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Alumnus Melvin DeGroote was one of nation’s most prolific innovators

Melvin DeGroote sits in from of a desk.Melvin DeGroote (courtesy of The Ohio State University Archives)

Distinguished chemical engineering alumnus Melvin DeGroote is recognized as one of America’s greatest inventors.

Honored by Time magazine in 2000 as being second to only Thomas Edison in the number of patents issued to him, DeGroote received patents on more than 950 of his inventions.

Most of his discoveries focused on chemical de-emulsifiers that separate crude oil from impurities, without which “most of the oil pumped in the U.S. for the last century would have been too corrosive for pipelines or tankers to transport,” noted Business Insider Australia. He also invented the chemical recipe that allows chocolate to stick to ice cream, leading to the Eskimo pie.

DeGroote attended high school in Sisterville, West Virginia, and earned his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from The Ohio State University in 1915.

“His life shows the incredible value of the U.S. college education protocol ... the transformation of a kid who could have lived an entire unassuming life in an almost unknown town to someone whose abilities were realized almost solely by his college experience. He went on to change the world because of that opportunity,” described a family member.

“I don’t know how he got to Ohio State, but that education made him into a world-class inventor … the second most patents for an individual until the 1960s. It also made him into a compassionate man.”

DeGroote’s family recently established the Melvin DeGroote Endowed Chemical Engineering Fund to honor his lifelong commitment to the university. It supports faculty work on global climate research and graduate students in the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE).

“Melvin DeGroote’s life story continues to inspire us all. It also shows how versatile our undergraduate education is,” said CBE Chair Umit S. Ozkan. “The generous gift that his family endowed will continue supporting our faculty and graduate students, and be his everlasting legacy.”

After graduation, DeGroote began his professional career with Maxwell Motor Company and also worked as a flavorings expert at the Mellon Institute. He retired in 1960 as vice president of research and development for the Tretolite Company, where he worked for 36 years.

His outstanding achievements won him the Ohio State College of Engineering’s Lamme Medal for meritorious achievement in engineering in 1950 and the American Chemical Society St. Louis section’s Midwest Award in 1959.

The devoted Buckeye also remained involved with his alma mater. DeGroote served as an alumni representative on the board of directors of the Research Foundation, was appointed to the Alumni Advisory Board in 1961 and was a constant contributor to the university’s development fund. He played a key role in fundraising efforts for the former Koffolt Laboratories building and is recognized for financially supporting numerous university events.

“I am obligated to Ohio State for so many things that I will never be able to discharge even a fraction of my obligations,” DeGroote wrote in a letter to the Ohio State Monthly alumni publication. “This becomes not a matter of holding interest but rather of making a feeble attempt to show my true appreciation.”

DeGroote, who died in February 1963 at age 67, also earned a professional degree in chemical engineering in 1942 and an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1955, both from Ohio State.