Brief History of the NY Section

History of the Nichols Award
I. Abridged
II. Full History


John B. Sharkey

The New York Section was chartered on September 30, 1891, as the second local section of the American Chemical Society. From 1876, when the society itself was founded, until 1891, the society was very much a New York organization. The society was founded on April 6, 1876 in the lecture room of the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York, now New York University. The society was incorporated in the State of New York in 1877, and its Charter required that its Board of Directors, the legal representatives of the society, to be residents of New York State. The society would remain so until 1938 when it received its Federal Charter, and moved its official headquarters to Washington D.C. It is not surprising that most of the early members of the society, and all of the scientific meetings were held in New York City.

It was the localization of the society in New York that eventually led to the need to form local sections. During the years 1876 to 1890, the society failed to develop an active membership outside of New York City. Out of State members, plagued by the inconvenience of travel and lack of regular mail delivery soon became disillusioned, and began to resign. The membership, which had reached a high of 243 in 1881, declined to 167 in 1889. Dissident members, such as Harvey Wiley and Frank W. Clarke, formed the Washington Chemical Society in 1884, thus bringing pressure on the ACS for needed reform. In addition, Charles F. Chandler, Professor of Chemistry at Columbia in New York City, and Charles F. Monroe of Rhode Island, worked within the society to make it into a truly national chemical society. The result of these efforts led to a new constitution, which was adopted on June 6, 1890, providing for meetings outside of the New York City area, and also for the formation of local section of the society. The first general meeting under the new constitution took place in Newport, Rhode Island in August 1890. In January 1891, the society approved the formation of the Rhode Island Section as its first local section. New York received its charter in September 1891 as the second local section of the society.

Early History of the New York Section

The twenty chemists who made application for the formation of the New York Section constitute the charter members of the section. Among this group were two past presidents of the ACS, Charles F. Chandler and T. Sterry Hunt, and three future section chairs, A. A. Breneman, C. A. Doremus, and A. H. Sabin. Charter members also included Albert K. Leeds, Herman Endemann, and Albert C. Hale, men who distinguished themselves through long and dedicated service to the society.

The first elected officer of the New York Section were Alvah H. Sabin as Chairperson, Morris Loeb as Secretary/Treasurer, and an executive Committee consisting of Henry Carrington Bolton, Abram A, Breneman, and William McMurtrie. Space only permits brief mention of the accomplishments of several of these distinguished chemists.

Alvah Sabin spent most of his career with the American Lead Company, and was an expert in drying oils and the technology of paints, varnishes, and lacquers, and for 30 years, was an abstracter for Chemical Abstracts in these fields.

Morris Loeb served as Secretary/Treasurer from 1892 to 1895, and also was the section Chairperson in 1909-1910. Loeb studied under the great physical chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, and was one of the pioneers in America in this new field of science. A philanthropist, Loeb donated the land for the original Chemists' Club building on East 41st Street, and made possible, in 1912, the Wolcott Gibbs Laboratory for Physical Chemistry at Harvard.

William McMurtrie served on the first Executive Committee and also as section Chairperson from 1896 to 1899. McMurtrie was the first of six New York Section Chairpersons who would serve as President of the American Chemical Society. He worked as chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture, and, in 1883, was succeeded by Harvey W. Wiley, whose great work led to the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906.

Henry Carrington Bolton, also a member of the first Executive Committee, was regarded as one of the leading scientists in America at that time. Author, lecturer and bibliophile, it was Bolton who suggested that chemists meet in Northumberland PA in 1874 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joseph Priestley's discovery of oxygen. Bolton's legacy lives on today through the Bolton Society of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, a group of bibliophiles devoted to the discussion and preservation of books and related material in the chemical sciences.

Many other prominent chemists would serve as officers of the New York Section over its hundred and twelve-year history. Chemists who served as chairpersons of the section would distinguish themselves in many ways; six would serve as president of the society; five would be awarded the Nichols Medal; two would receive the Priestley Medal; and one the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The first regular meeting of the New York Section was held on May 6, 1892, and the first paper to be presented was "On the Application of Graphic methods in Certain Chemical Studies" by A. Bourgougnon. Over the next hundred and twelve years, many distinguished chemists would present the results of their research at meetings of the section.

The William H. Nichols Medal Award

In 1902, William H. Nichols, a charter member of the ACS and President in 1918 and 1919, established an award for the purpose of encouraging original research in chemistry. Dr. Nichols, himself a pioneer in the development of the chemical industry in the United States, was among the first to realize the importance of encouraging chemical research in America. The William H. Nichols Medal Award, the oldest award presented by a local section of the ACS, recognizes outstanding achievement in chemical research. To date, 17 recipients of the Nichols Medal have also received the Nobel Prize, the most recent being K. Barry Sharpless, who received the Nobel Prize in 2001 and the Nichols Medal in 2006.

For a more detailed history of the Nichols Award, Click Here

Memorable Meetings of the New York Section

Many memorable meetings have taken place in New York City during the section's hundred and twelve-year history. Among the most memorable perhaps were the ACS National Meetings hosted by the New York Section, commemorating the 25th, 75th, and 100th anniversaries of the society. (The 50th anniversary meeting was held in Philadelphia, and also in Northumberland PA, site of the 1874 Priestley Centennial meeting which commemorated Joseph Priestley's discovery of oxygen in August 1, 1774.

A number of section meetings were also of historical significance. Among these was a 1914 Conference on Chemicals and Dyestuffs, which called attention to the U.S. dependence on imported chemicals and to the need for American chemical companies to expand into dyestuffs, pharmaceuticals, and other organic chemicals. Action was taken by ACS President Charles H. Herty, a former section chairperson, in mobilizing American manufacturing resources in the interest of industrial preparedness. In general, the usefulness of the Society to the government in the war effort was greatly enlarged.

