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|Former name||Center for the History of Chemistry (1982-1992)|
|Established||22 January 1982|
|Location||315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106|
|Key holdings||Alchemy, History of chemistry, History of science, Instrumentation|
|President||Robert G. W. Anderson|
The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) is an institution that preserves and promotes understanding of the history of science. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it includes a library, museum, archive, research center and conference center.
It was founded in 1982 as a joint venture of the American Chemical Society and the University of Pennsylvania, as the Center for the History of Chemistry (CHOC). The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) became a co-founder in 1984. It was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 1992, and moved two years later to its current location, 315 Chestnut Street in Old City. On December 1, 2015, CHF merged with the Life Sciences Foundation, creating an organization that covers "the history of the life sciences and biotechnology together with the history of the chemical sciences and engineering."
The institution focuses not only on the history of chemistry but also on the history of science, the history of technology, trends in research and development, the impact of science on society, and relationships between science and art, among other subjects. It supports a community of research scholars and an oral history program. As of 2012, CHF was the largest U.S. grantor of research fellowships for the history of science.
"CHF fosters dialogue on science and technology in society. Our staff and fellows study the past in order to understand the present and inform the future. We focus on matter and materials and their effect on our modern world in territory ranging from the physical sciences and industries, through the chemical sciences and engineering, to the life sciences and technologies. We collect, preserve, and exhibit historical artifacts; engage communities of scientists and engineers; and tell the stories of the people behind breakthroughs and innovations."
The idea of creating "a library of reference and a chemical museum" in the United States can be found in the Proceedings of the first meeting of the American Chemical Society in 1876. Impetus for the creation of the Chemical Heritage Foundation dates to 1976, when the nation's bicentennial and the centennial of the American Chemical Society (ACS) stimulated interest in both history and chemistry. John H. Wotiz of the Division of the History of Chemistry of the ACS organized a session on the history of chemistry as part of the ACS centennial activities and was a strong proponent of a national center for historical chemistry.
In 1979, the ACS formed a task force chaired by Ned D. Heindel to investigate the possibility of creating a national center for the history of chemistry. Arnold Thackray, a professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and curator of the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection on the history of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, argued for the formation of such a center in Philadelphia. He was able to obtain promises of private support from chemist John C. Haas, and institutional support from the Dow Chemical Company and DuPont. In December 1981 the ACS approved the establishment of the Center for the History of Chemistry, with support of $50,000 per year for five years, in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania, which was to provide an equivalent in goods and services. An agreement to create Center for the History of Chemistry was signed by officers of the American Chemical Society and the University of Pennsylvania on January 22 and 26, 1982. A policy council was appointed by the sponsoring institutions to oversee routine operations of the center, and Arnold Thackray was appointed part-time director of the center on April 29, 1982. The official inauguration of the center was held on March 11, 1983. The Center's first home was in several vacant basement rooms on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Its "immediate aims" included gathering oral histories of important chemists and inventorying papers and manuscripts in repositories throughout the country to map "the largely unexplored territory of the history of chemistry and chemical technology."
A National Advisory Board was also formed from a wide-ranging group of people in academia and industry. In 1982, its members included John C. Haas, historians Margaret W. Rossiter and Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. and at least three Nobel Prize winners, Christian B. Anfinsen, Herbert C. Brown, and Glenn T. Seaborg. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) became a co-founder of the Center, signing an agreement on August 27 and 28, 1984. In addition, CHF began to establish relationships with affiliated organizations such as The Chemists' Club, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists, the Electrochemical Society and the American Society for Mass Spectrometry.
As early as 1983, the Center for the History of Chemistry expressed an interest in "The Conservation of Historic American Chemical Instruments", in discussions of a possible joint project with the Smithsonian. However, the center did not yet have exhibit or collections space to allow for the acquisition of any but the most limited quantities of documents. The center did curate a number of traveling exhibitions by collaborating with other organizations, including "Joseph Priestley: Enlightened Chemist", "Polymers and People", "Scaling Up", and "Chemical Education in the United States".
