Alfred R. Bader

Born: April 28, 1924 | Vienna, AT
Died: December 23, 2018
Photograph of Alfred R. Bader

Alfred Bader discusses his early life in Vienna and his broad education, stemming from instruction in a Gymnasium, Queen’s University in Canada, and his graduate studies at Harvard. The interview continues with Bader's move to Milwaukee, his research with PPG, and the origin and growth of the Aldrich Chemical Company, including the merger with Sigma Chemical Company and the decision to go public. The interview concludes with Bader's comments on his art collection and family matters.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0074
No. of pages: 52
Minutes: 179

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray
31 July 1987
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Abstract of Interview

Alfred Bader begins this interview with a discussion of his early years in Vienna, including his family background and Gymnasium education. This is followed by additional education in England, living in Canada as a refugee, and his undergraduate education at Queen's University. Bader then describes his graduate education with Louis F. Fieser at Harvard, and discusses the faculty and friends during his tenure there. The interview continues with Bader's move to Milwaukee, his research with PPG, and the origin and growth of the Aldrich Chemical Company, including the merger with Sigma Chemical Company and the decision to go public. The interview concludes with Bader's comments on his art collection and family matters.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1940 Brighton Technical College
1945 Queen's University BSc Engineering Chemistry
1946 Queen's University BA History
1947 Queen's University MS Chemistry
1949 Harvard University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Murphy Paint Company

1943 to 1947

Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company

1950 to 1954
Research Chemist and Organic Group Leader

Aldrich Chemical Company

1954 to 1955
Chief Chemist
1955 to 1975

Sigma-Aldrich Corporation

1975 to 1980
1980 to 1988


Year(s) Award

Honorary ScD degree, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


Engineer-of-the-Year Award, Engineers and Scientists of Milwaukee, Inc.


Honorary ScD degree, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Honorary ScD degree, Purdue University


Honorary LLD degree, Queen's University


Pittcon Heritage Award, Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Parents and family situation in Vienna. "Adopted" mother. Gymnasium education in Vienna. Professor Sedlmayer. Forced to leave school. Stamp collecting. The move to England.

Education in England

The East Hove Senior School for Boys. Support from Mrs. Wolff. Living as a refugee with the Scharff family. Brighton Technical College. The move to Canada. Living in a refugee internment camp.

Undergraduate Education in Canada

Sponsorship by Martin Wolff. The International Student Service (ISS). Junior and senior matriculation at McGill University. Late registration at Queen's University. Engineering chemistry. Summer job with Murphy Paint Company. Bachelor's degree in engineering chemistry. Bachelor's degree in history. Interest in commercial part of paint chemistry. Laboratory work with Professor McKay. Incident with McKay leading to first publication.

Graduate Education at Harvard

Applications to Harvard and the ETH in Zürich. Interest in making compounds. Fellowship from Louis Fieser. Courses at Harvard. Comparison of Harvard and Queen's. Work on the Hooker Oxidation. Making diazomethane from MNNG. Friends and faculty at Harvard. PhD degree. Showing work by Mary Fieser to be incorrect.

The Move to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.

Conditions at PPG. Noncatalytic transesterification of beta-keto esters. Preparation of conjugated unsaturated phenols for phenolic resins. Preparation of diphenolic acid. Reaction of diketene with acetone.

Early History of Aldrich Chemical Company

Decision to remain in Milwaukee when PPG moves to Pittsburgh. Full-time with Aldrich. Partnership with Jack Eisendrath. Financial support from Bill Kesselman. Gaining full control of the company. Du Pont order for suberic acid. Earlier formation of Aldrich. First catalogs and products.

Growth of Aldrich Chemical Company

Distribution of early catalogs. Addition of more compounds and early customers. Teaching afternoon Hebrew school. Competition from Eastman Kodak. Acquisition offer from J. T. Baker. Decision to go public. Stock offers. Company growth.

Merger with Sigma Chemical Company

Approach to Sigma. Relationship with Dan Broida. Benefits from merger. Importance of product analyses. Aldrich "Gold Label" products.

Art Collecting and Family Matters

Origins of art collecting. Paintings on catalog covers. Exhibits of paintings. First Wife. Marriage to Isabel. Sons. European trips. Comments on British research.


About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.