John N. McGovern (1907-1995)
1996 Paper Industry International Hall of Fame Inductee
United States Department of Agriculture
Forest Products Laboratory
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
John N. McGovern was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1907. He attended public school and graduated from Milwaukee West High School. Following his graduation from the University of Wisconsin in 1929, with a bachelor of science degree, Dr. McGovern went to work as a research scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin. In 1930, he earned a master of science degree, and in 1936, he earned his doctor of philosophy degree, both from the University of Wisconsin.
In 1954, Dr. McGovern went to work for Parsons and Whittemore as chief process engineer and vice president. From 1969 until 1975, he was professor of forestry at the University of Wisconsin.
In a career that spanned government, industry, and academics, Dr. McGovern was best known for developing new pulping techniques. He especially contributed to the improvement of semichemical pulping and pioneered in chemimechanical pulping. Dr. McGovern’s research on pulping of nonwood fibers expanded the raw material supply for manufacturers.
Dr. McGovern laid the foundation for the commercialization of numerous sources of fiber through his research, investigation, and personal exchange of ideas. As a college professor, his accomplishments and exceptional standards of professionalism inspired and benefited his students. He also promoted greater cooperation between the University of Wisconsin — Forestry Department, the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory and the pulp and paper industries throughout Wisconsin.
While at the Forest Products Laboratory, Dr. McGovern was instrumental in developing the cold soda pulping process, which can convert 90 percent of raw wood to usable pulp. At the end of World War II, he served as scientific consultant to the International Corporation Administration, where he investigated the rebuilding of a viable pulp and paper industry in Europe. While with Parsons and Whittemore, he directed the process engineering work for more than forty pulp and paper projects around the world, and contributed significantly to improved methods and equipment arrangements for handling wood and other nonfibrous raw materials, such as straw, bagasse (what is left of sugarcane after the sugar is removed), and bamboo.
His legacy of more than 150 papers provided leading-edge scientific insights at the given time of need. He was also a contributor to college textbooks, reference books, encyclopedias, and TAPPI monographs.
Dr. McGovern’s membership in professional organizations included the Forest History Association of Wisconsin, Center of History in Chemistry; Academy of Sciences, Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters; and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York. In 1968, he became a Fellow, Technical Association for the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), and in 1986, he received the Distinguished Service Award.
Dr. McGovern was personally interested in biblical archaeology and ancient writing materials, and he contributed to two major exhibits that were organized by the University of Wisconsin Department of Hebrew and Scientific studies. He also enjoyed collecting 20th Century art.
Dr. McGovern died in March 1995 and is survived by two daughters and a son, Dr. Diane Billings, Dr. Jill McGovern, and John, a certified public accountant.