Collective Voice: "Rotating and Resolving" Recovered

Caricature of Werner.

An undated and unsigned caricature of Werner as an "atom tamer," reproduced in the April 1974 issue of Chemistry. CHF Special Collections.

There is a line in Orson Welles’ adaptation of “The Magnificent Ambersons” to the effect that ‘in those days they had time for everything.’ This seems to have applied to chemistry as well. Chemists loved to get together and drink and sing silly songs—and sometimes perform short satirical sketches. So it was that in 1911 future Nobel Laureate Paul Karrer, then a student at work in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Alfred Werner, took a break from his arduous studies to pen an amusing verse play for a Christmas celebration. These Weihnachtskommers were a chance for students to let their hair down and even poke some gentle fun at their professors. Werner was quite a taskmaster; he figures in the skit as “Der Alte” (the Old Man) and merited lines such as: “Der Alte was seen on Sunday last, / Splitting two cords of beechwood fast, / He said for practice he did the task / Practice for what, no one dared ask.”

George B. Kaufman and Herman K. Doswald resurrected Karrer’s piece and published a translation in the April 1974 issue of Chemistry. It survived the fate of most ephemera due to the collecting zeal of Wyndham Miles and William D. Williams, who included it in their voluminous collection of reprints dealing with history of chemistry. It’s now a part of CHF’s Special Collections.

Andrew Mangravite is Archivist at CHF’s Othmer Library of Chemical History. Collective Voice, dispatches from CHF's Collections team, appears every second Friday on Periodic Tabloid.

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