Who Was Arthur D. Little?

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Arthur Little was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 15, 1863. Not much is known about his early childhood, but he attended MIT from 1881 to 1884, where he studied chemistry. This was particularly groundbreaking, because he did so in the days before chemical engineering was a driving force; at this stage, it was still in a tendency.

He was also editor of the student newspaper there. This prepared him for later work as an advocate for the American chemical industry, industrial research and chemical engineering education. When he left MIT, he first went to work at the Richmond Paper Company in Rumsford, Rhode Island. He worked there as a chemist until he made superintendent. While there, he became expert at making paper with what was then the new sulfite process. (In addition, another little known fact is that Mr. Little discovered acetate.)

In those days, financing for this new technology was hard to get because American financiers were not sure of its worth. This left the field open for Europeans, who began to come into the United States and open up their own plants. Springing into action, Little wrote and spoke extensively, mounting a campaign meant to get educational, political and financial leaders focused on the emerging American chemical industry and make it an active part of the American landscape.



In 1886, he partnered with Roger B. Griffin, who was a coworker of his at Rumsford. They began their own company in Cambridge, Massachusetts and specialized in consultation and chemical analysis. Their mission was to provide technical product improvement services and analytical chemistry to private industry. Novel at the time, this systematic R&D and his method of dispensing advice became a system by which industry now introduces new developments. This was the origin of Arthur D. Little, Inc. He also co-authored the text, The Chemistry of Paper-Making, with Griffin; for many years this was considered the expert source on papermaking.

His firm continued to grow into one of the world's most prevalent and visible research and independent consulting organizations; it remains today. For example, the company has played major roles in developing the word processor, the first synthetic penicillin, and NASDAQ. It has also been a major purveyor of operations research.

Another of Little's accomplishments was to found Technology Review, which is MIT's magazine for alumni. He was also president of MIT's alumni association from 1921 to 1922. He became a member of the MIT Corporation from 1912 to 1917 and 1918 to 1923. As of 1923, he became a life member. He was also a member of MIT's Corporation Visiting Committees for Chemistry and Chemical engineering. He strongly advocated training in advanced chemistry, and was also an advocate of its application in many industrial areas. He became a driving force behind the creation of the Eastman Laboratories, the Chemical Engineering Practice School and the Research Laboratory of Applied Chemistry.

Little also lent his name and membership to many honorary and professional engineering and scientific organizations. He was President of the American Chemical Society from 1912 to 1914, President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers in 1919, and served as president of the Society of Chemical Industry in London from 1922 to 1929. He was also the Vice Chairman of the Engineering Foundation for 1927 to 1930.

In 1931, he was honored as an American chemist who "most distinguished himself by his services to applied chemistry" with his receipt of the Perkin Medal. He died on August 1, 1935.

The company itself survives today in a somewhat limited fashion. Even though its initial focus was on research and development and industrial technology, it expanded into management consulting by the 1950s with such name brand clients as Johnson & Johnson and General Electric.

By 2001, it had over 2000 employees worldwide. However, it failed to spin off a telecom-consulting arm; this saddled the company with significant hardship. It declared bankruptcy in 2002 and its name was sold to a management company. It still survives today, in limited fashion. Nonetheless, Arthur D. Little's accomplishments as its founder and as a groundbreaking chemist and entrepreneur in his own right remain unsurpassed.
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