Henry A. Rutherford

Olney Medalist 1974
Textile Chemistry, NC State University

Henry Ames “Hank” Rutherford, Born September 4, 1909     Died August 4, 2005
Years of Service, NC State 1947 – ­1974


Henry Ames “Hank” or “Cap’n Hank” Rutherford, Jr. (he dropped the Jr. after his father died in 1946) was born in Laneville, West Virginia, a small lumber town in Tucker County, where his father ran the company store. After living in a number of small lumber and mining towns in Virginia and West Virginia, his family settled in Elkin, West Virginia where he finished his education in the public schools. He matriculated in Davis & Elkins College in 1927 and received his degree in Chemistry in 1931 as valedictorian of his class. He married Marjorie Bennett who was also a 1931 graduate of Davis & Elkins College and had two sons, Gordon Henry (born in 1936) and David Ames (born in 1939). Henry received his Masters Degree in Chemistry from George Washington University in Washington, DC in 1936.

His first job after graduating was with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC. He and several co-workers from the National Bureau founded Harris Research Laboratories where Henry worked during WWII on a number of defense projects related to the use of textiles in warfare. He became disenchanted with contract research and consulting. Dean Sandy Campbell encouraged him to apply for the position of head of the Textile Chemistry department when Grimshaw retired. At the interview, Campbell said, “Do you know anything about finishing?” Hank replied, “No, as a matter of fact, I have never been in a textile dye house or finishing plant.” Campbell replied, “Good! It looks like you are the man we want.” Sandy told Rutherford, “I want the best Textile Chemistry Department in the world. My job is to get you the money. Don’t give me any details­just the big picture. I also want you to plan for a doctorate program.” He left his family in Washington, D.C. and moved to Raleigh. Hank looked around for help and found Kenneth Stoddard Campbell to join the department. Shortly thereafter, at a school function held at Ballentine’s Cafeteria in nearby Cameron Village, Grimshaw became sick and died a few days later. (11) He remarried in 1950 to Norma Stephens. (12)

Henry A. Rutherford
Head, Textile Chemistry 1947

Rutherford set about assembling his staff, all with a tremendous sense of humor. With a creative mind like his, there was always something going on. The following extracts from letters in 1954 illustrate the point:

September 20, 1954

Dear Dean Campbell:

“… On our return trip it was necessary to purchase gasoline at a station where premiums were awarded to customers in the form of ice cream, cigarettes or sugar. My purchase entitled me to 5 lbs. of sugar which, of course, was given to me by the attendant. Because the gasoline was paid for by the State of North Carolina, it would appear that the correct conclusion is that the sugar also belongs to the state. I would like to know who gets the sugar and by what means it should be sent to the recipient. It is now in my office and I am holding it to make certain that the full 5 lbs. will be available for the state.

An early answer to the above questions would be appreciated.” (2 )

Dean Campbell followed the chain of command and passed the letter up the ladder. The letter must have been hand­carried to the office of J. Graves Vann, assistant controller and business manager for N.C. State. Vann replied the very next day:

“It seems to me that some thought should have been given to the fact that if ice cream should have been selected as the premium it would obviously have melted and there would have been no question to arise. Similarly, had cigarettes been chosen, these could have been burned in an ordinary fashion and the ashes disbursed very readily, again leaving no problem. But, being the undoubted provident man that you are, you selected the five pounds of sugar which, of course, does pose the question you have submitted. Obviously we can do nothing but follow the routine procedure. This would be to turn the five pounds of sugar over to the State Division of Purchase and Contract, have it advertised for sale by sealed bid for a period of ten days, following which Purchase and Contract will accept the highest bid, transmit the remittance of the successful bidder to me by mail, sending a copy of the letter of the transmittal to the State Auditor, whereupon the proceeds of the sale will be credited to the proper travel account as a Refund of Expenditures in part offsetting the purchase of the gasoline. In order that I may be fully informed, please advise just what account would ultimately pay the expense of the trip.” (3)

