Chester G. Fisher

Chester G. Fisher

Chester G. Fisher, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, founded Fisher Scientific Instruments when he was only twenty years old and still an engineering student at what became the University of Pittsburgh. Fisher’s company was initially a scientific materials company, which provided laboratory-testing equipment to local businesses. Fisher’s aim was to create a one-stop shop in scientific materials for researchers. In 1904 Fisher published his first catalogue, which soon set a standard for the industry and was quickly recognized as an important scientific reference tool. During World War I, Fisher began manufacturing instruments, including gun sights for field artillery. Fisher also designed a rapid gas analysis system for use by the American Expeditionary Forces in 1918 and sent two of his employees to France to train soldiers in gas detection.

After 1917 Fisher extended his activities to cover a wide range of scientific instruments that had previously been imported from Europe. In 1921 the company introduced a new burner designed by Chester’s brother, Edwin Fisher, which was the most significant improvement in burners since Robert Bunsen’s famous burner in 1888. Fisher products were an important tool for American researchers throughout the 1920s and 1930s but never more so than during World War II, when Fisher Scientific Corporation played a vital role in equipping the nation’s scientific laboratories, including those of the Manhattan Project.

In the 1920s Fisher began collecting paintings and artifacts that depict the history of chemistry. Fisher was fascinated by the work of Louis Pasteur, and he constructed a special Pasteur room, dedicated to the great French biologist that contained apparatus, instruments, and other original documents. The collection is now housed at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. (More about the Fisher Collection at CHF)

Fisher was very active in industry professional associations and was a founder and president of the Scientific Apparatus Makers Association. He was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a charter member of the Pittsburgh Section of the American Chemical Society, which honored him with the Pittsburgh Award in 1947.


 A young Chester Fisher. Courtesy of Fisher Scientific.

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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