In Memoriam: Harry C. Wechsler

Harry C. Wechsler. Photo source: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

It is with regret that we share news of the passing on June 29 of Harry C. Wechsler (’48), whose years at our school – then known as the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn – were a formative part of a life marked by learning, leadership, adventure, and activism.

Born in Romania, Wechsler earned his undergraduate degree in Manchester, England, and in 1940, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, he moved to Palestine, where he joined other young idealists in building the new state of Israel. While there, he earned a master’s degree in polymer chemistry at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem. He next traveled to the U.S. to earn his doctoral degree, and he was strongly drawn to Brooklyn and the school often fondly referred to as Poly.

The higher education he received at Poly launched Wechsler on a career in the plastics industry, then relatively new. He ultimately ascended to the presidencies of Borden Chemical and Beatrice, where he developed a chemical division with strong expertise in acrylic and polyurethane polymers, leather finishes, printing inks, compounded engineering plastics, and graphite composites for the aircraft and aerospace industries.“I looked at it mostly as a fountainhead of very thorough and scholarly research being done in several fields, chemistry being among them,” he once wrote of his alma mater. “Polytechnic was a school where you went for a solid education [and] it also represented an opportunity for first-generation students and for immigrant families to send their children on to higher education.”

Later, Wechsler purchased Beatrice’s Farboil Company, which produced several specialty compounds, and he ran the enterprise until 1999, when he decided to focus instead on his many philanthropic and political interests. In addition to founding the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, an international policy forum and think tank, and NGO Monitor, a watchdog organization, he raised money to endow the Herman F. Mark Chair in Polymer Science in honor of the professor who mentored and inspired him. He also became the founding donor of the Wechsler Award for Faculty Excellence and served as a trustee of Polytechnic University for many years.

Throughout his lifetime, Wechsler, who spoke seven languages, was widely recognized for his sense of humor, love of art, willingness to provide solid advice, and forward-thinking nature. During an era in which women were expected only to be homemakers, he encouraged his wife, Ruth, to earn a doctoral degree and establish a practice as a psychologist, and he was similarly supportive of his three daughters: Mia, Dana, and Sharon.

Our sincere sympathies go to Dr. Ruth Reiser Wechsler, to whom he was married for almost seven decades, as well as to each of his daughters and sons-in-law and his many beloved grandchildren. The Tandon School of Engineering is proud to count him among our accomplished and devoted alumni.