his Life

An Overview with the complete timeline of his life

Click to see the full span of his life created for his 100th birthday - then wait for it to download and open.

The Beginning

Walter was born in Wilkinsburg, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh where his father worked as a mechanical engineer for Westinghouse. His earliest memory was of being held on his father's shoulders on Armistice Day and the joy and celebration in the streets as WWI ended. He was born as Frederick Walter Steuber, Jr.  He disliked being a junior and the name Frederick and just dropped them; everyone reading this would know him only as Walter.

His family moved a lot in the early years due to his father's work - several places in Delaware County; Leroy, NY where all his grandparents lived; Tampa, FL when his father went down in the 1920's with a crew to build houses just before the land boom crashed; and Ridley Park, PA. Later, he determined that he did not ever want to move again - he lived for over 68 years in the house Eileen found in 1951 as a foreclosure. He turned down job moves in order to keep doing science and to stay in one place.

He came of age during the Depression; he was fortunate enough to get a "real, good" job out of high school at Sun Oil because his mother taught bridge to one of the executives there. That began his life as a chemist and inspired him to further his education at college.

Swarthmore College

3 years after graduating from high school, Walter went off to Swarthmore. He remembers only having one short conversation with someone in admissions prior to being admitted.
His college days were some of the happiest in his life; they began an 80+ year relationship with Swarthmore College and his classmates. Just a week before his death, he had an extended conversation with one of his few remaining classmates! He was the longest lived of his 14 fraternity brothers in the Class of 1941.
He worked full-time throughout college with the exception of his final semester.

The War Years

Walter continued his job as a chemist during the war in the Houdry division. His team worked on improving the octane level in airplane fuel enabling the Allied planes to fly further and come all the way back after bombing runs. He also helped teach the processes to teams in Allied countries so they could create the better fuel themselves. The team received a letter from the King of England thanking them for their work.

From the plaque at the Marcus Hook landmark designation:
"The first full-scale commercial catalytic cracker for the selective conversion of crude petroleum to gasoline went on stream at the Marcus Hook Refinery. Pioneered by Eugene Jules Houdry (1892-1962), the catalytic cracking of petroleum revolutionized the industry. The Houdry process conserved natural oil by doubling the amount of gasoline produced by other processes. It also greatly improved the gasoline octane rating, making possible today’s efficient, high-compression automobile engines. During World War II, the high-octane fuel shipped from Houdry plants played a critical role in the Allied victory. "

Walter's initial patent (#2,441,170) was filed when he worked at Houdry; he was the secondary person and even at the end of his life still remembered F.W. Rose. 

Meeting Eileen and starting his family

Walter met Eileen on a blind date arranged by his co-worker and future brother-in-law, Richard Patton. They both remember that it was a humid night and Eileen's curly red hair was wild that night after the walk to their bridge date.  Eileen remembered it with embarassment; Walter thought it was great! They were engaged within 3 weeks and married on New Year's Eve just 3 months later. Three children were added to the family: Pat in 1945 as the war ended, Lee in 1950 at the end of his Ph.D studies, and David in 1952 after they moved into their long-term house. They celebrated their 71st anniversary a few months before Eileen's death.

The DuPont years

After getting his Ph.D in nuclear physics, Walter chose to go into research at DuPont's textile labs rather than take an academic job at Vassar (the salary was twice as high!). His key contributions to the products invented by DuPont include:
- Tyvek where he patented the process used to make it in an economically viable way
- Lycra Spandex where he contributed to the spinning process used on the fiber
- spun Teflon fiber and the process for making it

He spent 24 years at the labs in DuPont "doing science" rather than moving onto other jobs at different DuPont locations. One of those years was an unpaid sabbatical at the University of Pennsylvania where he learned about using computers for tracking bloodwork in pathology labs. He wanted to learn something new and potentially useful to DuPont and boost his creativity.
He is pictured here with his good friend, Herb Blades - they ate lunch and walked during their 20 years together at DuPont, lunched weekly for many years and, finally, had regular calls on Skype until a few weeks before his death.

Life at home

Eileen and Walter created a home that was a hub of activity and visitors. Walter's lifelong curiousity and interest in diverse subjects sometimes confused people; he would be intensely immersed in learning something then move on to a new topic after he had learned what he wanted to know. Some of his ideas were great - others not so successful. Over the years these passions included:
- sculpture - several pieces still decorate the house
- photography - a life long interest with many memories captured
- a tree-mover to move larger trees to bare properties (never worked well but he and John Murdoch had a great time working on it.)
- greenhouse across the front of the house
- off road motorcycling -through the woods and creeks and trees
- making DDT in the basement and backyard - this paid for his Ph.D
- building a private swimming pool himself - definitely a success, provided countless hours of fun for a great number of people
- Computers - building them, learning them, using Photoshop, controlling outside devices, etc.
- making kites and testing them out

Eileen created an environment in which her family thrived, free to explore their interests, have friends around, and feel secure in a very stable environment. Walter and Eileen were married just over 70 years and lived until their deaths in the home they loved.

They had a large circle of friends and family with relationships that spanned decades. Children of their friends also formed fond memories and relationships with both Walter and Eileen. Walter greatly enjoyed talking with people in the kitchen - his curiousity continued to the end of his life.

The final years

Walter and Eileen both wanted to live out their lives in the home they loved - thanks to their son, David, they did. Walter applied his inventiveness and nonstandard way of approaching problems to the challenges of his 90's and 100's. When he needed to start using a cane, he attached a small LED flashlight to it so he could always see at night when he got up. His walker was tricked out with a flashlight, basket for carrying stuff, a container for Milky Ways, and better skids on the legs.
As he aged and lost his eyesight, hallucinations started appearing occasionally. The scientist would reach out to touch them; he could describe in detail what he was seeing; when asked about them, he would look carefully and answer questions until they faded away.
His curiosity  continued to the end - he took "field trips" every few weeks with Lee to see things that interested him:
- a marina in Essington so he could see boats getting launched and pulled from the water
- a regular tour of half a dozen sites under construction to watch their progress
- visiting each of the several houses his family lived in and the three he lived in with Eileen before moving to 1440.
- a trip to the Franklin Institute to see what they had
- regular trips to Microcenter to see what might interest him despite his inability to work with his beloved computers

At the end, Walter still enjoyed visits from family and querying them about their lives. Though he declined physically, he suffered no painful conditions - other than the inability to keep learning things!