Malcolm Renfrew

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Malcolm Renfrew
BornOctober 12, 1910
DiedOctober 12, 2013(2013-10-12) (aged 103)
Resting placeFirst Presbyterian Church Columbarium, Moscow, Idaho
Alma mater
Known forTeflon  (production)
Spouse(s)Carol J. Campbell Renfrew (m. 1938–2010, her death)
AwardsACS Chemical Health & Safety Award
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Idaho
Doctoral advisorGeorge Glockler

Malcolm MacKenzie Renfrew (October 12, 1910 – October 12, 2013) was an American polymer chemist, inventor, and professor emeritus at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.[1][2][3][4] Renfrew Hall, the university's chemistry building, was named for him in 1985.[1][5]

Renfrew is noted for his contribution to the development of Teflon, including the first paper on the subject.[3][6] In 1946 he spoke on behalf of DuPont at the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting at which Teflon was announced.[7][8][9]

Early life[edit]

Born in Spokane, Washington,[10] Renfrew was the elder of two sons of Earl and Elsie MacKenzie Renfrew.[11][12] Earl was an accountant and the family later moved to the Palouse at Colfax, and then across the Idaho border to nearby Potlatch in 1923.

Renfrew graduated from Potlatch High School in 1928 and attended the University of Idaho in nearby Moscow, where he joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and wrote for The Argonaut, the student newspaper.[13][14] Originally interested in journalism, he switched his major to chemistry[13] and graduated with a B.S. in 1932 and an M.S. in 1934.[15] He then traveled to the Midwest to continue his studies and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1938.[1][16]


After gaining his doctorate, Renfrew worked for DuPont in New Jersey, where he produced a number of patents on polymethyl methacrylate, including one on photopolymerization,[17] material for tooth repair,[18] as well as epoxy resins[19] and the first method of synthesis of poly(tetrafluoroethylene) in a form which was suitable for the commercial production of Teflon.[20] It had been accidentally invented in 1938 by DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett, as a by-product of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant research.[21][22][23]

After further industrial experience with General Mills Company back in Minneapolis and Spencer Kellogg & Sons in Buffalo, Renfrew returned west in 1959 to his alma mater in Moscow to head the UI Department of Physical Science.[8] This was split into separate departments of physics and chemistry in 1967, with Renfrew as the Head of Chemistry, a position he retained until 1973; he retired in 1976 and became professor emeritus.[15]


In 1976, he was made a Fellow of the American Chemical Society. Well known for his research, Renfrew was praised for his work on chemical safety and as an educator, both recognized in the ACS 1985 Chemical Health and Safety Award for "his publications and column on Chemical Safety in the Journal of Chemical Education". In 2006 he received the Distinguished Science Communicator award.[24]

Renfrew was also an artist: an exhibition of his paintings was held in Moscow City Hall in November–December 2010.[25] His 100th birthday, October 12, 2010, was declared as "Malcolm M. Renfrew Day" in the State of Idaho by Governor Butch Otter.[26] Part of the celebration was the rededication of Renfrew Hall, the chemistry building named for him a quarter century earlier. Opened 56 years ago in 1964 as the Physical Sciences Building ("Phy-Sci"),[27] it was renamed "Renfrew Hall" in October 1985 for his 75th birthday.[28]


Shortly after gaining his doctorate, he married Carol Joy Campbell (September 19, 1913 – January 12, 2010), on June 26, 1938. A member of Kappa Alpha Theta, she was a 1935 B.S. economics graduate of the University of Idaho from Rosalia, Washington. Born on a farm near Fairfield,[29] at the time of her death at age 96, they had been married for over 71 years.[24][30][31][32]

Renfrew was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church, a gifted watercolorist, and played the trombone.[1][33] He was a member of the Idaho Vandals Non-Marching Pep Band[34] and the "Hog Heaven Big Band."[35] ("Hog Heaven" was an early name for Moscow, due to plentiful camas roots.)[36][37][38]

