Clifford W. Seibel, Ph.D.
CLIFFORD W. SEIBEL, Ph.D. – (10 NOV 1890 – 4 JAN 1984)
C.W. Seibel was known throughout his working career as “Mr. Helium.” Not bad for a guy who once told a meeting of chemical engineers that, interesting as his study in helium had been, he saw no practical purpose for the colorless gas.
Seibel directed the nation’s helium program from 1930 until he retired from the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1959. His research into helium led to a multi-million-dollar industry that played a key role in the development of the atomic bomb and later the space program.
In 1917, when the nation’s military needed helium to carry aloft dirigibles over the European battlefields of World War I, Seibel set out to rapidly develop the nation’s helium supply. At one time, he owned the entire supply of helium when it was valued at $2,500 a cubic foot, enough to fill a soda pop bottle, which he showed off as an oddity.
In 1918 at a Fort Worth laboratory, Seibel determined that the richest helium supplies were within a 250-mile radius of Amarillo, and later in Amarillo, where the helium operations moved in 1928. Today, a monument at the Don Harrington Discovery Center designates Amarillo as the “Helium Capital of the World.” In 1937, Texas Technological College conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Science on Clifford W. Seibel in recognition of his vast research on helium. Dr. Seibel realized that helium, as a component of fuel gas was being rapidly depleted, so he advocated for the conservation and storage for helium for the future.
After Dr. Seibel retired from the helium operations in 1959, the start of the space race placed new emphasis on helium. Helium plays a prominent role in the Government’s space, defense, and energy programs, such as pressurization of liquid propellants used by the space shuttle, weapons development, and nuclear fusion reactor experiments.
Seibel, who was active in First Presbyterian Church, Rotary Club and Boy Scouts, was married to Thelma Seibel. They had a son and a daughter. Seibel died in Amarillo Jan. 4, 1984 at age 93.
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Biography was obtained by Prominent Figures of the Panhandle, Amarillo Globe News, May 19, 2000. Updated by Nora Stidham, Amarillo Genealogical Society, August, 2020.