John H. Kroehling

Ceramic Engineering
Class of 1948, BS

John Kroehling had planned on majoring in chemical engineering (ChE) when he arrived at Virginia Tech in 1942. His acceptance was based on his high school academic record and a letter of recommendation by the principal of Jonathan Dayton Regional High School in Springfield, New Jersey. His parents drove him to Blacksburg and waited with him through the various indoctrinations, the last of which was a physical exam under the watchful eyes of a football coach. Impressed, the trainer asked him to join the freshman squad, and John bid his parents goodbye on the way to his first practice. His athletic prowess also landed him positions with varsity wrestling and baseball, as a pitcher.

The draft board came calling in the middle of the freshman year, but allowed him to report for induction in June 1943. After basic training, he spent three months in the ASTP program at Armour Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology), gaining one quarter of sophomore-year credits. He then transferred to the 96th Infantry Division. Amphibious maneuvers and the invasions of Leyte and Okinawa followed. In January, 1946, he came home with a Purple Heart and a Soldiers Medal.

He returned to campus in spring of ’46, to find that the ChE department head felt “students in his department did not have time for athletics.” So Mr. Kroehling transferred to ceramic engineering. This department head, John Whittemore, had no objections to his athletic endeavors. He played on the ’46 and ’47 football teams, for which he earned $50/month, and he attended classes year ‘round to graduate with the June ’48 class. He attained academic honors and membership in Sigma Gamma Epsilon, a mineral industries professional fraternity, and KERAMOS, a national fraternity of ceramic engineers.

Based on his undergraduate thesis, the development of lightweight aggregate to replace cinders in cement masonry building blocks using local shale from Webster, Virginia, he was hired by Virginia Lightweight Aggregate Company. After two years and with the help of Dr. Whittemore, Mr. Kroehling moved to General Refractories Company where he developed sales in areas that had been ignored since WWII.

In 1963, Mr. Kroehling accepted an offer from DuPont to test the performance of various refractory compositions in the most severe conditions in steel mills. After two years of trials, he reported the products were competitive in performance but not in price. However, their technology was applicable to production of ceramic honeycomb and other complex ceramic shapes. Alumina and mullite honeycomb were produced, followed by the development of a precious metal catalyst bonded to the high-surface area, which opened the doors for DuPont to offer catalyst modules and catalytic oxidation systems for low temperature oxidation of gaseous air pollutants.

He worked with DuPont until it sold the small business venture to Engelhard Industries in 1983. Mr. Kroehling took early retirement, went with the business, and spent the next three years designing and selling catalyst modules to builders of oxidation systems and complete systems to end users. He retired again in 1986 to take a small equity position with an equipment supplier in Brooklyn, a specialty sheet metal shop that had assembled the systems for DuPont and Engelhard.

Engelhard agreed to supply him with a catalyst-coated honeycomb. For the next five years, he designed and sold catalyst modules and full systems to auto assembly plants in the U.S. and chemical process plants worldwide.

In August ’91 he retired from active participation in the Brooklyn firm to start JH Kroehling Associates. He operates the business from his new home in Williamsburg, Virginia, continuing to provide catalyst maintenance services to General Motors, Chrysler, and Toyota assembly plants. He also designs new systems for other metal-coating operations, bakeries, and textile mills. He believes the successful use of catalysis is due to his originating and putting into practice the use of an activated alumina-coated ceramic grid positioned between a burner and catalyst bed to minimize masking materials getting to the catalyst surface. Another of his innovations is the use of boundary layers in the catalyst module design to improve turbulence within the back pressure limits.

The grandson of German immigrants, his own father and mother were denied education beyond grades 10 and 8 respectively, to work full time to support their families. His father attained “engineer status” after many years experience at Western Electric Co. This work ethic was passed on to Mr. Kroehling and to his children: a son with a degree in statistics, Virginia Tech class of ’83, and a masters in engineering management, and a daughter with a BS in foreign service from Georgetown. His first son, a marine biologist, died at age 25.

Joan, his wife of 46 years, keeps the books for JH Kroehling Associates, and volunteers in a number of charitable organizations. They support endowments for scholarships in the MSE and statistics departments at Virginia Tech, and have provided a deferred gift to be split between the departments. Mr. Kroehling serves on the MSE department advisory board and is a member of the College of Engineering Committee of 100.

Mr. Kroehling claims to have no real hobbies other than yard work and regular workouts at the local recreation center. Since longevity seems to run in his family, at 80 years of age the prospect of final retirement is probably a few years away.

Class of: 1948
Year Inducted into Academy: 2004

John H. Kroehling