A lecture given at the University of Illinois, October 18, 1967, as part of the Centennial celebration and sponsored by the University of Illinois History of Science Society.
REYNOLD C. FUSON began his career in organic chemistry at a time when structural determination by chemical methods was the principal area of research and the classification of reactions was just beginning. His research provided insights about structure and reactions that were significant in the development of organic chemistry for over thirty years.
Yesterday I read in the local papers of the dedication of a building here that was unknown to me; it seems that every time I return to the campus, my home for many exciting years, I see a new, high-rising grandeur where I remember only green grass or maybe a few simple dwellings. For all that I congratulate you most warmly, but I am here chiefly to remind you that our great University did not come into being quickly as did the Chicago Circle campus, for example, but is the product of long-continued growth, generally slow and sometimes painful. My plan is to try to trace for you the thread that started with the Illinois Industrial University 100 years ago.
We would meet our first president, then known as regent, John Milton Gregory whose campus grave has the epitaph "If you seek my monument, look about you." Yet today in our profusion of buildings you see little that he knew; in long-term growth old buildings make way for new and some are torn down but never replaced. The original home of the I.I.U., for example, disappeared long ago.
The most I can do from my own remembrance is to go halfway back - to our Golden Anniversary in 1916. As concerns the history of Illinois chemistry, that year like this one was a special landmark: we had a new chemistry building. Then as now the new building was an addition to an already existing structure - East Noyes completed West Noyes put up fourteen years earlier. The present new building adds to, but we hope does not complete, our seventeen-year-old East Chemistry. The nationwide admiration of our newest building, echoes that expressed fifty years ago. Then the American Chemical Society, breaking with tradition, held its spring meeting not in one of our larger cities but here in Urbana in recognition of our big step forward.
Of what went on we have an eyewitness account from Professor Marvel, our now much be-medalled colleague, who was then only a first year graduate student. Still I find it difficult to imagine the wondering visitors checking in at the Beardsley Hotel - later the Tilden-Hall - which served as headquarters, at the Inman and at the Columbian on Broadway in Urbana: Marston Taylor Bogert, then President of the Society, Charles L. Parsons, Secretary, and other national figures of the time. The council met, not in Room 100 as one might expect, but in the new part, in Room 257 which had just been readied for our already famous Chemistry Library. Think of Colonel Bogert's stentorian tones, which would fill any auditorium, being compressed into the dimensions of Room 103 to fall on the ears of the paltry 30 to 40 members of the Organic Division of the Society. I have little trouble imagining our visitors trying to find the various rooms in the maze of Noyes numbers. Surely some papers were given in Room 217 and not a few would expect to find it situated next to Room 218, which is nearly as far away as possible. My office, numbered 263, was near Room 218 so regularly at the beginning of each semester I found myself directing traffic. The importance of our mid-century year of 1916 cannot be overemphasized for that year Roger Adams joined our staff.
Occupation of East Noyes in 1916 made the fourth of a total of seven times we have moved into new quarters in our century of development. Our first home was a basement room of the south wing of the original building of the Illinois Industrial University which faced on University Avenue in the area later taken over by baseball. The historic spot is now identified by a plaque. The five-story structure, which was not handsome, as well as the name of the new school, seemed to say that ours was a land grant college, to declare classical education to be outmoded and to herald the arrival of the new cult, a part of which was to be emphasis on practical chemistry. The emphasis was not great at the outset; records show that the sum of $978.00 was spent to make the basement room ready for chemistry classes and $2,000 was set aside as the annual salary of a professor. The chair of chemistry, as it was called, was offered to Professor J. A. Sewall, then teaching at Normal, Illinois. He declined the appointment. Professor Samuel W. Parr, to whom we are indebted for much that we know of our early times, interpreted his refusal on the grounds of esthetics. Who would be attracted by the basement of our dismal structure situated in an open, treeless prairie midway between Champaign and Urbana, a mile from either? Moreover, even at what would seem to be a safe distance, the citizens of the Twin Cities are reported to have had misgivings; in fact, the novel and untried educational program aroused more antagonism than support. Finally in 1868 Professor A. P. S. Stuart was persuaded to accept the post and so became our first teacher of chemistry.
