Martin Weisman

60 Years of ACS Membership

Chemistry has given me the American Dream
by Martin Weisman

Mr. Weisman made this speech at the 50, 60 and 70 Year Member Recognition Luncheon on September 22nd, 2012.

I was a poor boy brought up in Far Rockaway, near the beach on Long Island, New York. I knew at age 12 that I had to learn something to take care of myself. I chose a great high school – Brooklyn Tech – and found that I loved chemistry. I decided to become a Chemical Engineer and had a choice of two colleges: CCNY or NYU. City College was free, but I chose NYU, and worked summers to earn the tuition of less than $2,000 for four years. In 1947, there were 300 aspiring Chemical Engineers; In 1951, 30 graduated, and the professor stated that our education begins after college, and he was correct.

I had two job offers: a perfume manufacturer and a plastics fabricator. I knew nothing about either, so I chose plastics because it paid $5 a week more, and hit the books to learn about high polymers. We prepared our own coatings which interested me the most. About five years later, I was told by the Chief Chemist that I was at the top of my salary and was qualified to do his job, but he was related to the owner and was not leaving. I thought I would seek employment in the paint field, but the pay was too low. Fortunately, I saw an ad placed by the Northam Warren Corporation of Stamford, CT. They were the largest manufacturer of nail polish. Mr. Warren was a pharmacist who invested the nail polish in the 1920’s and was looking for someone to update his formulas. I spoke to him and told him I knew nothing about cosmetics, but everything about coatings including nitrocellulose lacquers. I got the job and during my first day, Mr. Warren presented me with a stack of reports saying: “Here is the history of nail lacquer, read about it before you do anything else”. I updated the formulas and the manufacturing facilities as well.

A few years later, the company was sold to Chesebrough-Ponds (Vaseline) which was a wonderful laboratory oriented company and I received a big jump in salary. After a month or two, I was asked to visit the laboratory director in Clinton, CT. He said, “Martin, I am sure you know all there is to know about nail lacquer, but we know very little about the fingernail. We have a dermatologist and a physiologist on retainer at the Yale Medical School. We want you to work with them for up to a year and study the physiology of the fingernail. Every time you come to New Haven and shake their hands, we will be billed for $100. They will love to see you.” I said, “hold it. I have never taken a course in biology, even in high school”. He said that he was not worried, and I would have whatever I needed in additional personnel and equipment. I hired a biochemist and before long we were microtoming fingernail sections, staining them and examining them with our very expensive new microscope. When the study was completed and published, I was asked by the doctors at Yale for copies because they knew I knew more about fingernails than they did!

In August of 1962, I received a call one evening. “Are you the Martin Weisman that makes nail polish?” I said, “yes, who is this?” “We are Snelling and Snelling and have been asked to find someone to set up a manufacturing plant in Los Angeles for Max Factor”. I said I will call you back after I speak to my wife. We were living very comfortably in Norwalk, CT with our three daughters in a beautiful home on a half acre. Sherrie said, “take an interview, but I don’t think my mother will allow us to take her grandchildren 3,000 miles away”. Fortunately, Max Factor gave me an offer we could not refuse. The company was a family owned closed corporation. After 18 years with Max Factor, they had a family squabble and sold the company which ended up with Proctor and Gamble who shut down all the California facilities. Chesebrough called to see if I was interested in going back to them, but Sherrie had a great career as a teacher and would not consider returning to those terrible Connecticut winters. She insisted that I establish a manufacturing plant and go into the business of making private label cosmetics. I brought in two former colleagues from Max Factor. The business was called Shermar Cosmetics and after 17 years, I sold it and retired.

I was not thrilled with dealing with customers and meeting all the building and safety requirements, but new product creativity continued to thrill me. I helped make some marketing people wealthy, but stayed on the bench. I am a joiner and am also an emeritus member of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and the Federation of Societies for Coating Technology, and I just sent an contribution to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The world of Chemistry has been good to me, and I am sure it will continue to be good for all of you. Stay well, and keep up the good work!