During the 1980s, the center came to the attention of Arnold Orville Beckman. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation provided a $2 million challenge grant in 1986 to stimulate expansion of the center as a research institute, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry (BCHOC). Beckman challenged the center to define its mission more broadly, reaching out to academic, professional and trade organizations, and including biochemistry, materials science, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and instrumentation within its mandate. The National Foundation for History of Chemistry was established in 1987 as a supporting Pennsylvania nonprofit. The renamed Beckman Center began a major capital campaign, listing as its needs "offices, an exhibit gallery, a reading room, library stacks, and archives and storage areas." It celebrated its inauguration on November 5, 1987. With support from the American Chemical Society's "Campaign for Chemistry", the Center was able to move to 3401 Walnut Street, on the University of Pennsylvania campus, as of March 9, 1988.
In 1989, the Center received a further challenge grant, this time from Donald F. Othmer and his wife, Mildred Topp Othmer. Donald Othmer was a quiet chemical engineering professor from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. The Othmers donated $5 million towards the creation of the Othmer Library of Chemical History. Again, efforts to match the grant were supported by the National Foundation for History of Chemistry and the American Chemical Society's Campaign for Chemistry. The new library was further supported by the donation of 8,500 monographs, textbooks and reference works from The Chemists' Club of New York.
On July 1, 1992, the National Foundation for History of Chemistry changed its name to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, in recognition of the international nature of chemical history. By 1994, the First National Bank at 315 Chestnut Street was being discussed as a possible permanent home for CHF's Beckman Center and Othmer Library. The institution was able to purchase the bank and nearby property in 1995 in part through a matching grant from Donald Othmer. Soon after its endowment was significantly expanded by a bequest from the estate of Donald Othmer. The Chemical Heritage Foundation moved to 315 Chestnut Street as of February 1, 1996. Renovation of the buildings by Richard Conway Meyer occurred in two main phases over the next few years. Phase 1, providing temporary office space and book storage, was completed in 1998. Phase 2, transitioning to more permanent facilities, was completed in 2000. Phase 3, construction of the adjoining Ullyot conference space for meetings and events, began soon after.
Acquisition of a permanent building finally made it possible for the institution to develop "a public museum and display area". One possible focus was the history of instrumentation. As early as 1989, the Beckman Center had requested the loan or gift of Beckman Instruments such as the Beckman pH meter and the DU spectrophotometer for display at the Center. Some of those instruments were included in an instrumentation exhibit organized by W. Richard Howe of the University of Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (PITTCON) in 1994, and expanded in 1999. In the early 1990s, inspired by John Ferraro, a committee was formed within the Society for Applied Spectroscopy (SAS), to pursue the creation of an instrumentation museum. Edward Brame and other members of that committee connected with Arnold Thackray and formed the nucleus of CHF's Chemical Instrumentation Museum Group (CIMG) in 1994. In 1997, on the recommendation of the CIMG, CHF's board approved a collections policy for the acquisition of "historically significant chemical instruments and apparatus". Instrumentation, however, was only one of several areas of interest as CHF began to expand its collections.
CHF is particularly interested in the origins of early science and chemistry.CHF’s varied holdings have considerable depth both in alchemical books and fine-art depictions of early modern alchemists. The institution's collection of alchemy-related artwork, one of the largest in the world, builds upon two significant collections. Chester Garfield Fisher, founder of Fisher Scientific, started collecting alchemical art in the 1920s. In 2000, his collection of alchemical paintings was donated by Fisher Scientific International to CHF. In 2002, the institution received another gift from Roy Eddleman, founder of Spectrum Laboratories, whose collection contained paintings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Together, the two collections contain more than 90 paintings and 200 works on paper illustrating the work of alchemists and their influence on the development of chemistry as a science.
The Chemical Heritage Foundation expanded its instrument collections slowly, mostly through donations of single instruments or small groups of instruments. In 2000 the CIMG was transformed into the Heritage Council Instruments and Artifacts Committee (HCIAC), which included both staff and supporters and began meeting under the leadership of founding chair W. Richard Howe. In 2002 CHF was presented with hundreds of instruments by Stephen P. DeFalco, president of PerkinElmer, when the company closed a plant in Überlingen, Germany.> An interim exhibit of "Revolutionary Tools" was curated at CHF by David Brock, showcasing fifteen 20th-century instruments, including Arnold Beckman's pH meter.
