Eugene McDermott, scientist, industrialist, and philanthropist, was born on February 12, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, to Owen and Emma (Cahill) McDermott. After receiving a master's degree from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919, he worked at the Goodyear Rubber Company as an engineer (1919–21) and at the Western Electric Company (1921–23). After completing an M.A. degree at Columbia in 1925, McDermott joined Everette Lee DeGolyer's Geophysical Research Corporation in Houston as a field supervisor. He was soon placed in charge of GRC's instrument laboratory in Bloomfield, New Jersey. In 1930 DeGolyer secretly financed McDermott and John C. Karcher in their organization of Geophysical Service, Incorporated, to exploit Karcher's development of the reflection seismograph. By means of underground explosions, this instrument determined formations of the earth's layers. The company contracted to conduct geophysical exploration for the oil industry and soon became one of the world's foremost geophysical service firms. McDermott moved to Dallas to serve as vice president of GSI (1930–39); he became president in 1939 and chairman of the board in 1949. In 1951 he formed Texas Instruments, and GSI became a wholly owned subsidiary of the new electronics firm. McDermott continued as TI board chairman until 1958, then chaired the executive committee until 1964 and remained a company director until his death.
During World War I he served in the United States Navy, and from 1941 to 1946 he was a civilian consultant to the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He contributed to various technical journals. His inventions, numbering around ten, ranged from geochemical applications to antisubmarine warfare. Nevertheless, he was concerned with what he saw as a tendency of science to neglect individual and economic growth. His service on a national committee to alert American businessmen to their stake in perceived population problems in the nation and the world reflected this concern, as did his commitment to education. Believing that education should be consistently excellent from the start, that "learning begins when a child starts looking at the world," McDermott and his wife, Margaret (Milam), whom he married on December 1, 1954, worked diligently to promote quality education with the goal of "maximizing everyone's capacities for thinking and doing." They gave stock valued at $1.25 million toward building the Stevens Institute of Technology Center in 1954 and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for scholarships in 1960. Other schools receiving McDermott's financial support included the Lamplighter School, the Dallas junior college system (see DALLAS COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT), Southern Methodist University, the University of Dallas, Hockaday School, and the University of Texas System. McDermott also helped found St. Mark's School of Texas and establish the University of Texas at Dallas. He was a member of the MIT Corporation from 1960 to 1973, a trustee of the board of governors of SMU, trustee and chairman of the executive committee of the Excellence in Education Foundation, a trustee of St. Mark's and the Area Educational TV Foundation, and a member of the Coordinating Board of Texas Colleges and Universities (now the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board) from 1965 to 1971. He also was chairman of a visiting committee in the Harvard University psychology department and a member of a similar committee at MIT. In 1949 McDermott collaborated with William Sheldon on four books, including Varieties of Delinquent Youth. He was also involved in scientific medical projects at various universities, including Columbia, the University of California, and Southwestern Medical School (now the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas), where he supported a visiting professorship in anesthesiology and a research laboratory and in 1973 established the Eugene McDermott Center for the Study of Human Growth and Development. He was a trustee of Stevens Institute, the Presbyterian Hospital-Children's Medical Center, the SMU Foundation for Science and Engineering, the Eugene McDermott Foundation, the Biological Humanics Foundation (which he founded in 1954), the Texas Research Foundation, and the Southwestern Medical Foundation. The McDermotts contributed $200,000 towards establishing the Margo Jones Memorial Theater at SMU in 1965 and served as directors of the SMU Fine Arts Association. McDermott served as director of the Dallas Theater Center. The McDermotts established a trust fund for the Dallas Art Association, and their financing renovated the Gillespie County Courthouse in Fredericksburg.
McDermott was a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, of which he was president (1933–34), the Seismological Society of America, the American Physicians Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Mathematical Society, the American Geographical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition to honorary degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology (1960), the University of Dallas (1973), and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1972), he received papal honors for his outstanding work for Christianity (1966), an award from the Texas State Historical Survey Committee for the courthouse renovation (with his wife, 1967), the Bene Merenti medal (1966), the Santa Rita Gold Medal from the University of Texas for his work in higher education (1972), and the Linz Award for service to Dallas (1972). McDermott was the father of one daughter. He died at his home in Dallas on August 23, 1973, after an illness of several months.