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Disposable-diaper developer, Carlyle Harmon, dies

Published: Thursday, March 27 1997 12:00 a.m. MST

Carlyle Harmon, a former head of fabrics research at Johnson and Johnson who developed the highly absorbent material in disposable diapers, died at home Tuesday following a lengthy illness. He was 92.

Mr. Harmon had 39 patents to his credit during his 23-year career with Johnson and Johnson, including nonwoven fiber fabrics now used in homes and hospitals for wipes, gowns, sheets and napkin covers. He also invented numerous feminine hygiene products."He was a brilliant man who was deeply interested in people," said Richard McDermott, Weber State University accounting and health-care professor and a close family friend. "He had a strong desire to help people and really did that in life through his scientific career."

Mr. Harmon's inspiration for the material used in disposable diapers came from his research on the amoeba, a single-cell organism with remarkable absorption abilities.

Mr. Harmon was born Jan. 17, 1905, to Frank and Sophia Harmon in the Idaho town of Sugar City. He attended grade school and high school in Santa Clara, Calif., and earned bachelor's and doctoral degrees in chemistry at Stanford University.

He first worked in Wausau, Wis., for the Marathon Paper Co. researching lignin sulphonate. Using lignin waste, he developed a tanning material and a disbursing agent for deep well drilling. He also played an important role in Marathon's development of vanilla extract from lignin.

Other inventions Mr. Harmon pioneered before leaving Marathon for Johnson and Johnson in 1947 included a lignin disbursing agent that improved the efficiency of storage batteries and a plastic board composed of paper fiber from lignin sheets that was used in foundries during the war years.

After retiring from Johnson and Johnson in 1970, Mr. Harmon worked for a year as a consultant for a packing company in Holland. In 1971, he moved to Provo where he began working in Brigham Young University's research department. Two years later, Mr. Harmon left BYU to found the Eyring Research Institute.

Eyring developed an interface computer for the Minuteman missile, flight simulators for jet fighters, coal gasification products and communications equipment.

By the time ERI was sold in 1985, it had spawned a score of high-tech spinoff firms like WordPerfect, Novell and Dynix.

Mr. Harmon married Delta Arbon in the Salt Lake LDS Temple in 1929. She died in September 1987. Mr. Harmon married Cleo Carley the following year in the Provo LDS Temple.

Mr. Harmon is survived by his wife, two children, three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, nine step-grandchildren and four step-great-grandchildren.

Funeral will be Friday at the Provo North Stake 3rd Ward in Provo at 11 a.m.

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