S. Donald Stookey, Ph.D., whose 1952 discovery of glass-ceramics led to CorningWare®, one of the most successful product lines in Corning Inc.’s history, died November 4, 2014. He was 99 years old and lived in Pittsford, N.Y.
Stookey was born May 23, 1915, in Hay Springs, Neb. He joined Corning in 1940 shortly after earning his doctorate in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began to learn what he called the “exotic and mysterious” properties of glass chemistry from Corning innovation icons such as Jessie Littleton, Ph.D., Harrison Hood, and Bill Armistead, Ph.D. His experiments in photosensitive glass led to applications in both the ophthalmic and color television market.
Twelve years into his Corning career, Stookey discovered that some glass formulas, under intense heat, could become opaque, lightweight, and resistant to thermal shock. Corning patented the material as Pyroceram® glass-ceramics, the basis for the CorningWare line that became a staple in the consumer cookware world for decades.
That innovation, along with other breakthrough exploratory research in the areas of photochromics and photosensitive glass, earned Stookey the National Medal of Technology in 1987, a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010, and a host of other prestigious recognitions. He earned 60 U.S. patents over the course of his career. Corning’s top award for its own leaders in exploratory research is named in Stookey’s honor.
David Morse, Ph.D., Corning’s chief technology officer, formed a close bond with Stookey shortly after joining Corning in 1976. “He was fearless—the unknown never daunted him,” said Morse, whose first exposure to Corning’s collaborative innovation culture came from working with Stookey on photochromic glasses. Morse had just earned his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Stookey had retired from Corning, but remained a frequent consultant on new projects.
“I was always impressed by the depth of his knowledge,” said Morse. “He was an unassuming and quiet but tough person who made numerous inventions that led to major businesses for Corning Incorporated. Don was recognized throughout the glass technology community as a world-class scientist.”
Morse noted that Stookey’s exploratory spirit extended beyond the bounds of his scientific pursuits. “He loved to fish. He survived a seaplane crash in freezing water near the Arctic Circle, with no one to rescue him,” said Morse. “The next year, he went right back to fishing. There’s a real exploratory notion to that.”
Stookey and George Beall, Ph.D., a Corning research fellow, were longtime collaborators and friends. George wrote the following comments in the forward to Stookey’s 2000 autobiography, Explorations in Glass:
•“Not only did Don challenge young scientists to stretch or redirect their conceptual thinking, but he always took a great interest in their families and recreational pastimes.”
•“Nothing was impossible in Don’s perceptive imagination; but, more importantly, he displayed just the right combination of technical skills, gritty persistence, and personal credibility to be able to assemble the resources for successful execution of his ideas.”
Besides his contributions to Corning’s innovation portfolio, Stookey was also dedicated to community service—in particular, issues facing the elderly population in Corning, N.Y. In the early 1970s, he helped lead a task force that eventually resulted in the construction of the Dayspring housing complex in Corning.
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