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Oral history interview with William John Bailey

  • 1986-Jun-03

Oral history interview with William John Bailey

  • 1986-Jun-03

The interview begins with William Bailey describing his upbringing in rural Minnesota, where his family operated a small lumber business. An outstanding high school teacher sparked Bailey's interest in science, and he focused on chemistry during his undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, where Lee Irving Smith was a major influence. Smith was largely responsible for Bailey's move to Illinois for graduate work with C. S. "Speed" Marvel and subsequent research on polymer synthesis. After a year at MIT as postdoctoral assistant to Cope, Bailey began his teaching career at Wayne State University, where he undertook his noted combination of organic and polymer chemistry. Five years after going to Detroit, Bailey accepted a research professorship at the University of Maryland, where he spent the rest of his career. The interview concludes with an account of Bailey's long involvement with the American Chemical Society, including his presidency in 1975 and his thoughts on the current image of chemistry.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 50 pages
  • 3 h 18 m 16 s
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

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 0012

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 11, 1921
  • East Grand Forks, Minnesota, United States
  • December 17, 1989
  • Honolulu, Hawaii, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1943 University of Minnesota B.Chem
1946 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 1946 to 1947 Arthur D. Little Postdoctoral Fellow

Wayne State University

  • 1947 to 1949 Assistant Professor of Chemistry
  • 1949 to 1951 Associate Professor of Chemistry

University of Maryland, College Park

  • 1951 to 1989 Research Professor


Year(s) Award
1955 Fatty Acid Producers Research Award
1968 Service Award, Washington Section, American Chemical Society
1970 Welch Foundation Lecturer
1971 Research Award, Gulf Oil Foundation
1975 Honor Scroll, District of Columbia Chapter, American Institute of Chemists
1975 President, American Chemical Society
1976 Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Minnesota
1976 Rauscher Memorial Lecturer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
1977 Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1979 Scientific Achievement Award, University of Maryland Chapter, Sigma Xi
1983 Gossett Award Lecturer, North Carolina State University
1984 Mobay Award Lecturer, College of Charleston
1984 Hillebrand Prize, Chemical Society of Washington
1986 Applied Polymer Science Award, American Chemical Society
1988 Henry Hill Award, American Chemical Society

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PDF — 260 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

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads