******** William H. Nichols and the History of the Nichols Medal ********
Dr. William H. Nichols, a charter member of the American Chemical Society and its president in 1918 and 1919, was a pioneer in the development of the chemical industry in the United States and an early champion of the importance of chemistry in the future growth of the nation. He maintained a deep commitment to research and development and to the importance of supporting science education and students of chemistry. In 1902, he expressed his conviction by establishing an annual award, the first in its field, of a gold medal for original chemical research. In June of 1902 Dr. William H. Nichols conveyed 10 shares of preferred stock in his General Chemical Company to the American Chemical Society to endow its first award. In accepting the bequest, the board of directors requested permission of Dr. Nichols to name the award "The Nichols Medal of the New York Section." Since the first award on January 9, 1903, the American Chemical Society's New York Section has proudly named ninety-seven distinguished chemists as Nichols Medalists.
The Story of the Nichols Medal and the man behind it is an integral part of our Society's legacy. Dr. William H. Nichols' career began in 1870 producing mainly sulfuric acid. He founded or organized by merger many well known companies. The best known was his General Chemical Company that merged with four others to form the Allied Chemical and Dye Company (known as Allied Signal Corporation). The great success of his companies can be traced to several notable principles that guided Dr. Nichols' career. First was his deep belief in research and development. Second was his support for science education and the students of chemistry. Third was his concern for the welfare of his employees. Most important was his often quoted belief that "the Golden Rule is as applicable in business as it is in church." It is this legacy of Dr. William H. Nichols that the New York Section is proud to maintain in its annual award of the Nichols Medal each spring.
The Administration of the William H. Nichols Medal has evolved since its inception. Initially, the Medal award consisted of the 18 carat gold Nichols Medal, whose design depicts the allegorical figure of Dr. Faust in his laboratory as described by Goethe. A bronze replica of the medal, to be used for display purposes, was later added to the award. Beginning in the Centennial year, through the generosity of the Nichols Foundation, a cash prize of $5000 will be presented annually. Rules for the award were strict; however, the competition was never limited to ACS members. It was required that the paper contain the results of original chemical research and be presented in person at a meeting of the New York Section. The complete manuscript had to be presented to the Secretary at the meeting where it was read. In 1909 the rules for the award were amended to allow the paper to be published in any of the ACS publications. In 1913 the requirement that the paper be presented at a New York Section meeting was abandoned; however, the award winner was required to present an address on the subject at the March meeting of the Section. In 1926 the selection jury was more precisely defined and the jury was now able to consider the sum total of a chemist's work for the three previous years rather than just a single paper in the past year. Finally, in 1965 the bylaws were changed to include the consideration of the awardee's significant work for the previous five years instead of three years.
The Sites for the Nichols award meeting varied. The first meetings were held at the Chemist's Club, until 1935. In 1936 when the meetings became very large, over 600 attendees at one point, they were held in a variety of hotels in Manhattan including the Pennsylvania, Statler, New Yorker, Roosevelt and Waldorf Astoria. In 1970 the Nichols award meeting moved to the Tarrytown Hilton, remaining there until 1977. The next sites were Marymount College, the College of Mount Saint Vincent and in 1993 the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains. For the Centennial Celebration, the Nichols award meeting returns to Manhattan, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, adjacent to the former Allied Chemical building, the center of New York City's New Years Eve festivities.
The Format of the meeting has also evolved. At first it consisted of a presentation of the Nichols Medal at a regular monthly meeting with the awardee as one of the technical speakers. By 1975 the Nichols award meeting changed to its present format. An afternoon Distinguished Symposium was instituted, consisting of technical lectures related to the medalist's field of interest along with a technical presentation by the medalist. A formal reception and award dinner follows the symposium. At the award dinner, a knowledgeable friend and colleague introduces the awardee, the Nichols Jury Chairperson awards the gold medal and bronze replica and the awardee presents a less technical acceptance address. The students, in keeping with Dr. Nichols' belief in the inspirational value of the award, are invited to meet with the medalist The evolution of the Nichols Medal award has been varied and interesting throughout the 20th century. Yet, throughout the 100 years, there have been two unchanging traditions. One is the loyal interest and continued generous support of the Nichols family that enables over 100 students, each year, to attend the Distinguished Symposium and Medal Award Dinner as invited guests. Second is the extremely high quality of the recipients of the Nichols Medal Award.