The Story of F&M Scientific

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Agilent in analytical instrumentation.  This heritage began when Agilent’s predecessor, Hewlett-Packard, acquired F&M Scientific in August, 1965.

F&M Scientific began as a part-time basement operation by an employee of U.S chemical giant DuPont.  Frank Martinez Jr. was a glassblower who worked on analytical and process instruments for in-house use.  In 1956, he obtained permission to manufacture gas chromatographs in his spare time.  The company took off after a successful advertisement in the magazine Analytic Chemistry, and Martinez resigned from DuPont in 1958 to run F&M Scientific (named after his initials) full-time.

When two other former DuPont scientists – Aaron Martin and C. Eugene Bennett – offered to buy the company, Martinez proposed a partnership instead.  All three founders would later be inducted into the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s “Instrumentation Hall of Fame.”

F&M wanted to exhibit at the 1959 Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (also known as “Pittcon”), but was unable to secure a booth.  Instead, the team set up in a room on the second floor of the hotel.  They displayed the first programmable high-temperature chromatograph, which used a thermal-conductivity detector and could operate at temperatures up to 300°C.  The instrument became the star of the show, attracting customers including Pfizer, Dow and Esso.  For the first time, materials such as petroleum, polymers and drugs could be analyzed in a matter of minutes.

Within a year, F&M extended its temperature range to 500°C.  The company grew from three employees to 25, hiring most of the graduating class of Wilmington’s Brown Vocational Technical High School as manufacturing staff.  Sales doubled from $250,000 to $500,000, and continued to double every year.  Within three years, F&M Scientific had become the world’s largest producer of gas chromatographic equipment.

In 1965, with 400 employees and $7 million in annual sales, the company was sold to Hewlett-Packard.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

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