Dennis Weatherby (1959-2007): inventor who put the sparkle in dishwashing
In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history
Dennis W. Weatherby was an administrator and scientist, responsible for leading the team that developed the chemical formula for what is now known as Cascade Dishwashing Detergent.
Weatherby was born in Brighton, Alabama, on December 4, 1959, to Willie and Flossie Mae Weatherby. He became intrigued with science as a child while studying identically shaped Pringles potato chips. Weatherby attended Midfield High School in Birmingham, where he earned a football scholarship to Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He graduated with a BA in chemistry in 1982, and then attended the University of Dayton, Ohio, graduating with an MA in chemical engineering in 1984. He later earned his PhD in Educational Psychology from Auburn University in Alabama.
Shortly after graduation in 1982, Weatherby took a job with the Procter & Gamble company, located in Cincinnati. He was hired as a process engineer, and within his first few years, he was asked to lead a team to create a new version of dishwashing detergent, a consumer product that P&G had marketed since 1955. The existing product contained a pigment that stained both dishes and dishwashers. Weatherby and his team were asked to create a new cleaning detergent that eliminated those problems.
At the age of 27, Weatherby made a major breakthrough, and along with co-developer Brian J. Roselle, he and his team developed a solution that did not stain dishes. On December 22, 1987, Weatherby received US Patent No 4,714,562 for “automatic dishwasher detergent composition”. That solution still serves as the basic formula behind all lemon-scented cleaning products that contain bleach. P&G continued to call the product Cascade Dishwashing Detergent, and it would become the company’s most popular detergent brand sold since then.
Weatherby left P&G, and worked briefly for The Whittaker Corporation, before joining the faculty at his alma mater, Central State University, in 1989. By 1994, he became the assistant professor of water quality for the CSU International Centre for Water Resources Management. During his tenure, Weatherby served as an adviser, recruiter and counsellor for students in the environmental programme, and was responsible for more than 400 per cent growth in student enrolment at the university.
In 1996, Weatherby left CSU to join the faculty of Auburn University, to establish and lead the school’s new minority engineering programme. He moved to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in 2004, serving as the associate dean of the graduate school. Weatherby left Notre Dame in 2006, when he accepted the position of Associate Provost for student success at Northern Kentucky University.
Weatherby suffered from high blood pressure throughout his life, and fell ill in August 2007. While recovering at home, he hit his foot on a bedpost, and developed a blood clot that travelled to his brain. He died on September 15, 2007 at the age of 47 in Alexandria, Kentucky. He is survived by his wife, Marpessa, daughters Audrey, Rachel, Elaine and Antoneah, and sons Ryan and Stephen. In his honour, to commemorate 25 years of the Engineering Academic Excellence Programme, The Weatherby Society at Auburn University was established to recognise those who have made donations and gifts in excess of $25,000.
Amy Ehrnreiter, “Mentor, administrator dies,” Thenortherner.com, September 19, 2007, http://www.thenortherner.com/news/2007/09/20/update-mentor-administrator-dies/; Claudio E. Cabrerra and Julia Jacobs,”Seven Black Inventors whose patents helped shape American life,” Nytimes.com, February 24, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/24/us/black-inventors.html
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