Charles C. Price

Born: July 13, 1913 | Passaic, NJ, US
Died: February 11, 2001 | Haverford, PA, US

Charles Price discusses his career as a chemist, from his undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College, his graduate work at Harvard University, his faculty appointments, to his research for the National Defense Research Committee during World War II. Price played an influential role as chairman of the department of chemistry at the University of Notre Dame and then later at University of Pennsylvania, while he also conducted research in physical organic chemistry. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0005
No. of pages: 64
Minutes: 211

Interview Sessions

Leon B. Gortler
26 April 1979
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

During the course of this interview, Charles Price discusses his life and career as a chemist. Initially, he recalls his childhood, early education, and undergraduate life at Swarthmore College. Price then speaks about his teachers and colleagues at Harvard University, where he did graduate work. Considerations about his work at the University of Illinois, his first faculty appointment, and research for the National Defense Research Committee during the war follow. Price explains why he assumed the chairmanship of the department of chemistry at the University of Notre Dame and why he convened the first Conference on Organic Reaction Mechanisms, a landmark in the development of physical organic chemistry. Price elucidates his research at Notre Dame and then at the University of Pennsylvania, where, as chairman, he helped to rebuild the department of chemistry. The interview concludes with Price discussing his more recent chemical research, the current state of physical organic chemistry, his family, and his political and sporting activities. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1934 Swarthmore College BA Chemistry
1935 Harvard University MA Chemistry
1936 Harvard University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Illinois at Chicago

1936 to 1946
Assistant Professor to associate professor, Department of Chemistry

Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York

Visiting Lecturer

University of Notre Dame

1946 to 1954
Professor and Chairman of Department of Chemistry

National Research Council

1947 to 1951
Member of Subcommittee on Plastics

University of Pennsylvania

1951 to 1955
Member of Committee on Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering Science, Department of Chemistry
1954 to 1966
Blanchard Professor and Chairman
1966 to 1978
University Professor
1978 to 1979
Emeritus Professor of Chemistry


Year(s) Award

Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Influences

Parents, grandmother, and siblings. Influence of Jerry Creighton and Louis Fieser. An entrepreneurial father and a Quaker tradition. The George School, science courses, and sports.

Undergraduate Education

The honors program at Swarthmore. Other chemistry students. Edward H. Cox. Mathematics, history and philosophy of science. "Ducky" Holmes and Brand Blanchard.

Graduate Study at Harvard University

Becoming a chemist. Coursework with Kohler. Research with Fieser on reaction mechanisms. Kistiakowsky. The impact of Huckel's work. Electrostatic versus resonance effects. Colleagues and ambience at Harvard.

Work at the University of Illinois

A post-doc with Roger Adams. Teaching organic chemistry. Speed Marvel. Academic salaries. Early research problems. Polymerization.

The Emergence of Physical Organic Chemistry

The conference at Notre Dame on organic mechanisms. The impact of Hammett's book. Resonance factors. Paul Bartlett. World War II and the unification of physical organic chemistry.

Wartime Research

Electrophilic substitution and resonance effects. Water decontamination and the behavior of mustards. Paul Bartlett, Saul Winstein, and other colleagues. Antimalarials and Roy Roberts.

From Illinois to Notre Dame

Teaching at Illinois. The Notre Dame appointment. Colleagues at Illinois and Notre Dame. Bob Woodward.

Recent Research

Mustards and chemotherapy. DNA alkylation. RNA synthesis and evolution.

The Practice of Physical Organic Chemistry

A changing discipline. Some unsolved problems. Biochemical and solid state applications. Rubber research and polypropylene oxides. Building a department at Notre Dame. Chemistry at Penn.

Political Ventures

United World Federalists. Running for political office. Disarmament sentiments.

Personal and Professional Perspectives

Wife and children. Sally Price, champion sailor. Reminiscences of colleagues.

About the Interviewer

Leon B. Gortler

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.