Rumor has always had it that Urbana got the University as a political plum and that there was a choice between the University and the insane asylum which then went to Kankakee. Maybe it was not a wide choice and some may question the wisdom to the decision; the difference the dissenters notice between the two institutions is that here the inmates are free to roam the streets at will.
That a professor in the normal pursuit of his work may at times seem abnormal I know from my own personal experience. Once when starting to revise one of my books I found that I had only one unbound copy instead of the two that were needed; to avoid delay I decided to buy a copy at the bookstore and remove the cover. The sales girl brought me a brand new copy of my book and asked if I belonged to the faculty. By admitting that I was a professor I got the book at a 10 percent discount. While waiting for my change I gave the cover a tug wondering how hard it would be to get it off. When the sales girl looked up, there I stood with the unbound book in one hand and the detached cover in the other as unconcerned as though I tore up new books every day. From the expression on her face it was clear that no explanation would help matters; I had earned a one-way ticket to Kankakee.
The record shows that certain enterprising and farseeing citizens of Champaign and Urbana, far from opposing the creation of the University, had nurtured hopes of a local school of higher learning as early as 1861 when they proposed to found the Champaign-Urbana Institute.
In spite of any doubts that may have been harbored locally, the legislators supported the University and eventually provided better laboratories for chemistry. But ten frustrating years were to elapse before chemistry "surfaced"; when University Hall was rising near the location where the new part of Illini Union now stands part of its space was offered to us but was likewise in the basement. This proposal to move us south from University Avenue across the fields to Green Street only for an exchange of dungeons seemed to Professor Stuart to be a mortal affront and he resigned his position in 1874. Now only that, he gave up chemistry entirely and made his fortune in banking. I wonder how many Illinois chemists have thought wistfully of his financial success.
The University's change in central location seems to have been accompanied by a change of heart also, for the I.I.U. soon shed its utilitarian facade and in 1886 became the University of Illinois. The new look has been attributed to our non-land grant-minded Regent Gregory who believed that such subjects as languages, even the "dead" ones, should be available to those who wished them. To him even chemistry, perhaps for lack of anything better, must have seemed cultural. In the meantime, Professor Stuart's planting had borne fruit; $40,000 had been found, and in 1878 chemistry had its new building, what is now called Harker Hall. Harker was not a chemist but a professor of law who with his law colleagues inherited our abandoned space.
If you think that Harker Hall looks out of place jammed up against the Union and its twin bald cypress trees you are doubly right; although it preceded the Union by many decades Harker Hall has always been out of place. According to the original plan, chemistry was supposed to join physics as a part of the engineering complex north of Green Street and its building was so designed by the architect. When at the last minute it was decided to admit chemistry, physically at least, to the company of the liberal arts, the artist was given no time to adjust the lines of the building to harmonize with its new site and the new concept of its function.
Once the cultural bastion had been stormed there was to be no retreat to the engineering side of Green Street; Noyes Laboratory, our third home, grew up nearby taking space away from but bringing us perilously near agriculture. The recession of the corn fields was to end only at the Morrow Plots.
The origin of Noyes Laboratory we owe chiefly to Professor Arthur W. Palmer, predecessor of Noyes as head of our Department, but its completion was small cause for rejoicing. For construction the $100,000 provided proved to be inadequate; instead of decreasing the size of the projected building it was decided to spend nearly all the money for construction and use the battle-scarred furnishings from the old building. This meant inauguration of the new building under circumstances that were all but intolerable.
Those who hold the purse strings must find building for chemistry difficult and not a little puzzling. Chemists have expensive tastes and are very exacting; moreover once installed they proceed to be highly destructive, seeming as you know to thrive on floods, fires and even explosions. Floods are seldom intentional in spite of the opinions expressed by those on the floor below. Perhaps herein lies the reason why they tried so hard to keep us at the lowest level - the basement. In any case, plumbers are kept busy; one of them on a rush job told me that for his first assignment from the Physical Plant years before he had been dispatched to chemistry to take care of an emergency and that he had been there ever since.