What happened to the sugar? We don’t know, but we do know that the “red tape” this exchange illustrates is just as evident at NCSU today. (7)

Hank was hired to get research going and he did his job. In 1953, N.C. State achieved a first in the field of nuclear engineering. The “Raleigh Reactor” was the first on a college campus. The value of such an energy source was recognized immediately by Rutherford and others. He attracted a grant from the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1958 and with money from interested textile companies, purchased a Cobalt­60 reactor and had it installed in the sub­basement of Nelson Hall. Gamma radiation was used to investigate polymer transformations. Graft polymerizations studies were made by the team consisting of Rutherford, William K. Walsh and Rosa P. Kirby. (4)

During the next ten years, Rutherford reported regularly on the findings he and his team made using nuclear radiation. (4, 6, 7, 8, 9) He and a colleague, William K. Walsh were granted a US Patent 3,709,658 “Method for Decreasing the Flammability of Cellulosic Fabrics”, for a portion of this work.

While at NC State Henry was active in the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists and held several patents for the treatment of fabrics. He also received a number of awards including several for his excellence in teaching. During the early promotion of the Research Triangle Park, he served as a member of Governor Terry Sanford’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

Rutherford was awarded the highest honor bestowed by AATCC when he received the AATCC Olney Medal for 1974. http://www.aatcc.org/awards/OlneyRutherford.pdf

Relaxing in his office
School of Textiles News 1970

Hank Rutherford
School of Textiles News 1974

He retired in 1974 and moved to Wrightsville Beach, NC to be close to his love of the ocean. One of his great hobbies was the operation of fishing boats, hence the nickname “Cap’n Hank.” One of the joys in later life was to give up the ownership and offer his services as a charter captain.



  1. Henry Rutherford, “Nuclear Magic and Textile Fibers,” Textile Forum, December­January 1954-55, pages 8­11, 28.
  2. Rutherford, H.A., Letter to Dean Campbell, September 20, 1954.
  3. Vann, J.G., Letter to Dean Campbell, September 21, 1954.
  4. Henry A. Rutherford and Otto Teszler, “School of Textiles Pioneer in the Application of Nuclear Technology to Textiles, Textile Forum, February 1958, pages 6­9, 22.
  5. Rutherford, Henry A., “Nuclear Energy – A New Tool for the Textile Industry,” American Dyestuff Reporter, 1958, page 410.
  6. Rutherford, Henry A., “Textile Education, Department of Textile Chemistry,” Textile Forum, October 1958, page 10.
  7. Rutherford, Henry A., “A History of Textile Education in the Southern Region ­North Carolina State College, American Dyestuff Reporter, 1959, Issue 19, page 101.
  8. H. Rutherford, “Application of Nuclear Radiation and Radioisotopes to Textile Material and Processes,” Textile Forum, December 1959, pages 6, 7, 13.
  9. Rutherford, H.A., A.A. Armstrong and V. Stannett, “A Progress Report on the Modification of Textile Materials via High Energy Radiation,” Textile Forum, Winter 1963, pages 18, 19, 26.109. Armstrong, 10.10 Arthur A. Jr., and Henry A. Rutherford, “Applications of Nuclear Radiation to Textile Materials and Processes,” Textile Forum, page 27.
  10. Henry A. Rutherford, “Summary Report of European Travel May 25 to June 17, 1963,” Hank gave a paper Application of Nuclear Radiation to Textile Material in Salzburg, Austria, Textile Forum, October 1963, pages 24­5, 63.
  11. Rutherford, H. A., “Developing Uses of Radiation in Industry,” Textile Chemist and Colorist, Vol. 6, No.
  12. November 1974, pages 237­241 Olney Medal address
  13. Henry Ames Rutherford, Personal communication, 1999.
  14. Gordon Henry Rutherford, Personal communication, April 2012.