Organic Reactions was created around 1939 as the brainchild of Roger Adams and some of the Organic Syntheses editorial board members. Whereas Organic Syntheses dealt with the optimized and reproducible preparation of a specific chemical compound (or illustrative of a general method), Organic Reactions was intended to be a collection of articles about specific reactions with which the selected authors had first hand experience. The unique feature of Organic Reactions that would distinguish it from other review vehicles would be to provide exhaustive literature surveys, complete compilation of extant examples and some detailed experimental procedures.
In defining the goals and mission of Organic Reactions, Adams wrote: "In the course of nearly every program of research in organic chemistry the investigator finds it necessary to use several of the better-known synthetic reactions. To discover the optimum conditions for the application of even the most familiar one to a compound not previously subjected to the reaction often requires an extensive search of the literature; even then a series of experiments may be necessary. When the results of the investigation are published, the synthesis, which may have required months of work, is usually described without comment. The background of knowledge and experience gained in the literature search and experimentation is thus lost to those who subsequently have occasion to apply the general method. The student of preparative organic chemistry faces similar difficulties. The textbooks and laboratory manuals furnish numerous examples of the application of various syntheses, but only rarely do they convey an accurate conception of the scope and usefulness of the processes. The volumes of Organic Reactions are collections of chapters each devoted to a single reaction, or a definite phase of a reaction, of wide applicability. The authors have had experience with the processes surveyed. The subjects are presented from the preparative viewpoint, and particular attention is given to limitations, interfering influences, effects of structure, and the selection of experimental techniques. Each chapter includes several detailed procedures illustrating the significant modifications of the method."
A. H. Blatt and H. R. Snyder served as associate editors, and Adams was president and editor in chief from 1942 (when the organization was incorporated in Illinois) until 1960 when Volume 10 was published. A. C. Cope succeeded Adams until his death in 1966, when W. G. Dauben became president and editor in chief followed by A. S. Kende, L. A. Paquette and currently L. E. Overman.
As with Organic Syntheses, authors of articles in Organic Reactions receive no royalties, and the editors do their work as a public service. Organic Reactions, like Organic Syntheses, involves the dedicated efforts of many prominent chemists who devote their time to the success of the enterprise. Although the editing of chapters and production of volumes is a very time consuming job, the value of Adam's foresight and his legacy of interest in organic chemistry, in organic chemists, and in students still motivates those who carry this important resource forward.
Adapted from "Roger Adams, Scientist and Statesman"; D. S. Tarbell and A. T. Tarbell. Organic Reactions, Inc.