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Arthur S. Obermayer Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-1019

Scope and Content Note

This collection contain correspondence, business records, news clippings, photographs, sound and video recordings, awards, reports, and notes documenting the personal, professional, political, and charitable work of Arthur S. Obermayer, a Boston-based scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. This collection details his personal life, including academic materials from Swarthmore College and MIT, his travels around the world, and correspondence with friends and family. It also contains materials related to the founding and managing of Moleculon Research Company, a research and development company Obermayer established in Cambridge in 1961, as well as other business ventures in which he took part. Also included are records describing Obermayer’s involvement in politics, including numerous campaigns on which he worked, as well as his key role in establishing the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. Additionally, materials related to his activities in various philanthropic organizations are included, particularly his work promoting Jewish, Israeli, and scientific causes, as well as his efforts to bridge a gap between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Also contained are the records of the Obermayer Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Obermayer and his wife, through which they established the Creglingen Jewish Museum and the Obermayer German Jewish History Awards. This collection also contains materials documenting the life and work of Obermayer’s parents Leon J. and Julia S. Obermayer, his wife Judith Obermayer, and his brother and sister-in-law, Herman J. “Obe” and Betty Nan Obermayer. Some folders are restricted. Some audiovisual items have been removed from the collection for proper storage and can be located in box 56. These items are identified with a separation of materials form.

Dates

  • undated, 1897-2016

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Hebrew, German, and Russian.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Biographical Note

Arthur S. Obermayer (1931-2016)

Arthur S. Obermayer (ASO) was born on July 17, 1931 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Leon J. and Julia Sinsheimer Obermayer. He attended Central High School in Philadelphia, graduating in 1948, and later earned a BS in Chemistry from Swarthmore College in 1952. ASO went on to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he received his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1956.

After receiving his Ph.D, ASO remained in the Boston area and took a job at Tracerlab, Inc., working as a project leader and senior scientist researching nuclear explosions from 1956-1959. ASO then took a job at Allied Research Associates as manager of the Physical Sciences Division and Chemistry Department, also mainly researching nuclear weapons effects.

In 1961, ASO founded his own successful research and development company, Moleculon Research Corporation (also known as Moleculon Research Company) (MRC), headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Early on, MRC worked on government research projects, focusing mainly on the effect of radiation on plastics following nuclear explosions. MRC expanded its work into the development of new chemical, polymer, and pharmaceutical products for both government and private industry. Among other projects, MRC developed and received a patent for Poroplastic, a sponge-like material that could be impregnated with almost any liquid or precipitated solid and that had a broad range of practical applications, including toxic vapor monitoring, controlled release, and hydrometallurgical processing.

In 1982, ASO founded Moleculon, Inc. (also known as Moleculon BioTech, Inc.), to which all MRC’s pharmaceutical and biomedical applications were transferred. In 1984, Moleculon, Inc. went public, and in 1988, it was sold to Australian pharmaceutical company F.H. Faulding & Co.

Later in life, ASO became involved in other businesses, including Fiberspar, a company specializing in composite tubing, and Zerostage Capital, a venture capital firm.

ASO became increasingly involved in politics after attending the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which was notoriously plagued with violence. After returning home from Chicago, ASO became co-chairman of the Newton Coalition for New Politics (NCNP), a grassroots organization which endorsed and supported candidates for office. In 1970, ASO proposed that the NCNP encourage Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest, dean of the Boston College Law School, and a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War, to run against long-time representative of the Massachusetts’s Third Congressional District, Philip Philbin. With ASO’s help, Drinan defeated Philbin and served in Congress for five terms.

In 1972, ASO became involved with Senator George McGovern’s campaign for president. ASO campaigned for McGovern heavily and spent a month in California before the state's primary, meeting with aerospace engineers and business leaders on behalf of the campaign. He also helped draft McGovern’s science and technology positions.

In addition to the Drinan and McGovern campaigns, ASO supported and worked for numerous other campaigns on the national, state, and local level. He also worked closely with Massachusetts politician Michael Dukakis on his gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, and when Dukakis became governor in 1975, he appointed ASO to serve on the Board of the Governor’s Management Task Force.