Renfrew died at his residence in Moscow at Good Samaritan Village on October 12, 2013, his 103rd birthday.[1][2][3][39] His mother Elsie (1889–1987) lived to age 98,[12] and his younger brother Edgar (1915–2010), who also had a doctorate in chemistry, reached age 95.[40]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Malcolm MacKenzie Renfrew, 103, Moscow". Lewiston Tribune. Idaho. October 16, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Vestal, Shawn (October 18, 2013). "Malcolm Renfrew, the man who oversaw Teflon's development, dies at 103". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Woo, Elaine (October 15, 2013). "Malcolm Renfrew dies at 103; chemist helped develop Teflon". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  4. ^ Wood, George, Jr. (October 17, 2013). "A lasting legacy — Former UI faculty member and Moscow resident Malcolm Renfrew dies at 103". Argonaut. Moscow, Idaho. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  5. ^ "Dept. of Chemistry". University of Idaho. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  6. ^ Renfrew, M. M and Lewis E. E. (1946) Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Vol 38, 870-7 Polytetrafluorethylene: heat-resistant, chemically inert plastic
  7. ^ Center for Oral History. "Malcolm M. Renfrew". Science History Institute.
  8. ^ a b Bohning, James J. (31 August 1987). Malcolm M. Renfrew, Transcript of an Interview Conducted by James J. Bohning at New Orleans on 31 August 1987 (PDF). Philadelphia, PA: Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.
  9. ^ "Plastic defies heat and acids". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Associated Press. April 11, 1946. p. 1.
  10. ^ "Group tabs Renfrew". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. October 20, 1977. p. 23.
  11. ^ Powers, Dorothy (August 13, 1985). "96-year-old Idaho woman looks forward to viewing Halley's comet 2nd time". Spokane Chronicle. Washington. p. A11.
  12. ^ a b "Elsie Renfrew, 98, area pioneer". Idahonian. Moscow. September 23, 1987. p. 5A.
  13. ^ a b "Juniors". Gem of the Mountains, University of Idaho yearbook. 1931. p. 82.
  14. ^ "Phi Gamma Delta". Gem of the Mountains, University of Idaho yearbook. 1932. p. 347.
  15. ^ a b "University of Idaho". Archived from the original on November 22, 2003. Retrieved 2008-12-21.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) Alumni Hall of Fame Award Winners - 1977
  16. ^ Minnesota Chemists Newsletter Spring 1985 page 9
  17. ^ M. M. Renfrew (1948) US Patent 2448828 Photopolymerization
  18. ^ M. M. Renfrew (1943) US Patent 2335133 Tooth Reconstruction
  19. ^ M. M. Renfrew & H. Wittcoff (1955) US Patent 2705223 Thermosetting resinous compositions from epoxy resins and polyamides derived from polymeric fat acids
  20. ^ Malcolm M. Renfrew (1950) US Patent 2534058 Polymerization of tetrafluoroethylene with dibasic acid peroxide catalysts This is cited by many other subsequent patents
  21. ^ Langer, Gary (April 5, 1988). "Teflon, after 50 years, is still a pretty slick product". Free Lance-Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Associated Press. p. 18.
  22. ^ "Invention of Teflon simply slipped out". Bend Bulletin. Oregon. UPI. October 20, 1988. p. D-8.
  23. ^ "Roy J. Plunkett; DuPont Co. chemist discovered Teflon". Los Angeles Times. May 15, 1994. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  24. ^ a b Journal of the University of Idaho 1 Dec 2006
  25. ^ City of Moscow Arts Dept Archived 2010-08-22 at the Wayback Machine Third Street Gallery Celebrating 100 Years - Malcom Renfrew
  26. ^ University of Idaho News release, October 11, 2010 Celebrating a Century
  27. ^ "New campus building ready". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. (phot). June 4, 1964. p. 6.
  28. ^ University of Idaho - College of Science - Malcolm Renfrew turns 100 - October 2010
  29. ^ "Seniors". Gem of the Mountains, University of Idaho yearbook. 1935. p. 39.
  30. ^ Moscow-Pullman Daily News online Archived 2011-07-10 at the Wayback Machine Jan 16, 2010, Obituary: Carol J. Campbell Renfrew
  31. ^ "Carol Renfrew (09/19/1913 - 01/12/2010)". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. January 16, 2010.
  32. ^ Prentice, George (October 15, 2013). "University of Idaho icon dies on 103rd birthday". Boise Weekly. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  33. ^ Moscow Renaissance Fair 2001 Malcolm and Carol Renfrew
  34. ^ "A spirited song". Idahonian. Moscow. December 31, 1986. p. 1.
  35. ^ Smith, Christopher (September 24, 1988). "Gonna take a sentimental journey..." Idahonian. Moscow. p. 1B.
  36. ^ "Our Moscow laughs at the name changers". Milwaukee Journal. (Omaha World Herald). February 15, 1951. p. 24.
  37. ^ Devlin, Sherry (January 15, 1987). "100 years: Hog Heaven to Moscow, Idaho". Wpokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. p. 1–ID.
  38. ^ "Looking back: Moscow, Idaho, in 1945". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. September 21, 2004. p. D8.
  39. ^ "Famed chemist, UI icon Malcolm Renfrew dies at 103". Lewiston Tribune. Idaho. October 15, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  40. ^ "Edgar E. Renfrew". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Idaho-Washington. April 27, 2010. Retrieved June 28, 2016.

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