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Henry Taube

  • Born: November 30, 1915, Neudorf, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Died: November 16, 2005, Stanford, California

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0298
Interview Date: March 19, 1986
Location: On the way to Grand Central Terminal, New York, New York
Interviewer: Leon B. Gortler
No. of pages: 19

  Abstract of Interview

Henry Taube begins his interview with a description of his early career at Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley, and cites some of the reasons for his decision to accept a position at the University of Chicago. While at Cornell, Taube felt suffocated by the authoritarian style of compartmentalized departments. Taube also felt some level of separation at the University of Chicago between department members and members of the Institute for the Study of Metals and the Institute for Nuclear Studies. In 1956, he became chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Chicago. Taube then discusses his relationship with Warren Johnson, the dean of the physical sciences, who he felt helped the department survive in terms of balancing the budget and finding financial support. Taube then reflects on the history of the chemistry department and the various members of the faculty who ran the department in its early years. Next, Taube discusses his means of funding his research during his early years at the University of Chicago and his work with mass spectrometry. While at the University of Chicago, Taube worked with Frank H. Westheimer, a man he greatly respected, as well as Willard H. Libby, who was a personal friend. As a member of the chemistry faculty, Taube enjoyed numerous discussions with his colleagues and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere where faculty felt encouraged to share their research, which greatly contrasted with the atmosphere at Cornell. Taube also describes a confrontation with Morris S. Kharasch, which he felt greatly affected the early part of his term as chairman. Taube concludes his interview by discussing the ways in which his career as an instructor at Cornell and the research he was involved with negatively affected his first marriage and how he learned later to delegate authority and find balance between his professional and personal life.


1935 B.S. University of Saskatchewan
1937 M.S. University of Saskatchewan
1940 Ph.D, Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

  Professional Experience

University of California, Berkeley

1940 - 1941 Instructor

Cornell University

1941 - 1944 Instructor

Cornell University

1944 - 1946 Assistant Professor

University of Chicago

1946 - 1948 Assistant Professor

University of Chicago

1948 - 1953 Associate Professor

University of Chicago

1953 - 1961 Professor

University of Chicago

1956 - 1959 Chairman

Stanford University

1961 - 1986 Professor

Stanford University

1972 - 1974 Chairman

Stanford University

1978 - 1979 Chairman

Stanford University

1986 - 2005 Professor Emeritus


1949 Guggenheim Fellow
1955 Guggenheim Fellow
1955 American Chemical Society Award for Nuclear Applications in Chemistry
1960 Harrison Howe Award, Rochester Section, American Chemical Society
1964 Chandler Medal, Columbia University
1966 John Gamble Kirkwood Award, New Haven Section, Society
1967 American Chemical Society Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry
1971 Nichols Medal, New York, American Chemical Society
1971 Willard Gibbs Medal, Chicago Section, American Chemical Society
1973 F.P. Dwyer Medal, University of New South Wales, Australia
1973 Honorary Doctorate, (L.L.D.) University of Saskatchewan
1976 Marguerite Blake Wilbur Endowed Professorship
1977 National Medal of Science, Washington, D.C.
1979 Allied Chemical Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Innovative Science
1979 Degree of Ph.D. honoris causa of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
1980 T.W. Richards Medal of the Northeastern Section, American Chemical Society
1981 American Chemical Society Award in Inorganic Chemistry of the Monsanto Company
1981 The Linus Pauling Award, Puget Sound Section, American Chemical Society
1983 National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences
1983 Bailar Medal, University of Illinois
1983 Doctor of Science, University of Chicago
1983 Robert A. Welch Foundation Award in Chemistry
1983 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1984 Doctor of Science, Polytechnic Institute, New York
1984 Honorary Member, College of Chemists of Catalonia and Beleares
1985 Priestly Medal, American Chemical Society
1985 Doctor of Science, State University of New York
1985 Corresponding Member, Academy of Arts and Science of Puerto Rico
1986 Honorary Member, Canadian Society for Chemistry
1986 Distinguished Achievement Award, International Precious Metals Institute
1986 The Oesper Award, The Cincinnati Section of the American Chemical Society
1987 Doctor of Science, University of Guelph
1988 Honorary Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
1988 Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Seton Hall University
1988 Doctor of Science, Lajos Kossuth University of Debrecen, Hungary
1989 Honorary Fellowship, Royal Society of Chemistry
1989 Honorary Fellowship, Indian Chemical Society
1990 G. M. Kosolapoff Award, Auburn Section, American Chemical Society
1990 Doctor of Science, Northwestern University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Career Choices 1

Cornell University. German system. Highly compartmentalized. Professor Albert W. Laubergayer. Wilder D. Bancroft. James Lynn and Florence Hoard. Simon H. Bauer. Thor Rubin. University of California, Berkeley.

University of Chicago 2

The Institute for the Study of Metals and the Institute for Nuclear Studies. Warren Johnson. Position as chairman of the chemistry department. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Julius O. Stieglitz. Morris S. Kharasch. Grant Urry. The Office of Naval Research.

Recollections of Career 5

Harold Urey. Frank H. Westheimer. Personal friends with Willard F. Libby and wife, Lorelie. Franck-Condon restriction to the thermal electron transfer process. Paper for Linus C. Pauling's birthday celebration. Enjoyable discussion sessions with chemists. Conflict with Morris S. Kharasch.

Conclusion 13

Philosophy on high-pressure careers. First marriage. Balancing personal and professional life. Second marriage.

Postscript 15

Notes 16

Index 17

  About the Interviewer

Leon B. Gortler

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds A.B. and M.S. degrees from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.

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