Digital Collections

Oral history interview with O. Theodor Benfey

  • 1991-May-24
  • 1991-Jun-05

Oral history interview with O. Theodor Benfey

  • 1991-May-24
  • 1991-Jun-05

O. Theodor Benfey begins the interview with a description of his childhood in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. He tells of his experiences in England, where he was a student during the war, and then his move to the United States for a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University. He describes the development of his interest in physical organic chemistry and structure, and the history of chemistry, and recounts his career as a professor of chemistry and history of science at Haverford, Earlham, and Guilford Colleges. Benfey also tells of his parallel career as a writer, translator and editor and gives details of the various translations he has published, and recalls his term as editor of Chemistry magazine. He concludes with his memories of his studies in Japan and China and his current interests.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 119 pages
  • 05:50:00
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0094
Physical container
  • Shelfmark QD22.B4644 A5 1991

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • October 31, 1925
  • Berlin, Germany
  • January 24, 2024
  • Greensboro, North Carolina, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1945 University College, London BSc Chemistry
1947 University College, London PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Columbia University

  • 1947 to 1948 London University Post-doctoral Traveling Fellow

Haverford College

  • 1948 Instructor of Chemistry
  • 1948 to 1955 Assistant Professor of Chemistry
  • 1955 to 1956 Associate Professor of Chemistry

Harvard University

  • 1955 to 1956 Research Fellow

Earlham College

  • 1956 to 1973 Associate Professor of Chemistry and History of Science; Professor of Chemistry and History of Science
  • 1971 to 1972 Chairman of the Chemistry Department

Guilford College

  • 1973 to 1988 Dana Professor of Chemistry and History of Science
  • 1977 to 1979 Clerk of Faculty

Kokusai Kirisutokyō Daigaku

  • 1985 to 1986 Visiting Professor of Chemistry and Research Fellow

Chemical Heritage Foundation

  • 1989 to 1992 Editor, Beckman Center News; Othmer Library News; Chemical Heritage

University of Pennsylvania

  • 1990 to 1992 Adjunct Professor, Department of History and Sociology of Science


Year(s) Award
1961 Doan Distinguished Teacher Travel Award, Earlham College
1967 Manufacturing Chemists Association Chemistry Teacher Award
1967 to 1968 Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching
1970 to 1971 Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research and Study Award, Kwansei Gakuin University, Nishinomiya, Japan

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PDF — 5.5 MB

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

14 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads