Born December 3, 1922, Ralph Alexander Gardner became one of the leading pioneers in the field of hard plastics. The chemist was born in Cleveland and attended John Adams High School, were he learned to love chemistry. In 1939, he began college at the Case School of Applied Science, which later became part of Case Western Reserve University. Gardner would attend a few different higher institutions until settling down at the University of Illinois, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1943.
The Manhattan Project
One of his first jobs was working on the historic Manhattan Project that eventually ended World War II. Gardner was one of a few Black scientists working on the project in the 1940s. During his time as a researcher at the University of Chicago Argonne National Laboratory, Gardner was doing valuable work on plutonium, which became essential to the making of the atomic bombs in the project. Along with him, Black scientists had specific roles in the project, including Lloyd Albert Quarterman, Edward A. Russell, Moddie Taylor, Harold Delaney, Benjamin Scott, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jaspar Jefferies, George Dewitt Turner, Cecil Goldsburg White, Sydney Oliver Thompson, William Jacob Knox, Robert Johnson Omohundro and George Warren Reid Jr. From 1939 to the 1950s, the project employed 120,000 people and, for better or worse, led the world into the atomic age.