Digital Collections

Oral history interview with William von Eggers Doering

  • 1990-Nov-09 (First session)
  • 1991-May-29 (Second session)

Oral history interview with William von Eggers Doering

  • 1990-Nov-09 (First session)
  • 1991-May-29 (Second session)

William von Eggers Doering begins these interviews with a discussion of his early life and family background. His parents were both musicians, and met while they were both studying music in Leipzig. When World War I broke out, they moved to the United States, and his father became a vital statistician. His father eventually got a job teaching at Harvard University's School of Public Health, and the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doering was influenced by his teachers during his early education to pursue science. After graduating from high school, Doering attended Harvard University, where he was inspired to major in chemistry. At Harvard, he took courses with Arthur Lamb, Louis Fieser, Elmer Kohler, and Paul Bartlett. Kohler encouraged Doering to continue on to graduate school, so he earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Harvard in 1943. During his years as a graduate student, he did some research with Louis Fieser on new explosives, including trinitrobenzylnitrate, as well as anti-mustard gas work with Eric Ball.

After he completed his graduate work, he joined Robert B. Woodward's team at Harvard, who was attempting to synthesize quinine. Less than a year later, Doering took an instructorship at Columbia University, but continued with the quinine project in his free time. Doering outlines his relationship with Woodward, the difficulties of the quinine work, and the impact of that research on his career. Doering spent nine years at Columbia before moving on to Yale University in 1952. While at Columbia, he helped to establish the Hickrill Chemical Research Foundation, which focused on postdoctoral research. It was there that Doering did most of his work on carbene. In the 1960s, he was asked to join the Board of Leo Szilard's new organization, Council for a Livable World. For over fifteen years, Doering was active in lobbying for this organization. Throughout his career, Doering was also a consultant for various companies. At Yale, Doering became Director of the Division of Sciences, and began to realize that administrative duties were taking too much time from his research. He planned to go to the University of Karlsruhe, but Woodward offered him a position at Harvard. Doering concludes the interviews with a discussion of his graduate students, his colleagues, and his interactions with Fudau University in China.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 100 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

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 0085

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • June 22, 1917
  • Fort Worth, Texas, United States
  • January 03, 2011
  • Waltham, Massachusetts, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1938 Harvard University BS Chemistry
1943 Harvard University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Columbia University

  • 1943 to 1945 Instructor
  • 1945 to 1948 Assistant Professor
  • 1947 to 1969 Director of Research, Hickrill Chemical Research Foundation
  • 1948 to 1952 Associate Professor

Yale University

  • 1952 to 1956 Professor
  • 1956 to 1967 Whitehead Professor
  • 1962 to 1965 Director of the Division of Sciences

Council for a Livable World

  • 1962 to 1973 Chairman, Board of Directors
  • 1973 to 1978 President

Harvard University

  • 1967 to 1968 Professor
  • 1968 to 1986 Mallinckrodt Professor of Organic Chemistry
  • 1986 to 1992 Mallinckrodt Professor of Chemistry Emeritus


Year(s) Award
1945 John Scott Medal, City of Philadelphia
1953 Pure Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1962 A. W. Hofmann Medal, Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker
1966 Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1967 William C. DeVane Medal, Yale University
1970 Theodore Williams Richards Medal, American Chemical Society, Northeastern Section
1973 Humboldt Senior Fellowship, Federal Republic of Germany
1974 DSc, honorary, Texas Christian University
1980 Honorary Professorship, Fudau University, Shanghai
1987 D. Nat. Sci., honoris causia, University of Karlsruhe
1989 James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society, Northeastern Section
1990 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry

Cite as

See our FAQ page to learn how to cite an oral history.

PDF — 479 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

15 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads