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Eugene Jules Houdry Collection


Held at: Science History Institute Archives [Contact Us]315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Science History Institute Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

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.

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:

  1. Eugene Jules Houdry Biographical Files
  2. Houdry Process Corporation Research Publications

Selected items from this collection have been digitized and are available online in our Digital Collections:

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.

The Eugene Jules Houdry Collection was processed by Kenton G. Jaehnig in July 2018.

Science History Institute Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid created and encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig.
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on the materials for research purposes and the collection is open to the public.

Use Restrictions

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.

Collection Inventory

Series Description

Arranged alphabetically by subject, this series contains materials pertaining to the life and professional career of Eugene Jules Houdry. To a lesser extent, the history of his firm Houdry Process Corporation is also documented in these files. A large majority of the materials in this series are reproductions. A handful of original items are also present here.

Photocopied magazine articles, photocopied conference papers, and photocopied book pages are the most common items in this series. Photocopied article manuscripts, photocopied newspaper articles, and a photocopied newsletter article are also found here. The collection's original inventory and a copy of the American Chemical Society publication The Houdry Process with an accompanying program sheet are also present in this series. Houdry's driver's license and his United States naturalization certificate are preserved here as well.

"Eugene J. Houdry: A Record of His Life and Accomplishments" (Original Collection Inventory), 1998.
Box 1 Folder 1
Honors, 1954-1996.
Box 1 Folder 2
Images, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
General Note

Contains 3 black and white images, 4 color images, 2 black and white photocopied images, and 1 color negative strip.

Obituaries (Photocopies), 1962.
Box 1 Folder 4
Personal Documents, 1919, 1942.
Box 1 Folder 5
General Note

Contains 1 black and white photograph.

What Houdry Said - Political (Houdry & French Politics) (Photocopies), 1940-1984.
Box 1 Folder 6
What Houdry Said - Technical (Articles & Lectures by Houdry) (Photocopies), 1938-1960.
Box 1 Folder 7
What Others Said (Articles about Houdry), 1959-1996.
Box 1 Folder 8

Series Description

Arranged numerically by title, this series contains research publications authored by the staff of Houdry Process Corporation. The materials in this series provide documentation of the research and development work conducted by Houdry Process Corporation on catalytic science and technology between 1942 and 1962, which includes, but is not limited to, the firm's work on catalytic cracking, analytical chemistry, dehydrogenation, and biocatalysis. A significant number of the publications in this series were authored or co-authored by collection donor G. Alex Mills.

The contents of this series consist mainly of three bound volumes of Houdry Process Corporation research publications, which contain reprints of science journal articles, conference papers, and magazine articles. An index to the research publications compiled by G. Alex Mills is found in this series as well.

Houdry Research Publications I - 1942-1952, 1942-1952.
Box 2 Volume 1
Houdry Research Publications II - 1953-1957, 1953-1957.
Box 2 Volume 2
Houdry Research Publications III - 1958-1962, 1958-1962.
Box 2 Volume 3
Houdry Research Publications I-III - Index, 2000.
Box 2 Folder 4

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