The worst fire in our history though was not set by a careless chemist but by an act of God; lightning struck our building in 1896 and the upper part was burned. During the conflagration a heavy steel water tank broke loose and fell through to the basement wrecking everything in its path, including two storerooms. What surely would have been our worst flood did not occur because firemen's hoses were at a great disadvantage. The tank had been filled by water pumped from a well, a great improvement over what we had in our first location where the only water available in the laboratory had to be carried from the college pump.
The countless explosions to our credit may be classified as planned and unplanned, with perhaps a third class which might be called quasi- intentional. By recourse to intentional, controlled explosions, for example, Professor G. F. Smith learned how to tame perchloric acid and make it the tremendously useful tool it is today.
As quasi- intentional may be classified explosions that occur when the experimenter deliberately courts disaster as with substances known to be explosive or with gases under high pressure. The old fashioned Carius tubes, for example, often let go at least in my experiments - harmlessly if still in the furnace. Those that survived were rendered safe by fusing a capillary tip to release the gas. We once had a student who earned the name the "Killer" by appearing in the professor's office one day bearing a Carius tube with the capillary seal still intact. Handling the probably lethal "bomb" as though it were a harmless meter stick the Killer asked the amazed and thoroughly frightened professor, innocently, "And what do I do now?"
One of the most destructive accidental explosions in our history took place in an analytical laboratory; I remember seeing on the lawn the broken glass of the thirty-five windows that were blown out. The only witness was a student engaged in doing a titration. Although heavy objects were sent hurtling in his direction he escaped unscathed; not so his buret the only surviving part of which was that protected by his hand. When the student recovered his speech his first words had nothing to do with his narrow escape; he exclaimed "Damn! There goes my standard solution!" He will go down in our history as a chemists' chemist.
The building of which we were so proud in 1916 and which somehow in spite of all our vandalism had escaped destruction was named the William Albert Noyes Laboratory in 1939 - twenty-three years after its completion - in a simple ceremony in Room 100. Unfortunately no recording was made of the response of Professor Noyes, but as I recall it he recounted very modestly the events that make his name memorable and expressed hopes for the future of the Department that were bright but realistic.
Seldom has Illinois conferred such an honor on a living person. Far from thinking that the naming was premature most of us felt that they had waited too long to name the building for anyone. Twenty-three years, to say nothing of the thirty-seven years of West Noyes, is a long time for a chemistry building; obsolescence had taken its toll. The laboratory had fallen in esteem; some thought that ours was the most poorly housed department in the Big Ten.
New space had been provided, it is true, when the Chemistry Annex was put up in 1931. The fact that it was glued onto the old Agriculture Building started the unsavory rumor that this venerable structure would be inherited by chemistry. But to everyone's relief East Chemistry in 1950 arose even though it had to be across Mathews Street. The three chemistry buildings - Noyes Laboratory, the Chemistry Annex and East Chemistry - revealed their common purpose only below ground where a system of tunnels permits a chemist to go wherever he wishes, or almost; one still has to surface to reach the Farwell cafeteria for coffee breaks. The tunnels suggest that some vestige has survived of our early basement beginnings.
Going underground in a figurative sense is a fault of chemistry, more perhaps than of other scientific disciplines; we did this in Palmer's period when our attention was turned from such "simple" things as corn and hogs to well nigh incomprehensible monsters like methane and cadmium chloride. Our involuntary secrecy may cause us to lose our audiences but has its advantages since only we, seldom our deans, know what really goes on in our laboratories.
In spite of the rundown building our record of scholarly achievement continued to be enviable; all of the polls, however poorly conceived or conducted, gave us a high rating. This brings us to the subject of administration, I think, as perhaps a better criterion of success than housing. No department of chemistry as far as I know has had better leadership than ours. Our beginnings, however, gave scant portent of the good fortune that was in store for us. From 1874 to 1882 chemistry fell to such low repute that the courses attracted students who were unable to succeed in other disciplines.
