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Charles D. Hurd

  • Born: May 7, 1897, Utica, New York
  • Died: September 11, 1998

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0090
Interview Date: February 28, 1991
Location: Evanston, Illinois
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 63
Minutes: 180

  Abstract of Interview

Charles Hurd begins the interview with information and anecdotes about his childhood in upstate New York and his stepfather's career in administering boarding schools and colleges. He discusses his undergraduate education at Syracuse University, his research during World War I in the Chemical Service Sector on poison gas, and a summer job working with Thomas Edison for the Naval Consulting Board. Hurd then describes his graduate work at the University of Minnesota and Princeton University, during which he began his work on ketenes and pyrolysis. This work continued during his instructorship at the University of Illinois, which culminated when Hurd was recruited to Northwestern University by Frank Whitmore. Hurd describes his career at Northwestern and discusses his interests in nomenclature, his work on sugar chemistry and his numerous consultancies in industry. Hurd names many of the graduate students with whom he worked and describes the dynamics of his relationship to them as mentor and his introduction of "Molecular Models" as a teaching tool. Hurd discusses the media's "chemophobia" and negative portrayal of the chemical industry, and describes his own published effots to dispel this negative image and his writings for encylclopedias and dictionaries. Hurd concludes the interview by briefly examining other resaerch projects, patents and colleagues.


1918 B.S., Chemistry, Syracuse University
1921 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Princeton University

  Professional Experience

Thomas A. Edison's Laboratory, West Orange, New Jersey

1917 - 1917 Laboratory Assistant

United States Army

1918 - 1918 Chemical Service Section

University of Illinois

1921 - 1924 Instructor, Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1924 - 1928 Assistant Professor, Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1928 - 1933 Associate Professor, Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1933 - 1949 Professor, Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1949 - 1951 Morrison Professor, Chemistry Department

Northwestern University

1951 - 1965 Clare Hamilton Hall Research Professor

Northwestern University

1965 - 1998 Clare Hamilton Hall Research Professor, Emeritus


1943 Sc.D., honorary, Syracuse University
1958 Midwest Award, American Chemical Society, St. Louis Section
1971 Austin M. Patterson Award, American Chemical Society
1974 Honorary membership, Illinois State Academy of Science
1978 Distinguished Service Award, American Chemical Society, Chicago Section

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood, Family History and Early Education 1

Born in Utica, New York. Father dies and mother remarries. Stepfather heads Cook Academy, the first high school in the U. S. to be attended by Chinese students. V. K. Wellington Koo. Stepfather moves to Keuka College. Hurd attends numerous schools and enjoys all sciences.

Undergraduate Education and Early Professional Experiences 6

Majors in chemistry and physics. Influential professors and early laboratory work. Chemical Service Sector research at American University during World War I with L. W. Jones. Summer job working with Thomas Edison for Naval Consulting Board in Orange, New Jersey. Meets future wife.

Graduate Education 14

Works with Jones and Izaak M. Kolthoff. Synthesizes triphenylacetohydroxamic acid and ketenes. Ph.D. thesis and early nomeclature work. Pyrolysis.

Instructorship at the University of Illinois 17

Interactions with Carl S. Marvel, Roger Adams and Wallace Carothers. Innovates methods to increase yield of ketene. Students. Anecdote about Lewisite. Recruited to Northwestern University by Frank Whitmore.

Early Career at Northwestern University 22

Whitmore's career at Northwestern. Hurd starts committee of American Chemical Society to study improvements of nomenclature. Discusses problems and importance of nomenclature. Promotions to Morrison Professor and Clare Hamilton Hall Research Professor of Organic Chemistry. Authors book on pyrolysis of carbon compounds.

Academic Activities, Consulting and Teaching 29

Begins work on sugar chemistry. Consultancies with industry. Whitmore's Institute of Chemistry at Northwestern and leadership of the chemistry department. Graduate students. Molecular Models. Journal of Organic Chemistry and Morris Kharasch.

Thoughts on the Public Perception of Chemistry 39

Chemophobia in the media. Amadeo Avogadro: The Other Amadeus. How to communicate the positive aspects of chemistry to non-chemists. Writing for encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Research 42

Work on mustard gas during World War II. Carbon suboxide and levulinic acid. Ozonolysis of triple bonds. Cyclooctatetraene. Spectrophotometry and NMR. Deuterium tracer work in pyrolysis. Patents and colleagues.

Notes 55

Index 59

  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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