The Mellon Institute of Industrial Research was a non-profit independent research firm, dedicated to solving the immediate research needs of industry and training new scientific researchers for the benefit of society as a whole. The institute was established in 1913 with financial support from Pittsburgh financiers Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937) and Richard B. Mellon (1958-1933). Originally founded as the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research and School of Specific Industries at the University of Pittsburgh, it was the first major research firm of its kind in the United States. In 1927, the institute separated from the University of Pittsburgh and incorporated as an independent, non-profit organization that was managed by a board of trustees. It also changed its name to Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.
The ‘industrial fellowship system’ – the framework behind the institute – was conceived by Robert Kennedy Duncan (1968-1914), a chemist and professor. The fellowship system promoted strong partnerships between industry and scientific research; it also educated new scientists and exposed them to the real world of industrial research. Research activity peaked in the 1950s when the institute was engaged in 77 different fellowships, in addition to eight fundamental research fellowships. In 1967 the Mellon Institute merged with Carnegie Institute of Technology to form Carnegie Mellon University. The institute was then renamed the Mellon Institute for Research and continued to function on a smaller scale as a division within the university conducting research for government and industry. In the years following the merger, the institute shifted to project-based research and rebranded several times – 1970 Mellon Institute of Science; 1974 Carnegie-Mellon Institute for Research; 1979 Mellon College of Science; 1989 Carnegie Mellon Research Institute (CMRI) – until it dissolved in 2002.
Fellowships were sponsored by a wide variety of companies and individuals such as the Armstrong Cork Company, American Iron and Steel Institute, Gulf Oil, H.H. Robertson Company, Union Carbide, and the St. Joseph Lead Company, as well as many federal agencies such as the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Interior. The institute also pursued non-proprietary ‘fundamental' research as well. Often a sponsor would engage the institute to solve a specific problem or set of problems. It was common for the institute to serve as the sole or primary source of research and design for some companies. Notable areas of research included: air pollution, ceramics, metallurgy, textiles, organic chemicals, chemical hygiene, prosthetics, plastics, silicones, lacquers, and synthetic rubber. Significant discoveries included: the first gas mask used in WWI; “flakes coffee” a forerunner to instant coffee; cellulosic and plastic film coverings for meat, such as the skinless hot dog; and ethylene glycol, widely used in anti-freeze.
The duration of a fellowship was flexible, some lasted months or a year, while others were ongoing research efforts that lasted decades. Typically, fellowships were renewed on a year-to-year basis until the needs of the sponsor were met. In a handful of cases, the research generated through a fellowship, lead to the establishment of new companies such as Dow Corning Corporation, Visking Corporation, Lubrizol Corporation, and the Union Carbide Corporation.
Fellowships were comprised of a ‘Fellowship Head’ and ‘Research Fellows’ who were akin to a department head or professor and a senior postdoctoral student, respectively, in an academic environment. The fellowship heads were typically permanent staff members and experts in the subject area, whereas the research fellows were temporary and expected to go onto positions in the industrial or academic communities. The alumni of the institute remained fiercely loyal, in part to the efforts of the Robert Kennedy Duncan Club (RKDC), which organized events such as plays, choral concerts, sporting tournaments, symposia, and social gatherings to encourage a sense of comradery and ownership of the institution. The RKDC also published a series of newsletters: Toot-Toot (1916-1917), R.K.D. Bulletin (1918-1919), Mellon Institute News (1937-1971), RKC Club Columns (1972-1974), and Mellon Columns (1975-1980); which were circulated to current and former fellows and included announcements on recently hired personnel, retirements, marriages, staff bios, events, and news from alumni.
The Mellon Institute was headquartered in three buildings throughout its tenure. The original building was a single-story structure on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The Institute quickly outgrew these facilities, and in 1915, the Mellons built a new building at the corner of Thackeray Ave and O’Hara Street, now known as Allen Hall on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. By the late 1920s, the Mellons had purchased property at the corner of Bellfield and Forbes Avenues and began to plan for a new, larger headquarters. Construction on the new building began on November 6, 1930. Pittsburgh-based architects Benno Janssen (1874-1964) and William York Cocken designed the building, which took up an entire city block and drew inspiration from classic Greek architecture. Construction was completed in 1937, and the building was dedicated during ceremonies that took place between May 5 – 9, 1937, which included a symposium and a public open house.
In 1958, the institute expanded again and opened the Bushy Run Laboratories in Westmoreland County. Situated on 230 acres, the Bushy Run facility housed the Radiation Research Laboratories and the Chemical Hygiene Laboratories, which focused on ensuring the safe production, handling and use of organic chemicals. After the merger, in 1995, CMRI relocated to the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland, now the home to the Entertainment Technology Center.
The Mellon Institute of Industrial Research papers have been arranged into 13 series: Research Services, Leadership files, General Operation files, Personnel Files, Printed Materials, Robert Kennedy Duncan Club, Building Services, Library, Newspaper Clippings Scrapbooks, Reprints, Treasurer, Audio-Visual Materials, and Miscellaneous.
The collection contains: research reports, special reports, research proposals, correspondence between the scientists and the fellowship sponsors, board of trustee meeting minutes, promotional materials, informational booklets, annual reports, publications, reprints, institutional newsletters, newspaper scrapbooks, employee identification cards, audiovisual materials, and other related ephemera.
Portions of the collection are closed to research due to copyright and privacy concerns. Please contact the archives for more information.
The digital collection contains the Annual Reports and Newsletters from the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, an independent research firm that was founded in 1913 and merged with Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1967 form CMU. The Annual Reports span 1914-1967 and give an overview of the sponsored research activities at the Institute. The Newsletters (Toot-Toot (1916-1917), R.K.D. Bulletin (1918-1919), Mellon Institute News (1937-1971), RKD Club Columns (1972-1974) contain updates on staff, research projects, and social activities, as well as news from former fellows.
Accessing the Collection
The Mellon Institute of Industrial Research Records are available for research in the Carnegie Mellon University Archives. Additional access restrictions may apply. Contact the archives to schedule an appointment.
A guide to the physical collection is available online.
1915 - 1982
Copyright to the digital collection has been transferred to Carnegie Mellon University. No additional permission is required for non-commercial use.
The remainder of the collection contains third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.