers. Under his leadership the company became the major world source of new petrochemical processes.

By Jen Santisi