ASO advocated for economic conversion—the transfer of federal dollars from military spending to private, small business companies. ASO testified before Congress and worked with Representative Drinan and Senator Ted Kennedy on this issue. ASO also worked with Kennedy on what, after years of work, eventually became the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. ASO believed that small research companies like MRC were being discriminated against in receiving government grants and contracts, which mostly went to universities. Working with ASO, Kennedy introduced legislation that mandated the National Science Foundation (NSF), and later, all government agencies, send a small percentage of their research and development funds to the SBIR Program, which then went to small businesses. Throughout the following years, ASO testified in support of the program, and in 1982, the SBIR bill was passed.

ASO and his family were also involved in philanthropy. He and his wife established the Obermayer Foundation, a small operating fund that supported a variety of programs. Through the Obermayer Foundation, ASO published the American Editorial Review, a compilation of editorials and op-eds from the 15 largest circulating newspaper in the United States on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Obermayer Foundation also founded the Jewish Museum in Crenglingen, Germany, where ASO’s maternal grandparents were from. The museum focuses on the lives and contributions of the town’s former Jewish residents. Similarly, each year the Obermayer Foundation honors five non-Jewish Germans who have worked to preserve Jewish history and culture in their country. The Obermayer German Jewish History Awards, co-sponsored by the Berlin Parliament, are awarded at a ceremony at the Abgeorfnetenhaus in Berlin. For his efforts in fostering German-Jewish relations, the Federal Republic of Germany awarded ASO the Federal Order of Merit, the nation's highest honor.

The Obermayer Foundation has also worked to further the field of Jewish genealogy. The Foundation was active in growing JewishGen, the largest Jewish genealogy internet presence; ASO was a leader of the German Jewish Special Interest Group (GerSIG) of JewishGen. Additionally, ASO realized the important role of the internet early on, and the Obermayer Foundation provided pro bono work in helping non-profit organizations develop internet strategies and construct websites.

ASO was active in many organizations, and often held high-ranking positions in them. In his quest to help settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and to further Jewish causes, ASO was active in the American Friends for Religious Freedom in Israel (ARFRI-HEMDAT-ARFR), which promoted religious freedom and pluralism in Israel; was on the Board of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) in New York and Boston; served on the Board of the New Israel Fund, which worked toward social justice and equality for all Israelis; and was on the Board of InterfaithFamily.com, a web resource for interfaith families exploring Jewish life and identity.

ASO also was active in various professional and scientific organizations, many of which focused on helping small research companies succeed and advocated for those in the science and engineering fields. He served as vice president and sat on the Board of the American Association of Small Research Companies (AASRC). ASO was active in the American Chemical Society (ACS), receiving a Sixty Years of Service Award from them in 2012, and was especially active in its regional subsection, the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS). He served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of NESACS in 1989, as well as on the Esselen Award Committee. This committee selected the winners of the annual Esselen Award for Chemistry, which recognizes a chemist whose work has contributed to the public wellbeing. ASO was a member of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), serving as its treasurer from 1972-1974, and served on the Advisory Panel to the Experimental Research and Development Incentives Program of the NSF from 1973-1976. ASO founded his own organization, the Association of Technical Professionals (ATP), a Boston-based group that advocated for the science and engineering positions during a time of high unemployment, and served as its president from 1971-1978.

