After working on the Manhattan Project, Gardner was unable to get a job in the field of chemistry. He looked for work elsewhere and mainly picked up work as a waiter from 1947 to 1949. His next job was as a research chemist for the Standard Oil Company. Most of his contributions to hard plastics came by way of his 20-year employment with the company.
Known throughout most of his life as Ralph Alexander Gardner, he added the “Chavis” surname late in his career in recognition of his relation to John Chavis, who was the first African-American to graduate from Princeton, according to the African-American Registry. Chavis was a soldier in the American Revolution, a teacher who taught both Black and white kids in Virginia during the early 1800s and an abolitionist. It is not clear how Chavis and Gardner are related, but Chavis is allegedly a very distant relative.