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William J. Bailey

William Bailey

CHF Collections

  • Born: August 11, 1921, East Grand Forks, Minnesota
  • Died: December 17, 1989, Honolulu, Hawaii

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0012
Interview Date: June 3, 1986
Location: University of Maryland,
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 56
Minutes: 198

  Abstract of Interview

The late Bill Bailey starts the interview by describing his upbringing in rural Minnesota, where his family operated a small lumber business. An outstanding high school teacher sparked Bailey's interest in science, which became focused on chemistry during his undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, where Lee Irving Smith was a major influence. Indeed, Smith was largely responsible for Bailey's move to Illinois for graduate work with Speed Marvel and research on polymer synthesis. After a year at MIT as postdoctoral assistant to Cope, William Bailey started his teaching career at Wayne University; here he started his noted combination of organic and polymer chemistry. Five years after going to Detroit, Bailey accepted a research professorship at the University of Maryland where he spent the rest of his career. The interview concludes with an account of Bailey's long involvement with the American Chemical Society, including his presidency in 1975, and his thoughts on the current image of chemistry.


1943 B. Chem. University of Minnesota
1946 Ph.D. University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1946 - 1947 Arthur D. Little Postdoctoral Fellow

Wayne State University

1947 - 1949 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Wayne State University

1949 - 1951 Associate Professor of Chemistry

University of Maryland, College Park

1951 - 1989 Research Professor


1955 Fatty Acid Producers Research Award
1968 Service Award, Washington Section, American Chemical Society
1970 Welch Foundation Lecturer
1971 Research Award, Gulf Oil Foundation

Honor Scroll, District of Columbia Chapter, American Institute of Chemists 


President, American Chemical Society

1976 Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Minnesota
1976 Rauscher Memorial Lecturer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
1977 Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1979 Scientific Achievement Award, University of Maryland Chapter, Sigma Xi
1983 Gossett Award Lecturer, North Carolina State University
1984 Mobay Award Lecturer, College of Charleston
1984 Hillebrand Prize, Chemical Society of Washington
1986 Applied Polymer Science Award, American Chemical Society
1988 Henry Hill Award, American Chemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Education 1

Growing up in rural Minnesota during the Depression. Family lumber business. High school teacher sparks interest in science, despite poor facilities. Athletics.

University of Minnesota 7

Rooming with brother, college athletics. Move to college of engineering and decision to major in chemistry. Faculty and influence of Lee Irving Smith.

University of Illinois 11

Ph.D. program with Carl Marvel. Wartime rubber program. Colleagues and junior faculty. A memorable softball game. Laboratory facilities and incidents.

Postdoc with Cope at MIT 18

Situation at MIT, new organic faculty. Research on cyclo-octatetraene.

Wayne State University 21

Assistant professor at Wayne. Neil Gordon and Herbert Brown. Teaching load, start of own research school. First all-cis-diene polymer.

University of Maryland 26

Research professorship. Chemical Corps and ACS committee. Ladder polymers. Monomers that expand on polymerization. Applications.

American Chemical Society 33

Regional activities in ACS. Policy as President. Public affairs and the image of chemistry. Chemistry and college students. Polymer education and fashions in chemistry. Journals. Changes in organic and polymer chemistry over career.

Notes 43

Index 46

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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