ASO was always interested in the Soviet Union, and as its dissolution was near, he became involved in emerging private enterprise in Russia. In 1990, he established and served as president of the Soviet Countertrade Group, whose mission was to bring companies together to finance and invest in businesses, particularly hotels, in the USSR. ASO also founded East-West TV (formerly called American Soviet Economic Education Television, or AMSEE-TV), an educational foundation that produced programs for Russian television explaining market economics and free enterprise. Through East-West TV, Russian crews were invited to the United States to work on these programs, during which they interviewed American economists as well as Russian immigrants. ASO was also active in the US-USSR Bridge for Peace/Transnational Institute, whose mission was to provide dialogue and understanding between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Besides organizations related to Jewish, Israeli, scientific, and Soviet issues, ASO worked with and supported his local community. He served as a trustee of the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts, which celebrated the region’s industrial history. ASO was on the Board of Overseers and Executive Advisory Council of WBUR, Boston’s public radio station. He also was a member and supporter of NewTV, Newton, Massachusetts’s public access channel. In 2004, his request for NewTV to air the Middle Eastern news program “Mosaic” caused a controversy, as some deemed it to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Many editorials and op-eds were written both in support and opposition to the program’s airing. ASO himself wrote his opinions, noting that he felt it was crucial for Americans to see how they are perceived in the Middle East. ASO was active in many more organizations, including the Smaller Business Association of New England (SBANE) and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

ASO married Judith (Judy) Hirschfield (JHO) in 1963. JHO was born on May 7, 1935 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received a BS in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1956 and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Harvard University in 1963. From 1960 to 1966, she worked as an assistant professor of mathematics at Wellesley College. Though she left teaching to take care of her children, JHO returned to work when her children were grown. She was a principal and director at MRC, sat on the Small Business Association Task Force on Small Business, and in 1980, was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation (MTDC). Additionally, JHO, like ASO, was crucial in getting the SBIR bill passed in 1982, and was present at the White House when the bill was signed by President Ronlad Reagan. She and ASO were inducted into the SBIR Hall of Fame in 2015 for their years of work. JHO was active in the American Jewish Committee (AJC), serving as president of the Boston chapter and a member of the national Board of Governors. She also was a founder and co-chair of the Black-Jewish Economic Roundtable, an AJC program, whose mission is to promote social and business interaction between the African American and Jewish communities of the Boston area, and president of Obermayer Associates, a consulting firm specializing in helping small business develop and grow. ASO and JSO had three children: Henry, Joel, and Marjorie.

ASO died on January 10, 2016.

Leon J. Obermayer (1886-1984)

ASO’s father, Leon J. Obermayer (LJO) was born on September 24, 1886 in Sciota, Illinois. In 1894, he and his family relocated to Philadelphia, where he attended Central High School, graduating in 1904. He later attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his L.L.B. from its law school in 1908, and joined the firm Mason and Edmonds. In 1925, the firm changed its name to Edmonds, Obermayer & Rebmann, and today still exists under the name Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel.

LJO was active in the civic and Jewish community of Philadelphia. He served as chair of the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association (and founded the organization’s publication, The Shingle), president of the Philadelphia School Board from 1955-1961, chairman of the Woods School, president of the YM-YWHA of Philadelphia, president and Board Chairman of the American Jewish Historical Society, and chairman of the B’nai B’rith National Vocational Service Bureau. LJO was also especially active in the Boy Scouts of America, and served as president and later honorary president of the Philadelphia Council of the Boy Scouts. For his service to Philadelphia, he was named one of Greater Philadelphia Magazine’s Fifty Foremost Citizens in 1959.

On May 24, 1923, LJO married Julia Sinsheimer Obmermayer (JSO). JSO was born on December 4, 1900 in New York, New York. She attended Teacher’s College at Columbia University and then began working as a laboratory researcher in bacteriology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. LJO and JSO were avid travelers. They were also active members at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia as well as major collectors of Judaica, some of which is on permanent display at Rodeph Shalom. The couple had three children: Herman, Helen, and Arthur.

LJO died on October 2, 1984 at the age of 98. JSO died 12 years later, on July 5, 1996.

Herman J. Obermayer (1924-2016)

ASO’s older brother, Herman J. Obermayer (HJO), known as Obe, was born on September 19, 1924 in Philadelphia. Like ASO and their father, he attended Central High School and later attended Dartmouth College. He was drafted into the Army during his first year at Dartmouth, and was selected for the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), a program to prepare men to fill specialized technical positions in the Army. He was sent to William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he studied civil engineering. In 1944, when the Army decided to disband the ASTP, many of its men were sent to the European theater of Operations as infantry replacements. HJO was assigned to an oil pipeline unit in France. He later wrote about his experience overseas in his book Soldiering for Freedom. After his discharge, HJO returned to Dartmouth and graduated in 1948.

