John C. Bailar, Jr.

Born: May 27, 1904 | Golden, CO, US
Died: October 17, 1991 | Urbana, IL, US

John C. Bailar, Jr. discusses his upbringing, during which he often helped his father with his chemical research. This, in turn, influenced Bailar to pursue a BA and MA in chemistry from the University of Colorado and later a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Michigan. Bailar reflects on his academic career at the University of Illinois, where he changed his focus to inorganic chemistry while he conducted research on isomerism and molecular rearrangements, and later on coordination compounds. He eventually began to advise graduate students, as well as to become involved with the American Chemical Society, in which he was elected as president in 1959. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0073
No. of pages: 33
Minutes: 126

Interview Sessions

Theodore L. Brown
28 May and 17 June 1987
University of Illinois, Urbana

Abstract of Interview

The interviews entail a discussion of John Bailar, Jr.'s scientific life, beginning with a description of his family background. His parents had a great influence on Bailar's early education; growing up, he often helped his father with his chemical research. This experience peaked Bailar's interest in pursuing chemistry at the University of Colorado, where he received a BA in 1924, followed by an MA in 1925. Bailar continued his education, earning a PhD in organic chemistry at the University of Michigan in 1928. He then took a position teaching general chemistry at the University of Illinois. While there, he changed his emphasis to inorganic chemistry, conducting research on isomerism and molecular rearrangements, and later on coordination compounds. By the early 1930s, Bailar had become a member of the graduate faculty, supervising the research of several graduate students. Throughout his career, he was heavily involved with the ACS; in 1959, he was elected president. The interviews end with Bailar's recollections of some of his most successful students, and his reflections on graduate education. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1924 University of Colorado, Boulder BA Chemistry
1925 University of Colorado, Boulder MA Chemistry
1928 University of Michigan PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Colorado, Boulder

1924 to 1925
Chemistry Fellow

University of Michigan

1926 to 1928
Assistant in Chemistry

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1928 to 1930
Instructor in Chemistry
1930 to 1935
Associate in Chemistry
1935 to 1939
Assistant Professor
1939 to 1943
Associate Professor
1943 to 1972
1972 to 1987
Professor Emeritus
1937 to 1951
Secretary of the Chemistry Department
1941 to 1967
Head of Division of Inorganic Chemistry


Year(s) Award

Foster Lecturer, University of Buffalo


Clark Lecturer, University of West Virginia


Noyes Lecturer, Phi Lambda Upsilon, University of Illinois


Hon. ScD, University of Colorado


Hon. ScD,  University of Buffalo


President, American Chemical Society


Smith Lecturer, Oklahoma State University


Award in Chemical Education, American Chemical Society


Kuebler Award, Alpha Chi Sigma


Merck Lecturer, Bucknell University

1963 to 1964

Member, President's Advisory Committee

1963 to 1971

Treasurer, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry


Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society


Dwyer Medal, Chemical Society of New South Wales


Werner Memorial Lecturer, Zürich


Werner Gold Medal, Swiss Chemical Society


Dwyer Memorial Lecturer, Chemical Society of New South Wales


Welch Foundation Lecturer


American Cyanamid Lecturer, University of Connecticut


Award for the Teaching of Chemistry, Manufacturing Chemists Association

1970 to 1971

National Lecturer, Sigma Xi


Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry, American Chemical Society


Hon. ScD, Lehigh University


Honorary Fellow, Indian Chemical Society


Honorary Member, Illinois State Academy of Science


Heyrovsky Medal, Czechoslovakian Academy of Science


Hon. Doctor of Humane Letters, Monmouth College


Spicer Memorial Lecturer, Georgia Institute of Technology


Ferst Award, Sigma Xi

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

Family background. Educational influence of parents. Early interest in chemistry.

College Education

Bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from University of Colorado. Graduate work in organic chemistry at the University of Michigan. Thesis research under Professor Moses Gomberg.

Teaching at the University of Illinois

First position teaching freshman chemistry. Research interests in inorganic chemistry. Work on stereo-isomerization, coordination compounds. Influence of Speed" Marvel. Supervision of graduate students, placement work.

American Chemical Society

Attendance at national meetings. Involvement in physical and inorganic chemistry division. Creation of separate inorganic chemistry division. Election to office of President.

Involvement in IUPAC

Revamping of constitution. Selection as treasurer.

Summing Up

Reflections on graduate students. Importance of research freedom.


About the Interviewer

Theodore L. Brown

Theodore L. Brown holds BS, MS, and PhD degrees in chemistry. Since 1956, he has been a member of the faculty of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he is now Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus. He served the University in various capacities, including as Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate College during 1980–1986, as Founding Director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology during 1987–1993, and as Interim Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs during 1993. He is currently a member of the American Chemical Society Governing Board for Publishing as well as of the Board of Directors of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.