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Anthony N. Stranges and Richard C. Jones

Baekeland, Leo Hendrik (14 November 1863–23 February 1944), chemist and inventor, was born in St. Martens-Latem, near Ghent, Belgium, the son of Karel Baekeland, a cobbler, and Rosalia Merchie, a housemaid. A government scholarship enabled Baekeland to enter the University of Ghent, where he studied chemistry in the School of Exact Sciences. He received a B.S. in 1882 and a D.Sc. in organic chemistry in 1884, passing the examination with highest honors. The following year he became an assistant to Theodore Swarts, a professor of chemistry at Ghent. In 1887 Baekeland won a traveling scholarship in an academic competition sponsored by the Universities of Ghent, Liege, Brussels, and Louvain. He postponed travel and instead continued as an assistant professor and then as associate professor from 1888 to 1889 at Ghent and at the nearby Higher Normal School at Bruges from 1885 to 1887. In 1889 he married Swarts’s daughter, Céline, an artist; they had two children. The couple used Baekeland’s scholarship for travel to France, Britain, and the United States that year....

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Blodgett, Katharine Burr (10 January 1898–12 October 1979), chemist and inventor, was born in Schenectady, New York, the daughter of George Bedington Blodgett, a patent attorney for the General Electric Company, and Katharine Buchanan Burr. Her father was murdered a few weeks before her birth, a crime never solved. She grew up in reasonably comfortable circumstances in New York City, where her mother worked in child care. She attended Bryn Mawr College, graduating in 1917 with an A.B. and majoring in physics. She then undertook graduate study in chemistry at the University of Chicago, obtaining the M.S. degree in 1918....

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Anthony N. Stranges and Richard C. Jones

Cottrell, Frederick Gardner (10 January 1877–16 November 1948), chemist and inventor, was born in Oakland, California, the son of Henry Cottrell, a confidential secretary to a San Francisco ship broker, and Cynthia Durfee. Cottrell’s boyhood in California coincided with the spread of the electrical power industry, and during those years he conducted many electrical experiments in his home laboratory-workshop. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1896 with a B.S. in chemistry, Cottrell taught chemistry at Oakland High School. Finding this too restrictive for his imaginative talents and wanting to continue his studies in the new field of physical chemistry, Cottrell traveled to Europe where the laboratories and graduate research training in science were then most advanced. Cottrell studied with Wilhelm Ostwald in Leipzig, receiving the Ph.D. with highest honors in 1902....

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Doremus, Robert Ogden (11 January 1824–22 March 1906), chemist, teacher, and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Cornelius Doremus, a merchant who was one of the founders of New York University, and Sarah Platt Haines, a social worker and philanthropist. He began his undergraduate study in New York at Columbia College but moved after a year to New York University, where he received his A.B. in 1842, his M.A. in 1845, and his M.D. in 1850. In 1847 he studied chemistry and metallurgy in Paris, and during all of his graduate school years, from 1843 to 1850, he was assistant to the English-born chemist at New York University, Dr. ...

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du Pont, Francis Irénée (03 December 1873–16 March 1942), chemist, inventor, and stockbroker, was born at Hagley House outside of Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Francis Gurney du Pont, manager of the Du Pont black powder mills, and Elise Wigfall Simons. He was a great-grandson of ...

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Ellis, Carleton (20 September 1876–13 January 1941), chemist and inventor, was born in Keene, New Hampshire, the son of Marcus Ellis, a merchant, and Catherine Goodnow. Ellis received a camera from his father for his eleventh birthday and became an amateur photographer. Obsessed with the chemistry of photography, he pursued experiments in a home laboratory to the dismay of his parents, who considered this a wasteful extravagance. In 1896 he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a B.S. in chemistry in 1900 and serving as an instructor in chemistry until 1902. In 1901 he married Birdella May Wood of Dayton, Ohio; they had four children....

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Frasch, Herman (25 December 1851–01 May 1914), chemist, chemical engineer, and inventor, was born in Gaildorf, Wuerttemberg, Germany, the son of Johannes Frasch, a prosperous pharmacist and burgomaster of the town; his mother’s name is not recorded. Frasch was educated at the Gymnasium and then apprenticed to a pharmacist but decided to come to the United States at age seventeen. He settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he became an assistant in the laboratory of Professor ...

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Langmuir, Irving (31 January 1881–16 August 1957), chemist and inventor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Charles Langmuir, an insurance executive, and Sadie Comings. He was one of four brothers, all of whom were very successful in their chosen fields. He attended public schools in Brooklyn, private schools in Paris (where his father served on European assignment) and Philadelphia. His independence, conscientiousness, and interests were bolstered by his parents’ provision of scientific equipment, their encouragement to keep regular daily records, and permission to engage independently in a widening round of outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain climbing, bicycling, and skating. He attended Columbia University School of Mines, graduating with a degree in metallurgical engineering in 1903....

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Plunkett, Roy Joseph (26 June 1910–12 May 1994), chemist and research director, was born in New Carlisle, Ohio, the son of Joseph Henry Plunkett and Elizabeth May Garst, farmers. His parents belonged to the Church of the Brethren, whose members were known as Dunkards, or Dunkers, and he was raised strictly in the faith. He graduated from Newton High School in Pleasant Hill, Ohio, in 1927 and entered Manchester College, a Dunkard school, in North Manchester, Indiana, from which he received his A.B. in chemistry in 1932. He roomed and was friends with future (1974) Nobel chemistry laureate ...

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Rillieux, Norbert (17 March 1806–08 October 1894), inventor, chemical engineer, and first cousin of the painter Edgar Degas's mother, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Vincent Rillieux, Jr., an engineer, and Constance Vivant, who belonged to a wealthy free black family of landowners and landlords. Vincent Rillieux, Jr., a businessman and inventor of a steam-operated press for baling cotton, was white, but Norbert and his mother belonged to the mainly Francophone and Catholic ethnic group of “free people of color” (often referred to as “Black Creoles” after the Civil War). Little is known of Norbert Rillieux's childhood from the time of his baptism in the St. Louis Cathedral of New Orleans to the time he and his brother Edmond were sent, like many other young free men of color, to France to be educated. By 1830 Norbert was an instructor in applied mechanics at the École Centrale in Paris and is reported to have published several papers on steam power....

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Sparks, William Joseph (26 February 1904–23 October 1976), chemist and inventor, was born in Wilkinson, Indiana, the son of Charles Edward Sparks and Daisy McDaniel, farmers. Sparks was raised on the family farm, and when he was eighteen his father gave him the choice of a college education or a new Model T Ford. Sparks chose college and in 1922 entered Indiana University to major in history. On the advice of Professor Frank C. Mathers, he switched his major to chemistry at the end of his sophomore year. After receiving an A.B. with distinction in 1926, he worked as a chemist for the Sherwin-Williams Paint Company, switched to the Chrysler Corporation in 1928, and returned to Indiana University, from which he received an A.M. in 1929. He then worked for R&H Electrochemicals at Niagara Falls, where his co-worker was a former classmate from Indiana, Meredith Pleasant, whom he married in 1930; they had two sons and two daughters....