The Metaplast Corporation

A few years later I was in Los Alamos, where there was a man named Frederic de Hoffman, who was a sort of scientist; but more, he was also very good at administrating. Not highly trained, he liked mathematics, and worked very hard; he compensated for his lack of training by hard work. Later he became the president or vice president of General Atomics and he was a big industrial character after that. But at the time he was just a very energetic, open-eyed, enthusiastic boy, helping along with the Project as best he could.

One day we were eating at the Fuller Lodge, and he told me he had been working in England before coming to Los Alamos.

"What kind of work were you doing there?" I asked.

"I was working on a process for metal-plating plastics. I was one of the guys in the laboratory."

"How did it go?"

"It was going along pretty well, but we had our problems."


"Just as we were beginning to develop our process, there was a company in New York..."

"What company in New York?"

"It was called the Metaplast Corporation. They were developing further than we were."

"How could you tell?"

"They were advertising all the time in Modern Plastics with full-page advertisements showing all the things they could plate, and we realized that they were further along than we were."

"Did you have any stuff from them?"

"No, but you could tell from the advertisements that they were way ahead of what we could do. Our process was pretty good, but it was no use trying to compete with an American process like that."

"How many chemists did you have working in the lab?"

"We had six chemists working."

"How many chemists do you think the Metaplast Corporation had?"

"Oh! They must have had a real chemistry department!"

"Would you describe for me what you think the chief research chemist at the Metaplast Corporation might look like, and how his laboratory might work?"

"I would guess they must have twenty-five or fifty chemists, and the chief research chemist has his own office—special, with glass. You know, like they have in the movies—guys coming in all the time with research projects that they're doing, getting his advice, and rushing off to do more research, people coming in and out all the time. With twenty-five or fifty chemists, how the hell could we compete with them?"

"You'll be interested and amused to know that you are now talking to the chief research chemist of the Metaplast Corporation, whose staff consisted of one bottle-washer!"