Among the innovations associated with the New York Section, perhaps the most noteworthy were the formation of the Chemists' Club, the ACS News Service, and the concept of meetings-in-miniature; innovations with us to the present day. The Section is particularly proud of it's meetings-in-miniature, now called the Undergraduate Research Symposium, which last year held its 50th anniversary meeting.

National Historic Chemical Landmarks

In 1993, the ACS Division of Public Outreach and the Division of the History of Chemistry sponsored a new program to increase awareness among professionals and the general public of historic chemical and chemical engineering sites, artifacts, and collections and to encourage their preservation. Of the 47 designations that have taken place so far, four have been associated with the New York Section and the fifth will take place in conjunction with this National Meeting on Wednesday, September 3rd at the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. These landmarks are indicated below: (See all the National Historical Chemical Landmarks at )

The Bakelizer - 1993 (Landmark #1, jointly with the North Jersey Section)
Havemeyer Hall, Columbia University - 1998
Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry at Rockefeller University - 2000
John W. Draper and the Founding of the ACS - 2001
The Polymer Research Institute - 2003
Penicillin Production through Deep-tank Fermentation - 2008
NMR and MRI: Applications in Chemistry and Medicine - 2011

The New York Section - Recent History

The territory of the Section has greatly changed compared to more than a century ago, when membership included those members within a 50-mile radius of New York City Hall. The most dramatic change occurred in 1925, when the North jersey Section was chartered. In 1926, the North Jersey and New York local sections joined forces with the publication of The Indicator, a special issue of which has been published for this meeting.

The Nichols Foundation Chemistry teacher Award, established in 1958, was made possible through the generosity of Charles W. Nichols Jr., grandson of William H. Nichols. The purpose of the award is to encourage and stimulate good teaching of chemistry and to recognize dedicated teachers who inspire students to fully utilize their intellectual resources. The section continues to support education at all levels through its participation in activities such as the Chemistry Olympiad and Project SEED.

Today the New York Section, through its six subsections, ten topical discussion groups, and thirty-seven committees, provides its more than 4000 members over 100 technical events each year. The Section continues its proud tradition of service in the advancement of the chemical sciences initiated by its charter members more than a century ago, by hosting the 226th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Welcome to New York!

History of the Nichols Medal Award

I: An Abridged Version for Quick Reading

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 to a chemical scientist for original research. The "Nichols Medal of the New York Section" was first awarded in 1903. Since its inception, through an endowment fund that Dr. Nichols conveyed to the American Chemical Society, the New York Section administers the award. It has been perpetuated by the generosity of Dr. Nichols, his family, and the Nichols Foundation, Inc.

The award ceremony itself has evolved into the distinguished symposium and banquet during which scientists can interact with their colleagues and with chemistry students. The students, in keeping with Dr. Nichol’s belief in the inspirational value of the award, are invited to meet with the medalist.

The New York Section is honored to have named 105 distinguished chemists as William H. Nichols medalists since 1903. (Summary of Previous Medalists) Seventeen are also Nobel Laureates. The Nichols Medal itself depicts the allegorical figure of Dr. Faust in his laboratory as described by Goethe, and the obverse side bears an inscription of the medalist’s name and award citation.

II: The Complete History

William H. Nichols and the Evolution of the Nichols Medal Award
One Hundred Years

In June 1902 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 Mr. Nichols to call the award "The Nichols Medal of the New York Section." Since the first award in 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.

William H. Nichols (1852-1930) is known as a pioneering leader in the fledging chemical industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His 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 the above 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. Overriding all of these was his often quoted belief that "the Golden Rule is as applicable in business as it is in church." It is this legacy of William H. Nichols that the New York Section is proud to maintain in its annual award of the Nichols Medal each spring.

Presentation and administration of the Nichols Medal has also changed since the inception of the award. In early 1902 it was recommended that a $50 cash prize be awarded for the best paper presented during the 1901-1902 session of the Section and published in the Journal of the Society. The cash prize was rejected in favor of the presentation of a gold medal.

Rules for the award were strict. The competition was not limited to ACS members. The paper had to embody results of original chemical research and had to be presented in person at a meeting of the NY 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 so that the paper could be published in any of the ACS publications. In 1913 the requirement that the paper be presented at a New York Section meeting was dropped. 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 could 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'1s significant work for the previous five years instead of three years,

Sites for the Nichols award meeting varied also. The first meetings were held at the Chemist's Club, until 1935. In 1936 when the meetings became very large, over 600 at one point, they were held in a variety of hotels in Manhattan including the Pennsylvania, Statler, New Yorker, Roosevelt and Waldorf Astoria until 1970. It moved to the Tarrytown Hilton until 1977. The next sites were Marymount College, the College of Mount Saint Vincent and the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains. For the Centennial Celebration, the Nichols award meeting returned to Manhattan, NY.

Finally, the format of the meeting has also evolved. At first it was a simple 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. This consisted of technical lectures related to the awardee's field of interest along with a technical presentation by the awardee. A formal reception and banquet then followed. At the banquet a knowledgeable friend and colleague introduces the awardee, the Nichols Jury Chairperson awards the gold medal and the awardee presents a less technical acceptance address. Special effort is made to allow the invited students to speak with the awardee after the meeting.

The evolution of the Nichols Medal award has been varied and interesting throughout the 20th century. Unaltered, however, are two things: First is the loyal interest and continued generous support of the Nichols family and second is the high quality of the recipients of the award.

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