When Harry Bader graduated from Drexel University in 1951, only six of 39 with chemical engineering degrees found jobs in their field.
He was one of them, making $320 a month when he entered the natural rubber latex industry, the second-highest salary of the six.
Things have changed dramatically in the business since then, as has Bader. Both have dealt with numerous innovations and obstacles, the biggest being the highly publicized rubber protein allergy issue. Both have survived and grown.
The 81-year-old Bader-who said, ``It's a pleasant surprise to me that I'm still around''-recently retired after 16 years with Akron Rubber Development Laboratory Inc. as vice president of latex services.
But he's not completely out of the business, he said during the July 25-26 International Latex Conference in Charlotte, N.C. He's opened a small consulting firm, Bader Consulting, in Dover, Del., where he and his wife, Catherine, live.
He'll be a consultant for ARDL, administering current and future latex projects for at least the next year. Bader figures his consulting business will grow. ``It depends on what's happening,'' he said. ``Right now there are some projects I may be interested in.''
In addition, Bader will remain as a member of three ASTM International committees: Committee D11 on Rubber, Committee F23 on Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment, and Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications. He'll also continue to write ``The Latex Doctor'' for the publication ``Rubber Asia.''
That's what he calls retirement. But Bader doesn't mind the activity. He said he's willing to share his expertise-and humor when the situation calls for it-with others in the industry.
The right fit
World War II waylaid Bader's career after his secondary education. He joined the Navy, wanted to be a pilot but was excluded when told he was color blind and became a corpsman instead.
Bader said he even performed an emergency appendectomy at sea.
``The guy was pretty sick and needed it done. Our dentist did the anesthesia and I performed the operation.
``Two weeks later the guy walked off the ship under his own power.''
After his discharge in 1946, Bader enrolled at Drexel, where he earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering.
He quickly landed a job as a technical engineer with International Latex Corp., which operated several groups, including its Playtex division.
Bader worked on a variety of products, from gloves, girdles and bras to gear used in space travel. At the time they all were latex. It was a unique experience and opportunity for the inquisitive Bader.
``Every engineer worked all jobs at the factory,'' he said, which gave the firm a solid group of well-rounded engineers. Early on in his career, he became aware of allergy problems resulting from the use of NR latex.
``I saw that one coming in a way because of the lack of concern by processors (in Southeast Asia) on leaching. I got involved with Playtex on that very early in my career, cataloging the complaints that came in. I found we were getting two complaints a week on allergies and it all came down to leaching. That gave rise to the protein allergy situation.''
Bader said he has seen a case of contact dermatitis caused by residual accelerators in the compound, but he himself never has seen a case of protein allergy.
He remained with the company for 15 years-two in Canada, eight in Scotland and five in the U.S. He guided factory startups in Scotland and Canada, provided technical assistance to all of Europe and helped turn the company into a true international business. Equally important to him was that he got paid in Switzerland, which imposed no taxes.
``We (he, his wife and children) really enjoyed Scotland,'' Bader said. ``My youngest daughter was born there.'' He was the only American in a group that founded the Scottish Junior Chamber of commerce in 1957, and he later served as its president.
The next challenge
Bader left International Latex to join Seiberling Latex Products Inc. in New Bramen, Ohio, as vice president of manufacturing.
Seiberling, a maker of NR and synthetic latex industrial and household gloves, wanted someone who had experience with start-ups. He set up factories in Oklahoma City and Puerto Rico. The company relocated the New Bramen operation, founded by the Seiberling brothers and by then old and in need of replacement, to Oklahoma City. In Puerto Rico the firm took over a B.F. Goodrich coated gloves plant that was in trouble.
``The big problem there was that the company had a 400-percent overhead on a small plant,'' Bader said. ``It was an accounting problem. We corrected it and that was that.''
Bader stayed with the firm for almost 15 years until the owner died and his son closed the company.
With 30 years of experience under his belt, he headed to Melbourne, Australia, to work as research and development director for glove and condom maker Ansell, then part of Pacific Dunlop Ltd.
Two years later he returned to the U.S. to join Spanel International in Dover as vice president of manufacturing and general manager.
He left the company after five years when the owner passed away in 1985 and his wife shut down the business.
Undaunted, and closing in on the standard age for retirement, Bader hooked up with ILC Dover Inc. as chief manufacturing engineer at its plant in the Caribbean that made decelerators for small bombs. Eight months later the company lost a big contract and he and numerous other employees were laid off.
Bader, then 65, asked officials at the Social Security office in Dover if they thought he could find another position with a latex company or any other firm. One flat out told him, ``No, you'll never find one.''
Shortly thereafter, Bader proved him wrong. He joined ARDL as vice president of latex services to handle new product development. Sixteen years later, he's still going strong.
``There are a lot of technical types in the business today, but very few have actual factory experience,'' Bader said. Manufacturing in the U.S. ``is a money situation. Medical gloves, industrial gloves, that's all gone. It's a cost situation. That's what rules the industry today.''
Bader's knowledge and experience is prized, though, as shown by the comment of one latex company executive who attended the conference in Charlotte. ``It's really difficult to find his kind of experience and expertise these days,'' he said.