Department of Chemistry (University of Michigan) records, 1866-2013, 1934-1994
Using These Materials
- The record group Department of Chemistry is open for research.
- University of Michigan. Dept. of Chemistry.
- Department in the College of Literature Science & Arts of the University of Michigan, origins trace to 1844 when chemistry was first taught at the university; includes scattered early records ca. 1866-1930, faculty minutes, records of experiments, and files on sponsored lectures, colloquia and symposia.
7.0 linear feet
2 oversize volumes
- Call Number:
- 87128 BImu Bimu 2 C26 2
- Finding aid prepared by Ke Lu, 1995, Last updated April 2015
- Scope and Content:
The Department of Chemistry records include scattered early documents, records of experiments, 1885-1909, committee minutes, building files, personnel records, enrollment statistics, records of colloquia, lectures and symposia, and Center for Catalysis and Surface Science Files. The records of the Department of Chemistry measure 5.0 linear feet and date from 1866 to 1994. The bulk of the materials, however, are from 1934 to 1994.
- Biographical / Historical:
The University of Michigan was the second institution in the nation to offer chemistry classes. In 1839, Dr. Douglas Houghton was appointed to a combined professorship of chemistry, geology and mineralogy, although he did not actually teach chemistry. Instruction in chemistry at the university began in 1844 with the appointment of Silas H. Douglass as assistant to the professor of chemistry. For some years instruction was limited to lectures, but shortly after Henry P. Tappan became the university's first president in 1852 laboratory work was initiated. It consisted mainly of chemical analyses and their applications to toxicology and other subjects, chiefly medical. At that time most chemical experiments were conducted in the university's original Medical Building. In 1856 a chemical laboratory was constructed providing facilities for experiments and instruction in analytical chemistry. Because of the nature of the discipline, chemistry teaching for many years was associated with other departments or schools, notably, the College of Pharmacy, Medical School, College of Engineering and School of Dentistry. Thus, from the very beginning, chemistry at Michigan has been an integral part of the university's undergraduate, graduate and professional programs.
The organizational structure of the Department of Chemistry during the early years was different from what it is today. Since the chemistry laboratory served as the focal point of the teaching and research activities for several departments and schools, the director of the laboratory functioned as both the administrator of the chemical laboratory and the chairman of the department. This practice continued until 1927 when Moses Gomberg was appointed as the first chairman of the Department of Chemistry.
Since its founding, the Department of Chemistry has enjoyed a long and distinguished reputation as a leader in chemistry education and research. Although it is difficult to single out individuals for particularly important contributions to the department, any list would have to include Albert Prescott, Moses Gomberg, Werner Bachmann and Kasimir Fajans. Albert Prescott played a key role in building the chemistry department into a leading program in the nation at the turn of this century. Professor Prescott's name as author appeared on more than 200 research papers. His monograph The Chemical Examination of Alcoholic Liquors was considered the authoritative work for many decades. The renown of the department was further augmented by his election to the national presidency of both the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advanced Sciences.
Under the leadership of Professor Gomberg, the department continued to flourish in the 1920s and 1930s. Many significant scientific discoveries in chemical research, particularly in the field of organic chemistry, were made during that period. As one of the world's foremost scholars in the field of organic chemistry, Gomberg also served as president of the American Chemical Society (1931-32).
Professors Werner Emmanuel Bachmann and Kasimir Fajans were probably the two most significant figures in the chemistry department after Professor Gomberg's retirement in 1936. Bachmann (one of Gomberg's most brilliant Ph.D. students) achieved great fame for his development during World War II of the high explosive "RDX," which was fifty percent more powerful than TNT. His work on a large set of "free radicals," the chemical term for the fundamental parts of a compound, completely upset the theories of an eminent German scientist, which were widely accepted until Professor Bachmann's discovery. With the assistance of two young chemists at Michigan, he also synthesized the "sex hormone," "equilenin." That was the first time that process was accomplished in a laboratory. Widely recognized as one of the greatest chemists in the world, Bachmann also served as chairman of the division of organic chemistry of the American Chemical Society (1939).
Professor Fajans came to the university in 1936 after serving 17 years as a professor of chemistry, and three years as the director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Munich, Germany. Professor Fajans's studies on radioactivity established the radioactivity displacement laws (Fajans-Soddy Displacement Laws) and helped place radioelements in the periodic system. The Fajans-Paneth-Hahn rule resulted from his work on the precipitation and absorption of radioelements and dye-ions. With Oswald Gohring, he also discovered the Uranium x2 form of protactinium-234. Fajans was known among scientists as one of the world's leading teachers and investigators.
Although the untimely death of Professor Bachmann in 1951 and the retirement of Professor Fajans in 1957 were a significant loss to the department, it was still able to maintain its leadership position in the nation with such outstanding scholars as Robert Elderfield, Philip Elving, Richard Bernstein and Lawrence Brockway on its faculty. In the following two decades, however, with the rapid growth in student enrollment, the department was faced with the increasingly pressing need for additional teaching and research facilities to accommodate more students and staff members. Lack of adequate laboratory space and facilities, together with the department's post-World War II policy of not recruiting senior faculty unavoidably led to a gradual decline in research activities.
After an extensive review of the program in the mid- 1980s, the university decided to launch a campaign to revitalize the department. The completion of the $45 million Henry Willard Dow Laboratory in 1989, the successful recruitment of a dozen highly talented assistant professors (considered the best in the nation as a group) and the landing of several outstanding senior professors in recent years helped the department to regain its fame as a national leader in chemistry education and research.
Chairs of the Department of Chemistry Date Event 1927-1936 Moses Gomberg 1936-1948 Chester S. Schoepfle 1948-1966 Leigh C. Anderson 1966-1972 Charles G. Overberger 1972-1983 Thomas M. Dunn 1983-1986 Arthur J. Ashe III 1986-1991 David M. Curtis 1991-1997 Robert L. Kuczkowski 1997-2002 J. P. Marino 2002-2004 William R. Roush 2004-2009 Carol Ann Fierke 2009-2010 Mark E. Meyerhoff (acting) 2010-2015 Carol Ann Fierke 2015- Robert Kennedy
- Acquisition Information:
- The record group (accession no. 587 was received in several accessions; the largest accession was received in July 1995. Photographs of the Chemistry Building construction were received in 2007 (donor 9906 ).
The records have been divided into five series:
- Historical Files, 1866-1936 (1 folder and 2 oversize volumes)
- Administrative Files
- Lectures and Symposia
- Center for Catalyst and Surface Science Files
Using These Materials
The record group Department of Chemistry is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
item, folder title, box no., Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.