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Oral history interview with Donald J. Cram

  • 1981-Jan-14

Oral history interview with Donald J. Cram

  • 1981-Jan-14

In this interview Donald Cram talks briefly about his family and growing up in Vermont, Florida and New York, and this is followed by a description of his experiences at Rollins College and his start in the world of chemistry. Next he talks about his graduate work at the University of Nebraska with Norman Cromwell, the circumstances which led him to work at Merck during World War II, and his work at Merck and the chemists with whom he collaborated. He then talks at length about his doctoral work at Harvard, his research, his coursework, cumulative and foreign language exams, and his interaction with various members of the faculty.

In 1947 he took a position at UCLA, and he describes much of his research through the early 1960s, Saul Winstein and his interactions with Winstein, and the changes that took place over thirty years in the UCLA chemistry department. The last part of the interview includes comments on the changes that have taken place in organic chemistry as a result of various factors, the advantages to the academic community of interactions with industry, the state and future of organic chemistry, and a description of his major research effort in the late 1970s, guest-host chemistry. It was this research that led to his sharing the Nobel Prize in 1987. In the final pages of the interview he talks about the influence of theory and theoretical papers on the development of chemistry.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 53 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0079

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • April 22, 1919
  • Chester, Vermont, United States
  • June 17, 2001
  • Palm Desert, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 Rollins College (Winter Park, Fla.) BS Chemistry
1942 University of Nebraska MS Chemistry
1947 Harvard University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Merck & Company Inc.

  • 1942 to 1945 Research Chemist

University of California, Los Angeles

  • 1947 to 1948 American Chemical Society Fellow/Instructor
  • 1948 to 1950 Assistant Professor
  • 1950 to 1956 Associate Professor
  • 1956 to 1990 Professor
  • 1985 to 1995 Saul Winstein Professor of Chemistry
  • 1988 to 1990 University Professor
  • 1990 Emeritus Professor


  • 1952 to 1987 Upjohn Co., Consultant
  • 1961 to 1981 Union Carbide, Consultant
  • 1981 to 1991 Eastman Kodak, Consultant
  • 1984 to 1992 Technion Co., Consultant
  • 1988 to 1991 Inst. Guido Donegani, Milan, Consultant


Year(s) Award
1953 Western Sectional Award, American Chemical Society
1954 to 1955 Guggenheim Fellow
1961 Member, National Academy of Sciences
1965 Herbert Newby McCoy Award for Contributions to Chemistry
1965 Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1965 Award for Creative Work in Organic Chemistry, Society of Chemical Manufacturers Association
1967 Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1974 Arthur C. Cope Award for Distinguished Achievement in Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1974 California Scientist of the Year, Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry
1975 Herbert Newby McCoy Award for Contributions to Chemistry
1975 Rollins College Distinguished Alumni Award
1977 Honorary doctorate, Uppsala University, Sweden
1983 Honorary doctorate, University of Southern California
1985 Roger Adams Award, American Chemical Society
1985 Richard Tolman Medal, Southern California Section, American Chemical Society
1985 Willard Gibbs Award, Chicago Section, American Chemical Society
1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1988 Honorary doctorate, Rollins College
1989 Honorary doctorate, University of Nebraska
1989 Honorary doctorate, University of Western Ontario
1989 Glenn Seaborg Award
1991 Honorary doctorate, University of Sheffield
1992 National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences

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PDF — 404 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads