Claude K. Deischer

Born: October 14, 1903 | Emmaus, PA, US
Died: March 23, 1992 | Bryn Mawr, PA, US

Claude K. Deischer received his undergraduate education at Kutztown State and Muhlenberg and went on to graduate and postgraduate research at the University of Pennsylvania. He had an interest in the history of science and he played a part in starting Chymia. He also contributed much to the American Chemical Society and the Moravian Church.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0001
No. of pages: 26
Minutes: 115

Interview Sessions

John A. Heitmann
27 April 1984
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

In this interview, Claude K. Deischer discusses his life and his career as a chemist and historian of chemistry. Initially, Deischer recollects his childhood and early education. He then speaks about his undergraduate education at Kutztown State and Muhlenberg and his graduate and postgraduate research at the University of Pennsylvania. A discussion of his early teaching at Penn, his initial interest in the history of science, and the Smith Collection follows. Deischer then appraises his scholarly activities during and after World War II and his department and students. The interview concludes with Deischer considering the part that he played in starting Chymia, and his contributions to the American Chemical Society and the Moravian Church.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1925 Muhlenberg College BS Chemistry
1928 University of Pennsylvania MS Chemistry
1933 University of Pennsylvania PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

1921 to 1927
Public School Teacher

University of Pennsylvania

1928 to 1971
Instructor to Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
1952 to 1965
Assistant Chairman of Chemistry Department
1955 to 1971
Acting Curator, E.F. Smith Memorial Library
Emeritus Professor

Table of Contents

Family and Childhood

Early years in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. The Moravian church. High school science. A summer job at the foundry. Teaching in a one-room school. Training at a teachers' college.

Undergraduate Education

Muhlenberg College. Scientific learning deepens. Additional experience in the laboratory. Chemical training at Lehigh.

Graduate Education at the University of Pennsylvania

Meeting with Edgar Fahs Smith. The chemistry faculty at Penn. A teaching job at Penn. The analytical chemistry course.

Postgraduate Research

Work with mercury. The gravimetric determination of the atomic weight of mercury. A discussion about apparatus.

Colleagues and Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania

Wallace McNabb. Ralph Connor. Philip George. Harry Alsentzer. Ernest Wagner. Initial interest in and early teaching of history of chemistry.

The Smith Collection

Mrs. Smith donates the collection to Penn. The background and contributions of Eva Armstrong. The collection is moved to the Van Pelt Building.

Activities during World War II

The teaching of analytical chemistry to army andnavy personnel. Rationale for publishing papers in the history of science. Colleagues in the history of chemistry.

Postwar Research, Teaching, and Administration

Revitalization of Penn's chemistry department. Service as assistant chairman and member of various committees. Inadequate laboratory apparatus. Research interests of graduate students.

Association with Chymia

Henry Leicester's efforts. Early difficulties getting Chymia established. Some articles. Changes under Russell McCormmach.

Involvement with the American Chemical Society

Work with the national and regional sections. The diamond and centennial celebrations.

Activities during Retirement

Work with the Penn Chemists' Fund and The Catalyst. Continued involvement with the Moravian church.


About the Interviewer

John A. Heitmann

John A. Heitmann holds a BS degree in chemistry from Davidson College and an MA degree in history from Clemson University. From 1971 to 1977, he worked as a chemist in the metallurgical industry. He then studied at the Johns Hopkins University under Owen Hannaway and received his doctorate in the history of science in 1983.