About the Othmer Library of Chemical History

The Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History collects, preserves, and makes accessible materials relating to the history of science, technology, and medicine, with an emphasis on chemistry and chemical engineering from ancient to modern times.

The Othmer Library was founded in 1988 when Donald and Mildred Othmer announced their challenge grant to be given for the creation of a library that would work to preserve the history of the chemical sciences. The Othmer Library now houses approximately 160,000 print and microform volumes, rare books and manuscripts, significant archival materials, and historical photographs of great value to researchers and our cultural heritage. Together these collections, spanning nearly 6 miles of shelves, form an unrivaled resource for the history of chemistry and related sciences, technologies, and industries.

Rare Books

The nucleus of the rare-book collection comes from both the library of the Chemists’ Club of New York and the Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library. The collection now consists of over 6,000 volumes of rare books dealing with all aspects of chemistry and related subjects from the 15th century on. Readers will find all of the landmark works of the history of chemistry, often in multiple editions. In addition, hundreds of other lesser-known works of equal interest to researchers can be found. The rare-book collection also contains significant concentrations of works on the early chemical industry and commerce, including distillation, bleaching and dyeing, the study and use of mineral waters, the early gas-lighting industry and its critics, perfumery, and a host of productive processes ranging from the extraction and treatment of sugar to the procurement and purification of saltpeter, to the manufacture of steel, glass, alum, vitriol, and porcelain as well as that of beer and wine. Allied fields that deploy chemical knowledge form further important clusters of materials, such as mining and metallurgy, assaying, gunnery, pyrotechnics, and books of secrets. The related subjects of medicine, pharmacy, crystallography, geology, mineralogy, balneology, physics, and botany are also well represented.


CHF holds about 5,200 linear feet of historical manuscripts and photographs. CHF actively collects and preserves the papers of individuals and groups whose work has significantly advanced our scientific understanding and whose discoveries have helped shape our lives. The photograph collection of over 25,000 images provides visual documentation of chemists, laboratories, and instrumentation. Through archives CHF documents the history and heritage of chemistry and related sciences and illuminates the broad impact of these sciences on society. Of increasing importance are CHF’s Nobel Laureate Archive, which currently houses the personal and professional papers of several Nobel Prize winners, including Paul Lauterbur, Richard Smalley, Paul Flory, John Pople, Alan MacDiarmid, and Johann Deisenhofer, and a growing collection of records from the chemical industry, including the Dow Historical Collection and the Rohm and Haas Corporate Archives.

Modern Monographs and Journals

The foundation of the modern library collection is the 30,000 volumes donated by the Chemists’ Club in 1988. Other assets include important materials from the Franklin Institute as well as donations from many other sources and continuing acquisitions. The collecting focus for CHF is to obtain modern printed materials that are appropriate primary and secondary historical sources as opposed to what would be found in a modern scientific library. The monographs and journals range from the general fields of inorganic and organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, chemical engineering, food chemistry, and pharmacology, to specific subjects such as brewing, cosmetics, dyes, plastics, soaps, and textiles. Virtually every subject of modern chemical theory is represented, from quantum chemistry and chemical thermodynamics through cryogenics and molecular biology. Other less obvious categories include books by less-prominent toilers, early attempts at public outreach, and the collection of old textbooks.

Subject Guides

Subject Guides

Research assistance, subject guides, and useful resources compiled by the Othmer library staff. Know what we know — find it in our Subject Guides!



Othmeralia logo

View the hidden treasures buried in the Othmer Library’s collections. From the intriguing to the quirky, Othmeralia showcases items unearthed daily by our library’s staff. Learn more »

Brown Bag Lecture Series

Enjoy a bring-your-own brown-bag lunch while listening to CHF scholars share their research.

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