A Brief History of CHF

First National Bank building

Ground Floor of First National Bank, ca. 1911. Photograph by William Rau. Chemical Heritage Foundation Archives, CHF Collections.

Much of the stuff of civilization--from food to medicines to materials--was created by people familiar with matter and how to manipulate it. Often for the sheer joy of knowing, alchemists, chemists, and later, molecular scientists sought to expand our understanding of matter from the atomic to the galactic. 

Since the early 1980s, CHF has preserved, interpreted, and promoted the history of this scientific adventure, which created and continues to shape the modern world.

Early Years

In 1982 the Center for the History of Chemistry was launched by the University of Pennsylvania and the American Chemical Society. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers became the third sponsor in 1984.

By 1987 the center was incorporated as a nonprofit organization called the National Foundation for the History of Chemistry. It was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in 1992 to better reflect its interdisciplinary nature and the widening scope of its programs and activities.

CHF in the 21st Century

Today CHF covers matter and materials and their effect on the modern world, in territory ranging from the physical sciences and industries, through the chemical sciences and engineering, to the life sciences and technologies.

Disciplinary specialties and research trends evolve over time, and CHF has evolved in order to keep pace with them. But we stand steadfast with our founding purpose: We continue to collect, preserve, and exhibit historical artifacts; engage communities of scientists and engineers; and tell the stories of the people behind breakthroughs and innovations.


Founding president Arnold Thackray set CHF on an ambitious course. He moved the fledgling organization from two basement rooms on the University of Pennsylvania campus to the heart of Old City, Philadelphia, and shaped it into the premier institution preserving the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related sciences and technologies.

Thomas R. Tritton took the helm in 2007, guiding CHF with a steady hand through the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and leading it to renewed economic health while greatly increasing public programs and outreach.

In 2013 Carsten Reinhardt became CHF’s third president. Formerly a professor of the history of science at Bielefeld University, Germany, Reinhardt has extensively researched and published on the impact of chemistry on society through topics including the history of industrial research, the emergence of instrumentation, and chemistry’s links to physics, biology, medicine, and technology. Reinhardt was an Edelstein Fellow at CHF in 1998–99.


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