The energetic leader of the Birmingham-based utility had long dreamed of forming a research institute for Southern industry when he rose to make a five-minute speech at a meeting of the Alabama Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 10, 1940.
The need for a research organization in Birmingham had been recognized for years. In 1930, University of Alabama professor Stewart Lloyd had first proposed such as step. The dean of the university’s School of Chemistry, Metallurgy and Ceramics made his proposal after conducting a “Chemical Survey of the Birmingham District” for the Birmingham Industrial Board. The extensive report on the area’s chemical assets and their industrial potential was widely distributed.
A decade later, Martin proposed establishing a research laboratory with a fund of not less than $250,000, which would be spread over five years. As a kicker, he declared that Alabama Power would match any single pledge.
The response was enthusiastic, and the Chamber started to work at once.
Photo shows Tom Martin, right, speaking to other businessmen.
With Alabama Power chief Tom Martin driving the push, nearly 80 business and industrial leaders signed up as incorporators of the new research institute. On Oct. 9, 1941, in Room 236 of Birmingham’s Tutwiler Hotel, the incorporators gathered for their first meeting.
Two days later, Martin filed the Alabama Research Institute’s incorporation papers in Montgomery County probate court.
In December, Martin became chairman of the new organization — but its activities were put on hold in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II.
Late in December 1943, Chairman Tom Martin was ready to make the Alabama Research Institute a reality. He invited industrial leaders from around the South to a meeting at Alabama Power’s headquarters on Dec. 21, and kicked off a financing campaign for the first five years of operations.
He aimed for $50,000 the first year, and $100,000 a year after that. Alabama Power pledged $15,000 per year for the five-year period, $75,000 total.
Other businessmen stepped up to the plate and made substantial pledges.
With support for the research institute flowing in from outside Alabama, momentum began to build for a name change. Railroad company leaders, in particular, were interested in a regional research organization.
On May 4, 1944, the Southern Research Institute was born.
The way Chairman Tom Martin saw it, the institute would be an economic driver for the entire region. It would concentrate on “new products, new materials as substitutes for existing ones, improvement in existing products and their method of manufacture, use of by-products and materials now wasted, and study of potential markets for new products and new methods of manufacture,” he said.
In August 1944, Martin purchased the Morris-Cartwright House on Birmingham’s Southside for $57,500 as the institute’s base.
Lazier was a veteran of DuPont Laboratories in Delaware, where he played an important role in the development of nylon. A skilled researcher, he had nearly 100 patents to his name.
Though Lazier stayed at Southern Research for a short period, he recruited many of the influential figures that shaped the history of the organization – Howard Skipper, William Murrary, Emory Kemler, Rollin Osgood, Sabert Oglesby, and others.
Lazier departed in 1948 to become head of research for Charles Pfizer and Co.
Photo shows Dr. Lazier
Dr. William Murray’s first year as director ushered in a construction boom at Southern Research. The first permanent new building on the campus, Laboratory No. 5, was expanded to house a machine shop and heavy metallurgical equipment.
Planning began for another building, which would house the organic chemistry, plastics, textiles and paint technology groups.
Robert I. Ingalls, chairman of the Ingalls Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding Co., offered to pay the entire cost of the structure — $150,000.
Cornerstone ceremonies for the Robert I. Ingalls Laboratory were held on Nov. 12, 1948. A copper box placed in the cornerstone during construction of the Ingalls lab contained artifacts that reflected the organization’s early work – a building board made from sugar cane waste, a synthetic perfume compound made from citrus by-products, specimens of Southern pig iron treated with zirconium, and much more.
Early the next year, Southern Research trustees approved a plan to add two additional stories to the building.
Ingalls was interested in the mission of Southern Research from the beginning, and through generous personal and Ingalls Foundation contributions, five buildings were constructed on the the organization’s campus.
Photo shows benefactor Robert Ingalls speaking a Southern Research ceremony for a building bearing his name.
“Colt” Pears had previously carried out high-temperature goal gasification work for the Bureau of Mines. His ambition was to create a world-class high-temperature materials characterization laboratory. The lab’s innovations included the development of a facility that could make accurate measurements of loads on brittle high-temperature metals and optical strain measurement techniques.
The first known measurements of tensile properties at 6,000-degrees Fahrenheit took place at Southern Research, and extreme-temperature testing and analysis became a core competency of the organization. In 1964, the American Society for Testing and Materials recognized the gas-bearing tensile-stress-strain apparatus developed by Pears as the year’s most significant contribution to testing.
Under Pear’s leadership, the Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department targeted work involving U.S. aerospace needs, including high-temperature technology and characterization, macrostructural modeling, failure analysis, and core technology of materials.
Pears is a member of the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame.
