Saul Ricklin: Chemical Engineer, Professor & CEO

Alumni Photo

In contemplation of the 70th anniversary of graduating from Columbia, Saul Ricklin ’39, ’40 reminisced about his time on the Morningside campus during the 1930s.

“I was a commuter for five years, except for the required summer school Unit Operations lab for chemical engineers, when I stayed in John Jay. My first year tuition at Columbia was $300, and my paltry $100 New York State scholarship was actually one-third of the tuition. In my day, BS and ChE students in the five-year program had only two liberal arts courses, one year each of CC and English. Now, in my late retirement years, I am a reader, book collector and writer of over 200 Letters to the Editor plus some Op Eds and magazine articles!

“It was so long ago that Prof. (Harold) Urey came into my freshman chemistry class to tell us about the discovery of the neutron, not in our textbook! Nobel Prize winner Urey’s heavy hydrogen still was in the Chandler stairwell. We held onto it as we ran downstairs to change classes. My brush with a Nobel Prize!”

Some of Saul’s other recollections: “We all stood on campus to take the Oxford Oath to never go to war but most did when the time came!”

“We all had to pass a swimming test and we were required to take four Phys Ed programs. I did water polo, boxing, fencing and handball.”

“All engineers went to Camp Columbia for a summer. They all took a surveying course except chemical engineers, who took something called descriptive geometry. John Crymble and I beat all the surveyors in the contest to get the height of the flagpole, using a 12-inch ruler and pencil.”

“My life and career were determined when Prof. Lincoln Work left Columbia to be Director of Research at Metal and Thermit Corp., and took me with him as a process engineer. (The best part of working at M&T was that I met my wife there.) Starting pay was $160 per month! I spent the war years deferred as I headed up development of thermit incendiary bombs, tracer ammunition and a sabotage weapon for the OSS, now the CIA. Then, in 1946, I was drafted into the Army Air Force and discharged in 1947.”  

After leaving military service, Saul became a professor at Brown University’s Chemistry Department from 1947 to 1954, then started his own consulting business, Ricklin Research Associates, until 1959, when he joined Dixon Corp. in Bristol, R.I., as research director. He retired in 1981 as CEO and president of Dixon Industries as well as managing director of NTN Rulon in Japan, Dixon Italia in Italy, and Dixon Spencer in Canada. Since then, he has continued consulting and board of directors jobs and has held leadership positions for volunteer community organizations and committees in Bristol.

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