In 2004, a list of "50 Instruments That Changed the World" was identified as a basis for further expansion. In 2008, a list of CHF's ten most wanted instruments was released. The Chemical Heritage Foundation's collections include such pioneering and landmark instruments as a 1934 Beckman Model G pH Meter, a DuPont 900 Differential Thermal Analyzer, an early custom Electro-spray Ionization Mass Spectrometer used by John B. Fenn, a 1947 Mettler B5 Single-Pan Balance, a 1963 Perkin-Elmer Model 125 Infrared Grating Spectrophotometer, and a c. 1980's Automated Peptide Synthesizer created by Bruce Merrifield.
As early as 1996, the Chemical Heritage Foundation had envisioned a broadly-based museum of chemical progress in which instruments would have "a major, but not exclusive role". That vision was followed when Peter Saylor of Dagit•Saylor Architects created the public museum and conference space. The Arnold O. Beckman Permanent Exhibit and the Clifford C. Hach Gallery for rotating exhibitions opened in 2008. The Arnold O. Beckman permanent exhibition, Making Modernity, was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. It has been described as an "art gallery for science", and showcases objects from CHF's widely varying collections. "The instruments are only a fraction of the objects on display. The exhibit also includes books, documents, and artwork from CHF's collection, as well as an array of consumer products." The exhibit is organized around thematic arcs illustrative of the history of science, particularly chemistry. Displays include the influence of alchemy in early chemistry, the development of the first plastics, the development of brilliantly colored synthetic dyes, scientific advocacy for public health in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the teaching of chemistry through books and chemistry sets.
Arnold Thackray, the institution's first president, was awarded the 1983 Dexter Award for his contributions to the history of chemistry. Thackray was succeeded by Thomas R. Tritton, under whose leadership (2008-2013) the history of science museum opened to the public in its present location, and the fellowship program expanded.  Following a global search, Carsten Reinhardt, a professor of the history of science from Bielefeld University, Germany, was chosen in August 2013 as President and CEO of the organization. In 2016 Reinhardt returned to Germany, and his place was taken by interim president Robert G. W. Anderson. As of January 11, 2017, CHF announced that Robert Anderson would be the ongoing president and CEO of the organization.
Chemical Heritage Foundation is home to many significant collections relevant to the history of chemistry.
CHF has published a quarterly, Distillations, since spring 2015.
CHF offers many fellowships-in-residence, of varying lengths.
The Foundation presents a number of annual awards to recognize outstanding contributions to science and technology by researchers, business leaders and entrepreneurs.
The annual Heritage Day Awards honor achievements in science and technology and comprise the Othmer Gold Medal, the Richard J. Bolte Sr. Award for Supporting Industries and, in conjunction with the Chemist's Club of New York, the Winthrop-Sears Medal.
The annual Affiliate Partnership Awards, presented in conjunction with affiliate organisations, recognize achievement with the Biotechnology Heritage Award, the Franklin-Lavoisier Prize, the Petrochemical Heritage Award and the Pittcon Heritage Award.
The Roy G. Neville Prize in Bibliography or Biography recognizes a biographical work in the field of chemical or molecular science. Established in 2006, the prize is awarded biennially.
In 1982, when the Chemical Heritage Foundation was a fledgling research organization starting out with only $50,000, it asked chemical engineers and experts around the country to serve as advisers on its council of friends. One of those who accepted the invitation was Donald F. Othmer, a chemical engineering professor at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, an unassuming scholar who originally hailed from Omaha, Neb.
Note: This article predates the opening of the 2008 museum by several years; the museum exhibit discussed here was a temporary instrumentation exhibit from 2002, not the permanent museum of 2008. Although the authors refer to the "Chemical Heritage Foundation Scientific Instrumentation Museum", this is not the museum's official name.
Note: The 2008 museum's focus on the history of science and science's impact on culture is much broader than an "educational display of pioneering and landmark instruments": equating the two is an apples-and-oranges comparison.
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