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.
For more information go to:
- History’s People: Fueling the Scientific Revolution (Chester County Historical Society)
- The Early Development and Rapid Growth of Gas Chromatographic Instrumentation in the United States (Journal of Chromatographic Science, PDF)
- Frank Martinez Jr. (Chemical Heritage Foundation)
- Aaron Martin (Chemical Heritage Foundation)
- C. Eugene Bennett (Chemical Heritage Foundation)