The pendulum swung the other way under the headship of Professor William McMurtrie from 1882 to 1888; he was a strict disciplinarian. An unhappy relapse occurred in the fall of 1888; we had a new head who suffered the fate many of us must have feared; his incompetence was discovered and made known publicly before the end of the first semester.
Fortune was with us though when Professor Arthur William Palmer became head of the Department in 1889. He was a member of the graduating class of 1883 and received the PhD at Harvard in 1886; a study with Victor Meyer at Gngen and with Hofmann at Berlin preceded his return to Illinois where he served with distinction until his untimely death in 1904. To me Professor Palmer is a somewhat shadowy person who wore a mustache if we can depend on the picture of him that hangs in the Library; but even this evidence has been questioned. It is reported that once a professor, while showing our Library to distinguished visitors, pointed to the Palmer picture and said that it was of Noyes, then identified the Noyes picture as that of Palmer. Sharp ears of students did not let this mistake pass; a rumor, maligning the painter no doubt, was to the effect that he could paint only one face and to make the two different put the decoration on Palmer's upper lip. A more plausible theory is that Palmer, having been passed over in 1888 because he looked too young, grew the mustache in hopes of professional advancement.
Palmer's widow gave his books to the Library with the provision that they be kept together. I can remember them behind a glass case bearing the title "The Palmer Library," all out of date. The collection now gathers dust in the main Library as it grows no doubt in historical value.
The names of Palmer, Noyes, Adams and Carter represent nearly 80 years of superior administration, continuous except for two breaks. During the three-year interval between the death of Palmer and the arrival of Professor William Albert Noyes in 1907, Professor Parr and Professor H. S. Grindley took good care of our Department. Later during the four hectic war years from 1942 to 1946 while Dr. Adams was away, Professor William C. Rose manned our ship admirable.
The arrival of Noyes marks 1907 as a year of destiny for Illinois. To get some perspective as to this event, we need to go back to the centennial of our independence, 1876. That year saw the founding of the American Chemical Society and what is more pertinent here, the beginning at Johns Hopkins University of the great work of Ira Remsen. To him more than to any other we owe the transplanting to American soil of the chemistry flourishing in Germany. Among his greatest gifts to us were the men he trained: Jones for Princeton, Kohler for Harvard, Norris for M.I.T. and Orndorff for Cornell - to mention outstanding examples - and Noyes for Illinois.
Noyes ranks above the other Remsen men, I think, for ability as a builder - a builder not only for Illinois, but for chemistry everywhere. This ability he had demonstrated in his seventeen years at the Rose Polytechnic Institute, which under his management had come to have what was said to be the best chemistry laboratory west of the Alleghenies. His work there had won for him the position of chief chemist at the Bureau of Standards, which he held from 1904 to 1907. To give it up and start anew at Illinois was a serious step for the 50-year-old Noyes; he must have been persuaded by his instincts as a builder.
If so, he made no mistake; for Illinois he assembled one of the most able groups of chemistry teachers of the time. This achievement was sensed early by Charles L. Parsons, wise in the ways of chemists and chemistry, who in reporting the 1916 meeting of the American Chemical Society predicted great things for Illinois, not for the excellence of its building, but rather because of the men who would use it.
The magnetic nucleus of Noyes, Adams and Marvel drew others of great talent. It is enough to cite the late Worth H. Rodebush and Professor Rose, winner this year of the President's National Medal of Science. The Noyes appointees who stayed at Illinois to finish their teaching careers number more than a dozen.
The faculty that Noyes turned over to Adams in 1926 was young; only Dr. Hopkins was more than forty years old. Nobody knew better than Noyes, I feel sure, the tactical error of hiring many staff members of the same age group, but rapid post-war expansion gave him little choice, I imagine. It was Dr. Carter three decades later who had to pay the piper. In the late fifties and early sixties, when the almost mass retirement finally came, the Department was in the midst of the greatest expansion in its history - expansion not only in numbers but also in cost. Successful emergence from this multi-million-dollar dilemma under Dr. Carter's guidance is one of the greatest accomplishments of our century.
