John Townsend Baker

John Townsend Baker

John Townsend Baker was born in 1860 in Orange, New Jersey. He studied chemistry at Lafayette College, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1882 and a master’s degree in 1885. By 1890 Baker, along with Lafayette classmate George P. Adamson, established the Baker and Adamson Chemical Company in Easton, Pennsylvania, to market chemical compounds. Company lore suggests that the idea for starting a business came about after Baker received low grades on a chemistry experiment from a professor he both liked and respected. Baker claimed the error was caused by the poor quality of chemicals in the lab, and when Professor Edward Hart challenged him to improve the quality of laboratory chemicals, Baker decided to do just that.

The company proved highly successful and in 1902 was sold to a Pennsylvania enterprise—the Allied Chemical Company—on the condition that neither Baker nor Adamson would set up business in the same state. Baker promptly founded the J.T.Baker Chemical Company in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, and many of his old Baker and Adamson employees followed him. The new enterprise, the first in the industry to print the actual lot analysis on its product labels, focused on providing the highest-quality chemicals possible. Among the first lines Baker introduced were water-clear ammonium hydroxide and acids and alkali metal salts—products still produced by the company.

Baker was a tireless worker for his employees and his community; he was a founding member of the Easton chapter of the American Red Cross as well as a board member of the Easton YMCA. Baker was an organizer of the Charity Organization Society and a longtime member of the American Chemical Society. In 1921 he retired from the presidency of J.T.Baker and became chairman of the company. He served in that capacity until his death in 1935.

Arnold O. Beckman

CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry was started with a generous grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1987.


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