The plastics industry lost another legend on April 21, with the passing of Robert D. Swain, founder of Chroma Corp. and honorary member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. Swain died peacefully at his home in East China, MI, surrounded by family and friends.
Swain entered the plastics industry in 1951, when he was hired by Gordon Brown, Vice President of the Bakelite division of Union Carbide Plastics. From 1952 to 1954, Swain served at the Army Chemical Center and was discharged as a sergeant. Returning to Union Carbide, he worked for Dr. Quales on the Vinyl Fellowship at Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, PA, and had several assignments as the technical representative in Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; and Cincinnati, OH. In 1959, Swain joined Enjay Chemical Co., as Exxon made its entry into the polyolefins world. Innovation was his hallmark as he developed specialty polypropylene compounds for Aladdin (Thermos), Ford (steering wheel) and Maytag (agitators). In 1967, he founded Chroma Corp. in McHenry, IL, to custom compound colorants for thermoplastic compounds. From a 1,400-square-foot startup facility, he grew the manufacturing operation to more than 200,000 square feet.
In 1984, a fire totally destroyed a new 25,000-square-foot plant. Yet Swain shipped product four days later from a competitor’s plant, where he was invited to work while locating temporary facilities as the plant was rebuilt.
In 1978, Swain was invited to join the prestigious Plastics Pioneers Association and later served as its Managing Director. In 2009, Swain was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame. He was only the second person from the color compounding industry to be admitted to the Hall of Fame.
Swain moved from Illinois to Michigan in 2005. Following the sale of Chroma Corp., he became a self-published author of children’s books with the release of Grandma’s Robin and Grandma’s Ragdoll. In St. Clair, MI, he took an active part in the community, joining the local barbershop choral group and Rotary Club and becoming an active sponsor of K.I.D.S (Kids in Distress), S.C.T.G. (St. Clair Theatre Guild) and several community improvement projects.
Swain’s hobbies included golf, sailing and playing his ukulele. With John Kretzschmar, Ellis Bignelland and Jim Stoddart, he participated in four consecutive Irish Open Fold Golf Tournaments in Palm Springs, CA.
Swain is preceded in death by his wife Judy Acheson Swain; his first wife and mother of his children, JoAnn Idell Swain; and brother Charles A. Swain, III. He will be deeply missed by his loving children, Susan S. Faurot (Alexander), Stuart D. Swain (Toni) and Megan S. Bogle, and cherished grandchildren, Alexander Faurot, Katherine Bogle, William Faurot, Patrick Bogle, Harry Bogle, Skyla Swain and Keelen Swain.
A remembrance gathering will begin at 11 AM with a memorial service at noon on Saturday, May 25, at the Randall Funeral Home, 1200 Michigan Ave., Marysville, MI. A reception will immediately follow at the Voyageur Restaurant, 525 S. Riverside Ave., St. Clair, MI, until 4 PM. In lieu of flowers, the family would like donations to the Blue Water Hospice be considered.