University of Michigan. Dept. of Chemistry.

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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 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.

  • 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 - : Robert L. Kuczkowski

From the guide to the Dept. of Chemistry (University of Michigan) records, 1866-1994, 1934-1994, (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Edwin C. Goddard papers, [ca. 1884]-[ca. 1940] Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf University of Michigan. Dept. of Chemistry. Dept. of Chemistry (University of Michigan) records, 1856-1921. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn University of Michigan. Chemical Laboratory. Chemical Laboratory (University of Michigan) records, 1868-1920. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf University of Michigan. Dept. of Chemistry. [William F. Breakey's diploma / issued by the University of Michigan Dept. of Chemistry]. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Langley, John Williams, 1841-1918. John Williams Langley papers, 1871-1917. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Bartell, Floyd E. (Floyd Earl), 1883-. Floyd E. Bartell papers, 1903-1961. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Board of Regents (University of Michigan) records, 1817-2011, 1899-1987 (Regents Exhibits) Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Werner Emmanuel Bachmann Papers, 1924-1951 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Gomberg, Moses, 1866-1947. Moses Gomberg papers, 1890-1947. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Fajans, Kasimir, 1887-1975. Kasimir Fajans papers, 1912-1987. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn American Chemical Society. University of Michigan Section. American Chemical Society, University of Michigan Section records, 1900-1962. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Lichty, David Martin, 1862-1942. David Martin Lichty papers, 1891-1920. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn DuBois, Alfred, 1824-1909. Alfred DuBois papers, 1850-1906. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Philip Juliber Elving papers, 1939-1977 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn American Chemical Society. University of Michigan Section. American Chemical Society, University of Michigan Section records, 1900-1952. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Anderson, Leigh Charles, 1899-. Chemistry at Michigan: a history of the Chemistry Department and the development of the Chemical Sciences at the University of Michigan from 1837 until 1970 / compiled by Leigh C. Anderson. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Smith, Benjamin Noble, d. 1921. Benjamin N. Smith papers, 1861-1864 and 1882-1909. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Bachmann, Werner E. (Werner Emmanuel), 1901-1951. Werner E. Bachmann papers, 1924-1951. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Elving, Philip Juliber, 1913-. Philip Juliber Elving papers, 1939-1977. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Prescott, A. B. (Albert Benjamin), 1832-1905. A.B. Prescott papers, 1865-1877 (scattered dates). University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Frederick G. Novy Papers, 1890-1954 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Kasimir Fajans Papers, 1912-1987, 1936-1975 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Douglas family. Douglass family (Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich.) papers, 1812-1911. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Willard, Hobart H. (Hobart Hurd), 1881-1974. Hobart Hurd Willard papers, 1906-1974. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn American Chemical Society, University of Michigan Section records, 1900-1962, 1912-1962 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Novy, Frederick George, 1864-1957. Frederick George Novy papers, 1882-1957. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn University of Michigan. Board of Regents. Board of Regents (University of Michigan) records, 1817-[ongoing]. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Douglass family (Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich.) papers, 1812-1911, 1837-1900 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf University of Michigan. Dept. of Chemistry. Dept. of Chemistry (University of Michigan) records, 1866-1994. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Goddard, Edwin C. (Edwin Charles), 1865-1942. Edwin C. Goddard papers, [ca. 1884]-[ca. 1940]. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Fajans, Kasimir, 1887-1975. Kasimir Fajans papers, 1912-1975. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Smith, Roy Burnett. Roy Burnett Smith student notebooks, 1893?-1899. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn University of Michigan. Chemical Laboratory. Chemical Laboratory (University of Michigan) records, 1868-1920. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Campbell, Edward DeMille, 1863-1925. Edward DeMille Campbell papers, 1882-1903. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Overberger, C. G. (Charles Gilbert), 1920-. Charles G. Overberger papers, 1957-1989. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Dept. of Chemistry (University of Michigan) records, 1866-1994, 1934-1994 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Charles G. Overberger papers, 1957-1990 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Chemical Society. University of Michigan Section. corporateBody
associatedWith American Chemical Society. University of Michigan Section. corporateBody
associatedWith American Chemical Society. University of Michigan Section. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Leigh Charles, 1899- person
associatedWith Bachmann, Werner Emmanuel, 1901- person
associatedWith Bachmann, Werner E. (Werner Emmanuel), 1901-1951. person
associatedWith Bartell, Floyd E. (Floyd Earl), 1883- person
associatedWith Campbell, Edward DeMille, 1863-1925. person
associatedWith Chemistry Building (University of Michigan) corporateBody
associatedWith Chemistry Building (University of Michigan) corporateBody
associatedWith Chemistry Building (University of Michigan) corporateBody
associatedWith Douglas family. family
associatedWith Douglass Family. family
associatedWith DuBois, Alfred, 1824-1909. person
associatedWith Elving, Philip Juliber, 1913- person
associatedWith Elving, Philip Juliber, 1913- person
associatedWith Fajans, Kasimir, 1887-1975. person
associatedWith Fajans, Kasimir, 1887-1975. person
associatedWith Goddard, Edwin C. (Edwin Charles), 1865-1942 person
associatedWith Goddard, Edwin C. (Edwin Charles), 1865-1942. person
associatedWith Gomberg, Moses, 1866-1947 person
associatedWith Gomberg, Moses, 1866-1947. person
associatedWith Gomberg, Moses, 1866-1947. person
associatedWith Gomberg, Moses, 1866-1947. person
associatedWith Langley, John Williams, 1841-1918. person
associatedWith Lichty, David Martin, 1862-1942. person
associatedWith Novy, Frederick George, 1864-1957 person
associatedWith Novy, Frederick George, 1864-1957. person
associatedWith Overberger, C. G. (Charles Gilbert), 1920- person
associatedWith Overberger, Charles G., 1920-1987 corporateBody
associatedWith Prescott, A. B. 1832-1905. person
associatedWith Prescott, A. B. (Albert Benjamin), 1832-1905 person
associatedWith Prescott, A. B. (Albert Benjamin), 1832-1905. person
associatedWith Smith, Benjamin Noble, d. 1921. person
associatedWith Smith, Roy Burnett. person
associatedWith University of Michigan. Board of Regents corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Board of Regents. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Chemical Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Chemical Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith Willard, Hobart H. (Hobart Hurd), 1881-1974. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Chemistry
Catalysis
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Active 1866

Active 1994

Active 1856

Active 1921

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