Kenneth A. Spencer

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Kenneth Aldred Spencer (January 25, 1902 – February 19, 1960) was a Kansas coal mine owner who transformed a government surplus factory into the world's biggest ammonium nitrate producer. Money from his and his wife's estate was donated to philanthropies throughout the Kansas City, Missouri area.

He was born in Columbus, Kansas but grew up in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Spencer graduated from the University of Kansas in 1926 and went into his father's business of Pittsburg & Midway Coal Company in Pittsburg, Kansas.

In 1941 the War Department contacted him about operating a weapons-grade ammonia nitrate plant in Galena, Kansas that would become the Jayhawk Ordnance Works. He would say later:

They wanted us to build and operate a big basic chemical plant. I didn't know about operating such a plant, but they told us anyone who could operate an electric shovel, move 30 or 40 feet of overburden to get an 18-inch seam of coal, and make it pay, could operate anything.

He set up the Military Chemical Works, Inc. as a subsidiary of Pittsburg & Midway with himself as President and built the plant by 1943 with it producing 14,500 tons a month.[1]

U.S. ordnance facilities were placed in the mid-U.S. during World War II. Other plants to be built and owned by others included the Kansas Ordnance Plant at Parsons, Kansas, the Sunflower Ordnance Plant at DeSoto, Kansas, the Ozark Ordnance Plant at El Dorado, Arkansas.[2]

After the war with help from J.H. Whitney & Company he entered into a lease with an option to buy (which he did in 1951) the plant to use the ammonia nitrate as fertilizer under the new name of Spencer Chemical. He succeeded his father as head of the Pittsburg and Midway. It was so successful that he was able to endow a foundation by 1949.

Spencer would also buy plants in Calumet City, Illinois, Henderson, Kentucky, Vicksburg, Mississippi, Fort Worth, Texas and Orange, Texas.[3]

Spencer was one of the nine original founders of the Midwest Research Institute, founded in 1944. Its first mission was finding peaceful uses of ammonium nitrate.[4] He would be chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1954 to 1957.[5]

Helen Foresman Spencer[edit]

Helen Elizabeth Foresman (November 8, 1902 – February 15, 1982) was born in Joplin, Missouri and grew up in Amarillo, Texas and spent high school in Pittsburg, Kansas where she married Kenneth Spencer on January 6, 1927. They moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1940.

Following the success of the Spencer Chemical Company, they formed the Spencer Foundation in 1949. When Kenneth died in 1960, she liquidated the companies selling Spencer to Gulf Oil and then oversaw the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation until her death in 1982.[6]

The Spencer Chemical Corporation name disappeared with the new owners. The Pittsburg and Midway company continued to operate under that name under its eventual owner Chevron although no longer mining in Kansas. That company name was abolished in 2007 when Chevron formally consolidated its mining operations under the Chevron Mining name.[7]

Philanthropies[edit]

Kenneth A. Spencer Award[edit]

The Kenneth A. Spencer Award recognizes meritorious contributions to the field of agricultural and food chemistry. The Kansas City Section presents this award in the hope that it will give added stimulus in research, education, and industry to further progress in agricultural and food chemistry. Past recipients of this award, by year, include:[8]

1955: Ralph M Hixon, Iowa State University; 1956: Conrad A Elvehjem, University of Wisconsin, Madison; 1957: William C Rose, University of Wisconsin, Madison; 1958: Elmer Verner McCollum, Johns Hopkins University; 1959: Karl Folkers, Merck, Sharpe & Dohme Res. Labs.; 1960: Clyde H. Bailey, University of Minnesota; 1961: H. L. Haller, USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 1962: A. K. Balls, USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 1963: CC King, Rockefeller Foundation; 1964: Daniel Swern, Temple University; 1965: Aaron M. Altschul, USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 1966: Robert L. Metcalf University of California, Riverside; 1967: Melville L. Wolfrom, The Ohio State University; 1968: Herbert E. Carter, University of Illinois; 1969: Edwin T. Mertz, Purdue University; 1970: Lyle D. Goodhue, Phillips Petroleum Company; 1971: William J. Darby, Vanderbilt University; 1972: Emil M. Mrak, University of California, Davis; 1973: Esmond E. Snell, University of California, Berkeley; 1974: Roy L. Whistler, Purdue University; 1975: Thomas H. Jukes, University of California, Berkeley; 1976: E. Irvine Liener, University of Minnesota; 1977: N. Edward Tolbert, Michigan State University; 1978: John E. Casida, University of California, Berkeley; 1979: Charles W. Gehrke, University of Missouri-Columbia; 1980: George K. Davis, University of Florida, Gainesville; 1981: John Speziale, Monsanto Agricultural Products Company; 1982: Howard Bachrach, USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 1983: Peter Albersheim, University of Colorado; 1984: Richard H. Hageman, University of Illinois; 1985: Bruce N. Ames, University of California, Berkeley; 1986: John M. Brenner, Iowa State University; 1987: Hector F. DeLuca, University of Wisconsin, Madison; 1988: Boyd L. O'Dell, University of Missouri-Columbia; 1989: Robert H. Burris, University of Wisconsin, Madison; 1990: John E. Kinsella, University of California, Davis; 1991: George Levitt, DuPont Experimental Station; 1992: Clarence A. Ryan, Jr., Washington State University; 1993: Bruce Hammock, University of California, Davis; 1994: William S. Bowers, University of Arizona; 1995: Robert T. Fraley, Ceregen, A Unit of Monsanto Co.; 1996: James N. BeMiller, Purdue University; 1997: William M. Doane, USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 1998: Mendel Friedman USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 1999: James A. Sikorski, Monsanto Co.; 2000: Wendell L. Roelofs, Cornell University; 2001: James Tumlinson USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 2002: Daniel W. Armstrong, Iowa State University; 2003: Eric Block, University at Albany, State University of New York; 2004: Steven D. Aust, Utah State University; 2005: Don R. Baker, Berkeley Discovery Inc.; 2006: Russell Molyneux USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 2007: David A. Schooley, University of Nevada, Reno; 2008: Ron G. Buttery, USDA-Agricultural Research Service; 2009: George P. Lahm, DuPont Crop Protection; 2010: Clive A. Henrick, Trece, Inc.; 2011: Michael W. Pariza, University of Wisconsin, Madison; 2012: James N. Seiber, University of California, Davis; 2013: Attila Pavlath, USDA-Agricultural Research Service

References[edit]