Louis Atwell Olney Obituary

April 21, 1874 – February 11, 1951

The distinguished career of Dr. Louis A. Olney came to an end on Friday evening, February 11th, when he died at the Onslow County Hospital, Jacksonville, North Carolina, as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Jacksonville on Monday, February 7th.  His wife, Bertha H. Holden Olney died immediately following the accident.  Dr. and Mrs. Olney were en route to Florida for a vacation.

Dr. Olney was born on April 21, 1874 in Providence, Rhode Island and was a direct descendent of Thomas Olney who came from England in 1636 and who was one of the thirteen original proprietors of the colony.  Dr. Olney attended public school in Providence and took courses at Bryant & Stratton Business College.  He then entered Lehigh University and received his B.S. in chemistry in 1896.  He was granted an M.S. from Lehigh in 1908 and was honored by his alma mater with an Sc.D. in 1926.  Following a year as an instructor in the chemistry department at Brown University, he became professor of chemistry and dyeing and director of that department at the Lowell Textile Institute.

Portrait of Louis Atwell Olney
AATCC Headquarters
Courtesy of Perry L. Grady

Mrs. Olney was a native of Lowell and a graduate of Rogers Hall School of that city and received a B.A. degree from Smith College in 1902.  She was active in church work and a number of social organizations.  She was 71 at the time of her death.  Dr. and Mrs. Olney were married on June 24th, 1903. Surviving are three children: Mrs. E. Alan Larter and Mr. Richard H. Olney of Dunstable, Massachusetts and Mrs. Dexter N. Shaw of Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Olney will always be remembered for his efforts in establishing the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists which Association will long stand as a monument to his memory.  He had persistently advocated the formation in this country of a society similar to the British Society of Dyers and Colourists and, following an editorial campaign in the American Dyestuff reporter designed to stimulate interest in the subject, he invited a number of outstanding men in the textile chemical field to attend a meeting at the engineer’s Club in Boston on August 26, 1921 to consider plans for bringing the matter to a head.  A subsequent meeting was held at the Chemist’s Club in New York on September 13, during the Chemical Exposition, when further ground was covered and it was decided to hold the inaugural meeting in Boston on November 3.  At this meeting, Dr. Olney was elected first president and continued in this office until 1927 and was then named president emeritus.  He was also the first chairman of the research committee and did not relinquish this position until 1947.  Throughout the period of the birth of the Association and during its later growth and expansion he contributed every effort possible to further its aims and objects and he can truly be called the father of the AATCC.

Dr. Olney retained his post at the Lowell Textile Institute for 47 years, retiring in 1944 at which time he was named professor emeritus.  His department at the institute grew in importance and stature through the years due to his devotion to his task and the school itself attained an international reputation.  Of the long succession of students who attended his classes there are representatives in the majority of dyeing and finishing plants in this country as well as a long list of those who have gone with dyestuff and chemical manufacturers, testing and service laboratories, synthetic yarn manufacturers, etc.  Although he was continually tempted by offers from outside the education field, he believed that he could serve the industry best by continuing in that field. Dr. Olney’s association with the American Dyestuff Reporter and the Howes Publishing Company dates back to 1920 when the late Mr. A. P. Howes induced him to take over the editorial direction of the Reporter.  He continued as directing editor until his death.  He was a director of Howes Publishing Company for many years and was named president last fall to succeed Mr. Howes.

In 1943 the Olney Medal was endowed by the Howes Publishing Company as an award to be made by the AATCC for outstanding achievement in the field of textile chemistry. The purposes of this medal are to encourage and to afford public recognition of such achievement and contributions and to be a testimonial to Dr. Olney in recognition of his lifetime of devotion and multitudinous contributions to this field.  Dr. Olney himself was awarded the first medal in 1944.

Dr. Olney was president of Wannalancit Textile Company of Lowell, president of the Lowell Institution for Savings and president of the Lowell Morris Plan Company.  He had been president of the Stirling Mills of Lowell for many years.  He served as an assistant editor of Chemical Abstracts and as a consultant to numerous concerns.  He was the author of several books including “Elementary Organic Chemistry” and “Chemical Technology of the Fibers”.  He also contributed portions to other books in the chemical field and numerous articles to technical publications.

Although his greatest devotion was to the AATCC Dr. Olney was also active in other textile and chemical associations.  He was honored last year for his 50 years of membership in the American Chemical Society.  He was a charter member of the American Society of Chemical Engineers and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He was also a member of the American Institute of Chemists, the British Society of Dyers and Colourists, the British Society of the Chemical Industry and the National Association of Wool Manufacturers.  He had also been active in the Textile research Institute and its predecessor, serving as an officer and member of the board of directors.  He had also been a director of the Lowell Board of Trade.

Dr. Olney also had an active interest in other societies other than in the business field.  He was an ardent stamp collector and a member of the Boston Philatelic Society.  He had served as treasurer of the Northfield Conference of religious Education and was a member of the Lowell Historical Society.  He had been president of the Lowell YMCA and of the New England Lehigh Club.  He was a Scottish Rite Mason and a Knight Templar, a member of the Engineer’s Club of Boston, the Chemists” Club of New York and the Yorick and Vesper Clubs of Lowell.


Source:  American Dyestuff Reporter, 1951