Throughout the Golden Age of Adams though, the Noyes group, which included Adams himself, of course, remained intact to carry our prestige to unprecedented heights. I can praise this array of talent unblushingly for I was not part of it. Perhaps I should not bring it up but I was one of Dr. Adams' first appointees; he was young then and inexperienced!
Then what about my promise to take you back to 1916 - eleven years earlier? I was here then but only briefly and on the outside; I applied for admission as a freshman but failed to qualify. My failure to be admitted sent me wandering restlessly to Montana, to California, to Minnesota and to Massachusetts. That my eleven years of "exile" would have a happy ending, was predicted by a lady I met at a reception while I was at Harvard. After talking with me a while and sizing me up she asked "And when you have finished your work at Harvard do you plan to stay in the East or go back to your own people?" Maybe she had heard of the Tribe of Illini.
Fulfilling what I thought to be her prediction, I matriculated at the University of Illinois in the fall of 1927 but as a member of the faculty rather than as a student. I was not proud of my 1916 failure and tried to keep it a dark secret. What was I to think when I found myself appointed to a committee charged with raising the entrance requirements?
As if to quash any pride that remained to me, my first meeting with Professor Noyes took a turn that was not flattering. I remember most vividly coming across him in the Chemistry Building one Sunday afternoon in October. He and his small son were in the hallway trying to find someone with keys. He spoke to me as if he knew me, which gave me a feeling of elation - but only for a moment. He called to his son, "It's all right - I have found the janitor."
I often envy the janitors because their function in our organization is so much more accurately defined than mine. They sweep and the result is a clean floor, as all can see; I lecture to students and the result, good or bad, is anybody's guess.
Perhaps the difficulty in evaluating the results of teaching is at the base of the University's mania for reorganization in the name of progress. One of my colleagues used to say that change in organization was an attempt to substitute system for brains. According to this concept one can say that our department has possessed enough gray matter to make the would-be reorganizers a relatively harmless debating society. Although the disease has not spared our Department, most of our changes have been forced upon us by the evolution of the science itself. Illinois began, perhaps because it was a land grant college, with a marked slant toward agricultural chemistry. Early papers from the Department dealt with analysis of water, milk, sorghum molasses, soils and various plants. One paper was entitled, almost predictably, "The Chemistry of the Hog."
I am arbitrarily limiting my attention to the chemistry that has been the direct concern of our Department, fully aware that chemistry is to be found in many other parts of the University. Often the origin of such extra-departmental chemistry can be traced to our department; an example is ceramic chemistry, which was split off by a physical chemist, Professor Edward W. Washburn.
The professorship in agricultural chemistry was discontinued in 1888. Mineralogy was transferred to Geology in 1893. A pharmacy curriculum started in 1892 came to an end during Palmer's term.
The organization of the Department underwent a remarkable, though short-lived, change in 1894 when it was divided into two parts. Parr was put in charge of what was called industrial chemistry while Palmer remained head of the rest of chemistry. This ruse, if it accomplished nothing else, got us a doubled allotment for our library fund. Responsibility for the water problems of the State of Illinois was assumed by Dr. Palmer in 1895. Dr. Edward Bartow and later Dr. Arthur M. Buswell did distinguished work in this field before water chemistry passed into hands outside the Department.
The term industrial chemistry had given way to chemical engineering at the time of Parr's death in 1931, and two decades later the maturity and importance of chemical engineering, was recognized by changing the name of the Department of Chemistry to the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. We cherish the letter sent to the faculty to announce the change; it was signed "Roger Adams, Department of Chemistry." One might suspect that he had unwittingly betrayed concern that the term "engineering," so dear to the founding, land grant fathers, had finally sparked across Green Street to join history, literature and the other liberal arts. Regent Gregory, lover of the classics, must have turned a little in his mid-campus grave.
