Fred I. Nobel, a chemical engineer who held dozens of patents and worked to make electroplating processes more environmentally safe, died Aug. 3 at his Roslyn home of natural causes. He was 98.
Nobel was born Dec. 29, 1917, in Patterson, New Jersey. He grew up in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn during the Depression.
He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from The City College of New York and a master’s in chemical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now NYU Tandon School of Engineering) in 1947.
He married his wife, Gilda Nobel in 1943. The two met in 1942 at a Bronx party, where her piano playing won him over.
“That’s what clinched it,” Gilda Nobel, 96, said with a laugh.
Barry Nobel, 71, of Oyster Bay, remembered his father as gentle and soft-spoken, with a sense of humor. As a teenager, Barry Nobel would often tease his younger twin sisters, eventually resulting in one of them calling on their father to, “Spank him!”
Fred Nobel “would grab me by the hand, take me into the next room and close the door,” Barry Nobel said in an email. “Then he would slap his hands together and I would yell, ‘Ouch!’” to placate the girls.
Fred and Gilda Nobel married during World War II, when he worked as a civilian airplane inspector, flying with pilots as he monitored the machines’ safety at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. in Farmingdale. At the time he was making $40 a week, and the rent at their two-room Ocean Parkway apartment was $45, Gilda Nobel said.
When he took another job with a company that plated gold watches, his pay went up to $60 a week, “and I thought I was living on easy street,” Gilda Nobel said.
By then it was the early 1950s and the Korean War was underway. His work for the gold-plating company gave him an idea for plating processes, and very quickly, he “fell into this industry,” Gilda Nobel said.
Nobel partnered with Barney Ostrow, a boyhood friend who was also a plater and chemist.
The two men started working out of a garage, developing an additive that gave copper plating a bright, shiny finish. The timing was good — the Korean War had led to a major restriction in the use of nickel, creating hardships for any industry involved in producing a bright, chromium finish.
“Before they knew it, they had an order from General Motors for 45,000 gallons of their invention,” Gilda Nobel said.
They set up a lab in downtown Manhattan, the beginning of what later would become LeaRonal Inc., a Freeport-based company with a 30,000-square-foot plant in the Freeport-Hempstead Industrial Park and a spot on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company developed, produced, sold and distributed specialty chemical additives for metal plating, and other products used in various industries, including the automobile, circuit board and semiconductor industries. In 1999, the company sold for more than $460 million to Philadelphia-based Rohm and Haas.
Other survivors include daughter Laurie Everitt, of Huntington; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Nobel was predeceased by his daughter Judy Jakups in 2011.
A memorial service for Nobel will be held at 2 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, 48 Shelter Rock Rd., Manhasset.