Walter Lincoln Hawkins was an African-American chemist and engineer who was a pioneer of polymer chemistry. Hawkins graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Rensselar Polytechnic Institute before going on to Howard University for a master’s degree in chemistry. He continued his education at McGill University in Canada where he earned a doctoral degree in chemistry. After obtaining a PhD, he worked at Columbia University through a fellowship from the National Research Council. He then became the first African-American to join the technical staff of Bell Laboratories. While working at Bell Laboratories, Hawkins contributed to the development of a rubber substitute. He also worked on a new type of insulation for telephone cables, which was made of a lighter material that could hold up against temperature fluctuations, last up to 70 years, and was less expensive than led. Subsequently, telephones were installed in rural areas leading thousands of people to receive affordable telephone service.
He later became the assistant director of Bell Laboratories chemical research lab. Hawkins work focused on developing new products and new methods of recycling for various polymers. His work with plastics led to developments to help plastics last longer but also become recyclable. After his retirement from Bell Laboratories, Hawkins began teaching and becoming an advocate for college students to study science and engineering. In 1992, Hawkins passed away due to heart failure, but earlier that year he received the National Medal of Technology from President George H.W. Bush at the White House. Featured Image: https://www.invent.org/inductees/w-lincoln-hawkinshttps://www.invent.org/inductees/w-lincoln-hawkins