New Search

Izaak M. Kolthoff

Izaak Kolthoff

Gift of Herman Skolnik, CHF Collections

  • Born: February 11, 1894, Almelo, The Netherlands
  • Died: March 4, 1993, St. Paul, Minnesota

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0027
Interview Date: March 15, 1984
Location: University of Minnesota,
Interviewer: George D. Tselos
No. of pages: 29
Minutes: 120

  Abstract of Interview

In this interview Professor Izaak Kolthoff begins by discussing his early life in Holland, his family, and his education. Kolthoff continues with the factors influencing his decision to become an analytical chemist, and he describes the early state of analytical chemistry compared to other branches of chemistry. The interview then focuses on accusations of Communist sympathies and the effects of the McCarthy era on Kolthoff's career. Kolthoff concludes with a brief discussion of his work on crystal surfaces, the relocation of European scientists during the 1930s, and his participation in synthetic rubber research during World War II.


1915 Diploma Pharmaceutical Institute, State University of Utrecht
1918 Ph.D., Chemistry, State University of Utrecht

  Professional Experience

State University of Utrecht

1917 - 1927 Conservator, Pharmaceutical Institute

State University of Utrecht

1924 - 1927 Lecturer in Applied Electrochemistry

University of Minnesota

1927 - 1962 Professor and Head of the Division of Analytical Chemistry

University of Minnesota

1962 - 1993 Emeritus Professor of Analytical Chemistry


1949 Nichols Medal, American Chemical Society
1950 Fisher Award
1960 Minnesota Award, American Chemical Society
1964 Charles Medal, Charles University, Prague
1964 Willard Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society
1964 Polarographic Medal, British Polarographic Society
1967 Kolthoff Gold Medal, Academy of Pharmaceutical Science
1981 Olin-Palladium Medal, Electrochemical Society

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Parents' religious life. Acquires nickname of "Piet." Early schooling in Holland. Acquires an interest in science. Moves away from family religion. Experience with anti-Semitism. Educational structure of the Gymnasium.

University Education and Decision to Become a Chemist 3

Comparison of European and American college-level education. Earns degree in pharmacy. Instructor encourages his interest in chemistry. Publishes paper on electrical conductance. Relationship with Hans Cohen. Decision to visit the U.S. in 1924. Influence of Wilhelm Ostwald's book. Influence of Schoorl, his teacher. Meets other chemists at IUPAC meeting in Utrecht. Walther Nernst. Peter Debye.

World War II 9

Synthetic rubber research. Consulting with Interscience. Potientiometric titrations with N. Howell Furman. Oldrich Tomicek. Jaroslav Heyrovsky. Analytical chemistry as maidservant of other fields. Analytical chemistry in the United States. IUPAC view of analytical chemistry. Convinces Noyes to include a section of analytical chemistry in JACS.

Communism 11

Accused of being Communist sympathizer. John Cowles. Senator Child. Meeting with Frederic Joliot-Curie in 1945. Support of international meeting. Name in Communist newspaper. Career further damaged in McCarthy era. Charles Turck. House Un-American Activities Committee. Judy Holliday. Heads group to get Rosenberg conviction reversed.

University of Minnesota 15

Work on surface of crystals. Use of radioactivity to measure surface perfections on crystals. Visits by Otto Hahn and Heyrovsky. Friendship with Hahn. An-ions, cat-ions, and on-ions. Visits to Czechoslovakia. Relocation of European scientists in 1930s. F. G. Donnan.

Other recollections 17

Quarrel with Eugene Ormandy. Outstanding graduate students at Minnesota. Early work on synthetic rubber. Relationship between academics and industry during synthetic rubber work. William O. Baker. Scarcity of analytical chemists as Nobel Laureates.

Notes 23

Index 25

  About the Interviewer

George D. Tselos

George D. Tselos holds a B.A. in biology from Carleton College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota. As a specialist in archival administration, he held a position with the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University before joining the Center for History of Chemistry (now the Chemical Heritage Foundation) as assistant director for archives.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible tax-deductible gift online.