Our medal-winning chemical engineers show no sign of feeling out of place and keep their connection with the north side of Green Street, unabashed. In Professor Parr's favor it may be said that he, perhaps more than any of us, concerned himself with an industry of our state; he specialized in the chemistry of coal. Even this slender claim on the loyalty of the tax payer did not last but was lost at Parr's death. A plaque dedicated to Professor Parr hangs in East Chemistry. I am astonished that in these days of grantsmanship no one in our Department has gone back to the chemistry of coal or, for that matter, to the chemistry of the hog.
The emergence of biochemistry from its humble beginnings as physiological chemistry and its rise to its present position is phenomenal. According tot he Nobel Prize committee it must be the most important of the numerous branches of chemistry. Once at meeting of the National Academy of Sciences a biochemical matter was criticized; five Nobel laureates in biochemistry, three of them Illini, rose to protest. I was impressed.
At the time Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry were taking shape boundary lines between the old groups - Analytical, Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry - began to fade; the dimming is still in progress.
The most important subject of my review, I think, is teaching, the education of students; it is the task for which the members of the faculty are hired but, I think, not that for which they are paid primarily nor that on which their prestige rests. That Illinois teaching has been of high quality remains something of a mystery since it brings so little reward, compared to research. Yet if ours were the only department of record we would have to conclude that distinction in research and superior teaching go hand in hand each reinforcing the other.
As has been noted, teaching started with Professor Stuart who accepted the basement job that had been turned down by Professor Sewall. Our first graduates numbered one each in 1872 and 1874; from then on, the trickle gradually became a stream. For example, we celebrated the completion of Harker Hall in 1878 with two graduates, the 1896 fire with nine and the opening of shabbily furnished West Noyes with fourteen.
Of these early graduates some went into medicine or pharmacy; the chemists did not find many good jobs waiting for them: America was not ready. As far as chemical industry was concerned our country, up to World War I, was what today we call condescendingly a developing country. In the flourishing dye and drug manufacture we played the role of consumer, buying our chemicals mostly from Germany. The German submarines that ran the British blockade in the early part of the war brought us chiefly dyes.
Our entry into the war made fine chemicals hard to come by. With characteristic energy and imagination Adams and Marvel went into the laboratory, rolled up their sleeves and began to fill the gap by making the organic compounds they needed. The sleeves that were rolled up were mostly those of students, of course. The enterprise was highly successful not only in producing the needed compounds but also in developing thoroughly tested directions for their synthesis. The directions were published privately at first and later in Organic Syntheses, an Illinois-launched series now considered to be indispensable wherever organic compounds are made.
The upspring of scholarly activity after the war was spectacular and teaching rose to a high level as judged by its products, the graduates. During the last ten years of the Noyes leadership we trained six PhD graduates who became members of the National Academy of Sciences and three who were elected to the presidency of the American Chemical Society. What caused this sudden blossoming of talent? I cannot tell you the answer but I can give you a hint: nearly all of those I have mentioned did their doctoral studies under the supervision of Roger Adams. By the late twenties PhD degrees were being granted in fairly large numbers - 16 in 1929 and 20 in 1930, for example. It was asserted by our critics that such mass effort could give only a mediocre product. We have been saved by the passing of years, which has amply refuted criticisms of the Illinois system of teaching and leaves no doubt that it was superior.
Similar excellence has been demonstrated for our teaching of undergraduates. A survey carried out by the National Academy of Sciences for the period from 1920 to 1962 shows that 721 holders of Illinois baccalaureate degrees earned the PhD degree elsewhere which is far more than that of any other school. It exceeds our nearest rival's figure plus those of a handful of highly rated Reeds, Oberlins and Swarthmores.
Prominent mention must be made of our excellent library, which is fundamental to our teaching operation. The distinction of our holdings of chemical books and journals dates back to the era of Professor Stuart who was very careful and judicious in his selections. Then our library was housed on the floor above chemistry, safe from threat of floods and much more readily accessible to chemists than it has been at any time since.
