“Harry Coover ’41, P’66 has led a life of consequence that serves as a shining example for our entire Hobart and William Smith Community,” said HWS President Mark D. Gearan of this year’s recipient of the Hobart Alumni Association‘s highest honor, the Medal of Excellence.
At a January ceremony at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., Jared Weeden ’91, director of Alumni Relations, conferred upon Coover the Medal of Excellence, which is awarded to an alumnus who, by reason of outstanding accomplishments in his particular business, profession or community service, has brought honor and distinction to his alma mater.
In the speech lauding Coover for his many accomplishments, including the invention of Super Glue, Weeden said Coover has been described as an innovator, inventor, a saver of lives, and a life changer. “On behalf of the Alumni Association of Hobart College, I give you this Medal of Excellence in recognition of your extraordinary achievements and contributions. You are our champion and our hero.”
“What I want to convey today,” Coover said in his acceptance speech, “is the utter awe I have at the way life comes full circle. By that I mean, the very college community that excited me, pulled me in and gave me a wonderful foundation on which I built the rest of my career, now honors me as a distinguished alumnus by awarding me the Medal of Excellence. It is fitting that today in front of Hobart alumni, old friends and cherished family that I profoundly thank you for your kind recognition. My heart goes most of all to those who helped me along the way and to Hobart College who took this young farm boy from Newark, Delaware, and made him an educated man ready to take on the world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Coover’s invention was nothing short of extraordinary. Synthetic glues, dating as far back as 1750, were made of rubber, animal bones, starch, or milk protein. But through steady persistence, Coover discovered a unique adhesive while supervising a group of Kodak chemists investigating heat resistant polymers for jet-plane canopies. Super Glue, made from cyanoacrylate monomers, required neither heat nor pressure to bond, and the super-product hit the market in 1958. That same year, Coover appeared on TV’s “I’ve Got a Secret,” where he hoisted host Garry Moore off the floor with a single drop.
Coover was the first to recognize and patent cyanoacrylates as human tissue adhesives, used in many sutureless surgeries such as the rejoining of veins, arteries, and intestines, ophthalmic surgeries, dental surgeries, uncontrollable bleeding, and the repair of soft organs. Coover’s adhesive was first used for medical purposes during the Vietnam War to temporarily patch the internal organs of badly injured soldiers until conventional surgery could be performed. Since the 1970s, tissue adhesives have been used for a variety of surgical applications including middle ear surgery, bone and cartilage grafts, repair of cerebrospinal fluid leaks, and skin closure.
Alumni Association President Dr. Robert Gilman, a plastic surgeon who uses cyanoacrylate in nearly every operation, commended Coover for his ingenuity. “Dr. Coover is an illustrious alumnus who has contributed to the standard of adhesives worldwide,” he says. “He certainly has led a life of consequence, and is well-deserving of this distinction.”
Coover is the recipient of the Southern Chemist Man of the Year Award for his outstanding accomplishment in individual innovation and creativity. He also holds the Earle B. Barnes Award for Leadership in Chemical Research Management and the Maurice Holland Award. Coover is a medalist for the Industrial Research Institute, receiving their achievement award in 1999. He has been featured on television and in numerous journals. In 2004, Coover was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, where he joins the ranks of such inventors as Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Coover received his B.S. in science in 1941 before earning his M.S. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. He worked for Eastman Kodak for 40 years, during which time he wrote 460 patents and 60 papers. He currently resides in Kingsport, Tenn., and has three children, H. Wesley III ’66, Stephen, and Melinda Coover Paul.