Alfred Bader established the Aldrich Chemical Company, later the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, as one of the world’s leading suppliers of research chemicals. These research chemicals are essential tools for chemists of all kinds, used as key reagents and starting materials. During Bader’s long tenure at the firm, from 1951 to 1991, he oversaw the assembly of a huge library of rare chemicals—numbering nearly 50,000—in addition to thousands of more commonly used chemicals. The company’s annual catalog, which featured a red “A” on the binding and a reproduction of fine art on the cover, became widely known as “Big Red” and was often used as a reference for its physical data and structural information.
Born in 1924 in Vienna, Austria, Bader was one of the 10,000 Jewish children evacuated to the United Kingdom in 1938 as part of the Kindertransport effort. In 1940 he, along with all other male German and Austrian nationals living in the United Kingdom, was interred. Soon thereafter Bader was sent to an internment camp in Canada, where he completed his secondary education with high marks. Released in 1941, Bader won acceptance to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; he earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry and history and a master’s degree in chemistry in 1947. Bader then attended Harvard University, where in 1950 he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry under the guidance of famed organic chemist Louis Fieser. In 1951 Bader and Jack Eisendrath, a lawyer, cofounded Aldrich Chemical in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to produce and supply research chemicals. Within four years, Bader and his first wife, Helen, were the sole owners of the firm, with Bader serving as president and chief chemist.
Aldrich Chemical grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s and expanded internationally with an emphasis on organic chemicals. In 1975 Bader merged the firm with Sigma International of St. Louis, Missouri, a leader in research biochemicals, creating the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation. He served as the new company’s chairman until 1991. From the early 1990s to the present, working closely with his second wife, Isabel, Bader has devoted himself to philanthropic efforts and to both collecting and selling Old Master paintings. In recognition of his philanthropy and his service to chemical research, Bader has received many awards and honors, including eleven honorary degrees. He has also published two volumes of his memoirs, Adventures of a Chemist Collector and Chemistry and Art: More Adventures of a Chemist Collector.