Miss Marian Sparks, a staunch and sometimes stern friend of students, is remembered by a plaque for her devoted service as a librarian.
As most people know, professors are not easy to please especially when the book they need cannot be found. Once a professor complained bitterly only to discover that the missing volume was in his own office; he had taken it himself eight years before! Today the library rates with the best in the country. Miss Ruth Power, present librarian, tells me that we now received nearly 650 journals and series.
The Centennial Report
That I am here this evening, miscast as a historian, must be due to a share I had in preparing a departmental report for the past century. The report has taken the form of a Centennial Bulletin and should be in your hands before the year is over. Of the various possible modes of observing the Centennial, the Bulletin seemed to be indicated since the Department has used this device traditionally. For maintaining the tradition we are indebted chiefly to Professor Virginia Bartow. I am sure that Dr. Carter would want me to tell you that in the preparation of the present edition, generous help has been given by Mrs. Elsie Wilson and Dr. Robert Lowstutter. We set ourselves July 1 for completion of the copy but did not make the deadline in spite of an advance notice of 100 years.
Faculty members for the century are listed but only those who served for a year or more, a limitation which, unfortunately excludes summer teachers. The summer program by design enabled us over the years to make friends with scores of promising teachers from other schools both here and abroad. The distinction of this group understandably is now so great that to claim credit for their achievements might not seem appropriate; even to call attention to our foresight in picking them may seem boastful.
Our relations with other universities were strengthened also by our turnover policy. Younger members of the faculty who for one reason or another could not be retained left ostensibly to accept attractive offers from elsewhere. Hidden away in the process was the removal of any incipient "deadwood" which was seldom identified as such, so the transplanted saplings bore not hatchet marks. Only good administrators can do such things.
When we lost the elms, whining tree saws were often heard. At such a time I happened to be crossing the campus with a colleague and encountered a student who know us, perhaps all too well. Bolder than most, he warned, "You better look out - they're cutting out the deadwood."
That the saws were no threat to our faculty is evident from a look at the long list of honors that came to us. Among the most impressive is our record with the Priestly Medal: one-third of the awardees to date, are Illini. Members of the American Chemical Society seem to have a preference for Illinois chemists, who have been chosen for the presidency eight times in the last eleven elections. This is not a campaign speech but I will mention that another Illini is up for election in November.
Our great interest in the national society seems to be a heritage from Professor Noyes who was its president in 1920. He was preceded by Professor William McMurtrie one of its founders in 1876 and president in 1900. It was Noyes who almost single-handedly founded Chemical Abstracts and served as its first editor. He was editor also of Chemical Reviews and of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
In celebration of Professor Noyes' eightieth birthday, the faculty gave him a scroll, which was inscribed in part as follows:
"Your numerous scientific discoveries, your
successful promotion of scientific societies
and journals and your inspiring guidance
of students and colleagues have made your
name immortal among men of science."
The parchment bore the names of the entire faculty which then numbered twenty-three. What would Professor Noyes have thought had he known that now, thirty years later, the number would be closer to three times than twice as great.
At the time the parchment was signed world peace seemed to be feasible. Professor Noyes placed high value on friendship with foreign chemists; he believed that the international professional bonds could serve to promote peace. He lived until 1941 - long enough to see the collapse of his dreams for work peace - but he was largely spared the horrors of Hitler.
I have reserved for my closing remarks a characteristic of Illinois chemists that is not easily named but is nonetheless of prime importance. It embraces the great pride of the alumni in our Department, their deep loyalty to it and to one another and their feeling of personal sharing of our achievements. The consensus is that the Illini have something, a thing precious and perhaps easily lost. Always when a major change comes about such as the loss of a key member of the faculty, an organizational shift or a change to large scale government funding, questions go the rounds: "Have we lost it? Do we still have that something which made Illinois so special? Will it now become just another school?"
These questions formulate the challenge flung by those of the old century to those of the new. How our successors will meet it belongs, of course, to the purview of the prophet rather than to that of the historian.