Midland inventor remembered

Published November 20, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    He developed an insulating material for wartime plane engines. He collected jade. And, of course, he made that “bouncing putty.”

    One of Dow Corning’s great scientists is gone.

    Dr. Earl Warrick died Friday in Loma Linda, Calif., at 91. A memorial service followed by dessert is scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 14 at First United Methodist Church.

    “As one of our early pioneers, basically one of the founding fathers of Dow Corning, he was a legend,” said James White, chief technology officer at Dow Corning.

    Warrick began his career at Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, where he and Dr. Rob Roy McGregor began independent studies in organosilicon chemistry in 1936, “really opening up the new field of what was then completely revolutionary technology,” White said.

    Warrick is the inventor of silicone rubber and received the basic patents on this material. In 1943, he joined the newly formed Dow Corning Corp.

    According to the company, many discoveries and developments in polymers and elastomers took place under Warrick’s leadership. He took high-purity silicon business from the planning stage to a high-technology operating facility, and later headed the newly created new projects business. He retired in 1976.

    Warrick perhaps is best known as the inventor of Silly Putty. He and McGregor were trying to create a compound in the 1940s to replace rubber, which was scarce during the war. They failed but kept some of the result around to amuse their friends. Years later, a marketer decided it would make a nifty toy.

    One of his daughters, Nancy Goyings, still has her original bouncing putty. “The container’s falling apart, but the putty is still good,” she said.

    A scientist from General Electric Co. had a later patent on a similar material, and eventually was credited with Silly Putty’s origin.

    Warrick was holder or co-recipient of 44 U.S. patents and widely published in polymer chemistry and silicone research. In 1976, he was presented the American Chemical Society’s Charles Goodyear Award, a solid gold medal, for his contributions to silicone research.

    He wrote a history of Dow Corning, “Forty Years of Firsts: The Recollections of a Dow Corning Pioneer.” He wrote a book for his family, too — a “first 50 years” tracing back a generation for him and his wife, explaining what it was like growing up.

    “He was good in writing,” his daughter Cathy Warrick said. She also has letters her father wrote long ago to her mother. “They were just very sensitive, not necessarily what you’d expect from a scientist.”

    A neighbor introduced him to gemstones, and his daughters recall him crafting many pieces from jade — a paperweight, a frog, jewelry. Goyings has a three-inch jade cross inlaid with silver that he made when she was ordained a United Methodist minister.

    Warrick also was a longtime Rotary member, serving awhile as president of Midland Rotary Club. Finding it had become too large for more growth, he was instrumental in forming the Midland Morning Rotary Club. Unlike the old club, the new one had female members — 10 of them, including two on the board.

    One of them was Donna Rapp, a vice president with MidMichigan Health Systems.

    “Sometimes that term ‘Renaissance man’ is used more broadly than it should be,” but it applied to Warrick, she said, noting that he was interested not just in science but in the arts and other areas. “In every category of life, he had a connection.”

    Warrick stretched the Rotary Club’s traditional international outlook, Rapp said, pushing members to be interested in the kinds of things they could do locally that would help people throughout the world. “You respected Earl for the things that he did and the way in which he did them.”

    He was governor of Rotary District No. 631, which included 33 clubs and 1,450 members, was a Paul Harris Fellow and founded the Midland Rotary Foundation, a charitable trust to support local projects.

    He also served as president of the Midland Center for the Arts, interim dean of Saginaw Valley State University’s school of science, engineering and technology and board member for the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, United Way and Midland Art Council. A granddaughter’s needs drew him to work with the Arc.

    He moved to California in March 2001 to be closer to his daughters. His wife, Jean, died in December. They had been married 61 years.

    Goyings said her father was most pleased to have been part of the development of a new science.

    “He really felt privileged,” she said. “He felt he was seeing things that God created.”

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