After graduation, HJO worked for various newspapers as a reporter and advertising manager. During his time at the New Orleans Item, he met Betty Nan Levy (BNO), his future wife, with whom he had four daughters: Helen, Veronica, Adele, and Elizabeth. In 1957, HJO purchased the Long Branch Daily Record of Long Branch, New Jersey, and then in 1963, purchased the Northern Virginia Sun, based in Arlington, Virginia. For both papers, he wrote weekly editorials. He sold the Daily Record in 1971 and the Sun in 1988.

From 1990 to 2001, he and BNO worked for the State Department as consultants to newspapers in the former Soviet Union and wrote reports on the state of the press in these countries. In 1995, HJO published his second book, Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States, about Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a close friend of HJO’s.

BNO died on January 26, 2013, and HJO died on May 11, 2016 at the age of 91.

References

  1. Materials from the collection.
  2. Libo, Kenneth, and Michael Feldberg. The Obermayers: A History of a Jewish Family in Germany and America, 1618-2009. West Newton, MA: Obermayer Foundation, Inc., 2009.

Chronology

September 24, 1886
LJO is born in Sciota, Illinois.
December 4, 1900
JSO is born in New York, New York.
May 24, 1923
LJO and JSO marry.
September 19, 1924
HJO is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
July 17, 1931
ASO is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
May 7, 1935
JHO is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
1948
ASO graduates from Central High School.
1952
ASO graduates from Swarthmore College.
1956
ASO recieves his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1956-1959
ASO works at Tracerlab.
1959-1961
ASO works at Allied Research Associates.
1961
ASO founds Moleculon Research Corporation.
June 22, 1963
ASO and JHO marry.
1971
ASO founds the Association of Technical Professionals (ATP).
1975-1978
ASO serves on the Board of the Governor's Management Task Force.
1982
ASO founds Moleculon, Inc.
1982
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) bill is passed.
October 2, 1984
LJO dies.
1988
ASO sells Moleculon, Inc. to F.H. Fauling & Co.
1989
American Editorial Review begins publication.
1990
ASO founds the Soviet Countertrade Group.
1991
ASO establishes East-West TV.
July 5, 1996
JSO dies.
2000
Creglingen Jewish Museum building is dedicated.
2000
Obermayer German Jewish History Awards are initiated.
2007
ASO is awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
2012
ASO recieves the Sixty Years of Service Award from the American Chemical Society.
January 26, 2013
BNO dies.
2015
ASO and JHO are inducted into the SBIR Hall of Fame.
January 10, 2016
ASO dies.
May 11, 2016
HJO dies.

Extent

44.2 linear feet (27 document boxes, 30 manuscript boxes, 2 half-manuscript boxes, 1 oversized box)

Abstract

Arthur S. Obermayer was a scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He established his own research and development company, Moleculon Research Company, in the Boston area and was involved in numerous philanthropic and professional organizations, especially through his foundation, the Obermayer Foundation. Obermayer was also a political activist, and played a key role in establishing the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. This collection contains correspondence, business records, news clippings, notes, photographs, reports, and sound and video recordings documenting Obermayer’s professional work, philanthropy, and political involvement, as well as those of his parents Leon J. and Julia S. Obermayer, his wife Judith Hirschfield Obermayer, and his brother and sister-in-law, Herman J. “Obe” and Betty Nan Obermayer.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Arthur S. Obermayer, 2015. Additional materials accrued by the Jewish Heritage Center in 2016.

Separated Material

Books that do not pertain to the collection policy were deaccessioned.

Processing Information

Processed by Lindsay Murphy and Kathryn Angelica, 2016
Title
Guide to the Arthur S. Obermayer Papers, P-1019
Author
Processed by Lindsay Murphy and Kathryn Angelica
Date
2016
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245