Martin, the longtime leader of Alabama Power Co., had been the force that got Southern Research started in the 1940s, and his energy and connections ignited its growth for more than two decades. Martin knew national figures like Charles Kettering and Alfred Sloan, getting them involved in important programs at Southern Research. He did the same on the local, state and regional level.
In 1958, the administration building at Southern Research was given Martin’s name.
During his 20-year tenure as board chairman, Southern Research grew from its based in the Morris-Cartwright home on Birmingham’s Southside to a prominent research organization with $5 million invested in laboratories and more than 450 scientists and support personnel. He remained chairman until his death in 1964.
Murray, who had taught at Harvard and worked at General Electric, arrived at Southern Research in August 1945 to head analytical work for the fledgling organization. When Dr. Wilbur Lazier departed as director in 1948, Murray was serving as the chief of the newly created Analytical and Physical Division.
He was named acting director, and a few months later, the position was made permanent. He stayed in the top leadership role for 26 years, until retiring in 1974. Southern Research’s Board of Trustees called him the “builder” of the organization.
During his tenure, the staff grew from 154 employees to 545, and the number of buildings housing Southern Research’s operations expanded from four to 15. Research volume also surged — from $407,000 in his first year to $9.2 million at his retirement.
He is credited with expanding the organization’s programs in cancer research, air pollution control, bioengineering and biomaterials, new industrial products, and materials testing under extreme conditions.
By 1974, Skipper had built an international reputation as a cancer researcher. But when Dr. William Murray, the longtime president of Southern Research, decided to retire, the board decided the versatile Skipper was a solid choice to replace him.
Skipper, who was fully committed to his research work, had reservations but agreed to take on the role as part of a leadership tandem. Rollin Osgood, the business manager, was named executive vice president and assumed most of the administrative duties normally handled by the president. Skipper was able to continue his groundbreaking research.
The partnership worked well. During their tenure, the organization’s research volume grew from $9 million in 1974 to $18 million in 1980. In addition, the Cancer Cause and Prevention Laboratory and Environmental Services Building opened.
The pair retired in 1981, though Skipper remained involved in research.
When the leadership pair of Dr. Howard Skipper and Rollin Osgood decided to retire in 1981, the board turned to the head of the Engineering Department, Sabert Oglesby. He presided over a period of strong revenue growth for Southern Research.
Oglesby’s long career at the organization won him significant support within the organization. So did his results — research volume climbed from $18 million in 1980 to $32 million in 1986.
Oglesby stepped down in June 1987, after 39 years with Southern Research.
Rouse, the former dean of the engineering school at the University of Texas at Arlington, took the leadership reins at Southern Research in June 1987, replacing Stewart Oglesby, who retired.
Rouse, who brought broad experience to the CEO role, steered Southern Research in a number of new direction. In 1991, the organization opened a laboratory in Frederick, Maryland, to establish a presence closer to many sponsors in the region. Around the same time, a new for-profit venture, Southern Research Technologies, was launched to commercialize some of the organization’s technological developments.
Under Rouse, Southern Research also continued updating its labs and other facilities. An important development was the Engineering Department’s move to a new center in an emerging research park off Oxmoor Road in Birmingham.
Lonergan, a former Owens Corning executive, joined Southern Research in February 2001, and moved to expand the nonprofit research organization’s revenue streams.
A major development during Lonergan’s tenure was the 2005 spinoff of Southern Research’s 30-year-old drug delivery group into the for-profit Brookwood Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Brookwood was later acquired in a deal worth more than $50 million.
When he was named president and CEO of the organization on Sept. 13, 2006, Secrist had been at Southern Research for 27 years, serving in many senior roles and leading the Drug Discovery division since 1990.
He established the high-throughput screening laboratory at Southern Research’s Frederick, Maryland, facility, and then moved it to Birmingham to leverage synergies between the Birmingham staff and UAB faculty.
Secrist’s research focused mainly on the development of new anticancer, antiviral and antibacterial agents. In 2006, Secrist was awarded the John A. Montgomery Award — named for the Southern Research scientist — presented at the International Roundtable on Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids Conference in Bern, Switzerland.
Tipton became president and CEO of Southern Research on July 1, 2013, after a 25-year career in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries for 25 years. The company he founded in 2005 as an Southern Research spin-out company – Brookwood Pharmaceuticals – was acquired by SurModics in August 2007, then by Evonik in November 2011. At Evonik, Tipton served as senior vice president of the Birmingham division and also led the company’s global drug delivery program.
From 1993 to 2004, Tipton held senior roles at Durect Corp., including that of senior vice president of biodegradable systems and chief operating officer. He was with Atrix Laboratories from 1988 until 1993, as manager of polymer science and senior polymer chemist.
Tipton has 40 issued U.S. patents, 29 published U.S. patent applications, and numerous foreign equivalents, with more than 70 presentations and publications. In 2013, he was inducted as a fellow into the National Academy of Inventors.