Eugene Jules Houdry Collection
Scope and Content
The Eugene Jules Houdry Collection contains materials concerning French mechanical engineer and inventor Eugene Jules Houdry and Houdry Process Corporation, an American chemical company. The materials in this collection were collected and maintained by G. Alex Mills, a former employee of Houdry Process Corporation. The collection is arranged into the following two series:
- Eugene Jules Houdry Biographical Files
- Houdry Process Corporation Research Publications
- Majority of material found within Bulk 1942-1962
- Mills, G. Alex (Person)
Language of Materials
Collection materials are mostly in English. A small amount of materials in French and German are also in the collection.
There are no access restrictions on the materials for research purposes and the collection is open to the public.
The Science History Institute holds copyright to the Eugene Jules Houdry Collection. The researcher assumes full responsibility for all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.
Eugene Jules Houdry was a French mechanical engineer and inventor. The son of a wealthy steel fabricator, Houdry was born in Domont, France on April 18, 1892. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Chalons-sur-Marne, France in 1911 and joined his father's business soon after graduation. Houdry served in the French Army during World War I. Serving as a lieutenant in the French Army's tank corps, he was wounded during the Battle of Juvincourt in 1917. For his bravery, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour.
Houdry took up automobile racing after World War I. Because France was experiencing an oil shortage at the time, he became interested in the possibility of manufacturing high octane gasoline from lignite (brown coal). In 1922, Houdry learned about a lignite derived gasoline produced through a catalytic procedure by E.A. Prudhomme, a French pharmacist. Houdry and Prudhomme formed a syndicate and set up a laboratory in Beauchamp, France, where they set out to develop a practical lignite to gasoline conversion process. In the course of his research, Houdry discovered that a clay mineral called Fuller's Earth, which contains aluminosilicate, could be used as a catalyst for this purpose.
In 1929, with support from the French government, Houdry and Prudhomme built a demonstration plant that was able to process 60 tons of lignite per day into gasoline using a Fuller's Earth catalyst. However, it was determined that this process could not compete with imported oil, which prompted the French government to withdraw its support that same year. Although this venture was a failure, Houdry learned that the Fuller's Earth catalyst could also be used to derive gasoline from petroleum. Armed with this newly acquired knowledge, he redirected his efforts towards that end.
In 1930, Houdry relocated to the United States at the invitation of Vacuum Oil Company, who had learned of his method of using a catalyst to convert petroleum to gasoline. In 1931, he founded Houdry Process Corporation, which was a joint venture between himself and Vacuum Oil. That same year, Vacuum Oil merged with Standard Oil of New York to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. Two years later, Houdry and Socony-Vacuum built an experimental 200 barrel per day Houdry Process catalytic cracking unit. But because the Great Depression had weakened the demand for petroleum, Houdry was granted permission by Socony-Vacuum to seek support from other petroleum companies.
In 1933, Sun Oil Company agreed to support Houdry's work. That same year, Houdry Process Corporation, Socony-Vacuum, and Sun Oil signed a joint development agreement. With this additional support, Houdry continued to develop his process with encouraging results. In 1937, Sun Oil put the first fully commercial Houdry Process catalytic cracking unit into operation at its refinery in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. This unit proved to be very successful, with 50% of its output being high-octane gasoline. Both Sun Oil and Socony-Vacuum soon put other Houdry units into operation. The Houdry Process was also licensed to other petroleum companies. By 1940, there were fourteen plants equipped with Houdry units in operation.
Houdry fervently supported the Allied war effort during World War II. He was a founding member of France Forever, an underground organization that sought to drive the Germans out of France. For this activity, he was stripped of his French citizenship by the Vichy French government, which prompted him to become an American citizen shortly after Pearl Harbor. He continued to develop the Houdry Process, which was used to produce enough high-octane aviation gasoline to meet Allied requirements. The higher octane aviation gasoline also gave Allied aircraft a significant performance advantage, which proved decisive over the course of the war. Houdry and his associates were also responsible for developing a single-step butane dehydrogenation process, which was used to produce synthetic rubber.
In 1947, Houdry retired from Houdry Process Corporation, which remained in operation until its acquisition by Air Products and Chemicals, Incorporated in 1962. The following year, he founded Oxy-Catalyst, Incorporated and turned his attention to using catalysis to reduce air pollution from automobiles. In 1956, he patented a catalytic converter for automobiles, which was eventually adopted by the American automobile industry for the 1975 model year.
Houdry was awarded over one hundred patents over the course of his career. He was also the recipient of several science awards, including the Perkin Medal (1959) and the E.V. Murphree Award (1962.)
Eugene Jules Houdry passed away on July 18, 1962. He was posthumously inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.
Eugene Jules Houdry Collection, Science History Institute Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
0.5 Linear Feet (1 Hollinger Box and 1 Half Hollinger Box.)
Printed materials, paper manuscripts, personal documents, and photographic materials concerning French mechanical engineer and inventor Eugene Jules Houdry and Houdry Process Corporation, an American chemical company that specialized in catalytic technology. The materials in this collection were collected and maintained by G. Alex Mills, a former employee of Houdry Process Corporation.
The Eugene Jules Houdry Collection was donated to the Science History Institute (formerly the Chemical Heritage Foundation) by G. Alex Mills in two accessions: November 1998 and April 2000.
Selected items from this collection have been digitized and are available online in our Digital Collections: https://digital.sciencehistory.org/collections/dr26xx95r
The Eugene Jules Houdry Collection was processed by Kenton G. Jaehnig in July 2018.
- Eugene Jules Houdry Collection
- Finding aid created and encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- 8/28/2023: Digitized Materials note added.