Wilbur Renfrew McElroy

AUG. 20, 1914-AUG. 24, 2011

August 26, 2011
  • McElroy

Wilbur Renfrew McElroy (Dr. Mac) died Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011.

Born in Fayetteville, Pa., on Aug. 20, 1914, he was the son of Beulah Renfrew McElroy and Frank Wilbur McElroy.

He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Margaret Olaru McElroy; one son, Benedict Renfrew McElroy and wife, Judy, born to his former wife, Helen Bellringer Benedict McElroy; one granddaughter, Mistie Marie McElroy Witt and husband, Thomas; and two grandsons, Thomas McElroy Witt and William Oliver Witt.

Dr. McElroy is the holder of 16 patents (foreign and domestic) mostly in the field of polyurethanes.

Dr. McElroy was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown, Md.; member of Beacon Lodge, FEAM Beacon, N.Y.; the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry; S.J. USA; listed in Who's Who in the East; member of American Men of Science, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemists, Society of the Sigma Xi, The New York Academy of Sciences, Phi Lambda Epsilon; and a registered professional engineer in the state of Pennsylvania.

He was educated in the public school system of Greene Township through the eighth grade. He graduated from Chambersburg High School, then attended Gettysburg College for four years and graduated in 1936 with a major in chemistry. The following year, 1937, he attended the graduate school of chemistry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, then a year and a half at the Penn State University graduate school of chemistry, where he received a Master of Science degree. Then he worked about a year for the Texaco Co., in their central research laboratory in Beacon. He received a scholarship to attend Purdue University and received his doctorate degree in chemistry in 1943.

During the World War II era, when he was at Purdue University in the chemistry department, all of his projects were related to the war effort. The first was a project to develop a rapid method of analysis of gunpowder, a professor's idea, which he completed in less than a year, resulting in an apparatus being built for each of the U.S. arsenals making cellulose nitrate so they could manufacture it faster.

The second project was in cooperation with chemists in other universities, Howard, Yale, Princeton, to find a substitute for the then-used anti-malarial drug Atabrin.

The third project was designed to produce new high explosives. Among those developed was one with greatest brisance of any explosive known at the time.

All the projects mentioned above were part of Dr. McElroy's doctoral thesis and are published.

He returned to Texaco to work in Beacon after graduating from Purdue University in 1943. His role at that time was synthesizing new additives to be tested in aviation gasoline. In 1945, he was transferred to a subsidiary company, Jefferson Chemical Co., in Port Arthur, Texas, to be a group leader in process development. Two pilot plants of his design were built and operated to study the processes. In 1949, he returned to Texaco, and in the same year purchased Wayne Laboratories in Waynesboro, Pa. He owned that analysis and testing laboratory for 38 years. The operation, for analysis and testing of metals, concrete and public water supplies, was directed by other professionals after 1951.

In 1951, Dr. McElroy was head of the chemistry department of Melpar, Inc., in Alexandria, Va., which was the central research laboratory of Westinghouse Air Brake Co. and subsidiaries. Much of the work at Melpar Inc. was highly guarded and secret. Decades later it appeared to be related to space projects.

In 1953, he founded Mobay Chemical Co. as joint venture of Monsanto and Bayer as group leader in process development and exploratory research. The plant in Martinsburg, W.Va. was the first plant in the United States to make polyurethane precursors. Dr. McElroy helped to transfer manufacturing technology from Bayer AG in Germany to the United States.

In 1963, after 10 years of experience in polyurethane development and manufacture, Dr. McElroy accepted a position with Conap Inc. as executive vice president and research director in Olean, N.Y. He developed a silkscreen-printing process for printed circuit boards used by IBM in their computers aboard the rocket carrying the first American in space. He was also involved in developing coatings, sealants and potting compounds sold by the company.

In the spring of 1969, Dr. McElroy decided to start up another company of his own. He and his first wife, Helen B. McElroy, started Action Products Inc., as first a subsidiary of Wayne Laboratories and later incorporated in New York state. He was consultant to several companies in the urethane business. Later, in Olean, in the basement of his home, he developed what would be known worldwide as AKTON polyurethane polymer, used as a shock absorber in cushions to prevent decubitus ulcers. From startup operations in Portville, N.Y., and Hinsdale, N.Y., the company moved to Hagerstown in 1978.

After 35 years in business, the company had three locations in the Hagerstown area, and in 2005, started consolidating toward one location. Sales are worldwide, including the United States and all countries of Western Europe, Scandinavia, the Far East and Pacific Rim countries, Canada, and parts of South and Central America.

Numerous attempts by competitors to duplicate the trade secret of AKTON polymer have been in vain.

Dr. McElroy married Margaret Olaru (Romanian) in 1991. They have traveled extensively worldwide. Her ability to speak six languages has been a truly great asset to the company in her role as Dr. Mac's secretary.

The family will receive friends at the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home, 1331 Eastern Blvd. North, Hagerstown, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Services will be held Monday, Aug. 29, 2011, at 10:30 a.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 101 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown, with the Rev. Ann Boyd officiating.

Interment will follow at Lincoln Cemetery, Chambersburg.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Mission Projects of St. John's Episcopal Church, 101 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown, MD 21740.

Online condolences may be expressed at

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