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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Louis Hammett

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Interview with Dr. Louis Hammett
By Leon Gortler
In Medford, New Jersey
May 1, 1978

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Louis Hammett; May 1, 1978

ABSTRACT: Interview covers Hammettís life and chemistry career. Topics discussed are his childhood — major influences; college education at Harvard; position at E.C. Worden, position at Columbia Universityís chemistry department as a graduate student and instructor, as a professor, and as the department chairman — history of chemistry dept.ís administration. Major emphasis on his research results and papers spanning his entire career — e.g. Hammett equation and acidity theory; and his contact with students, Treffer, Martin Paul, Lois Zucker, faculty, and chemists. Other subjects are schooling in Zurich, work during the World Wars; consulting work; development of the field of physical organic chemistry; and opinion of the future of chemistry. Philosophy of research, talk with Mrs. Hammett.

Transcript

Session I | Session II

Gortler:

Your autobiographical sketch was extremely helpful and useful to me in outlining your early life.

Hammett:

It was written for the National Academy of Sciences. It asks members to prepare autobiographical material which goes into the archives and ultimately it gets out a memorial volume. Iíve prepared some of these memoirs about deceased members.

Gortler:

Perhaps we can fill in a little bit on what youíve written about your childhood and your adolescence, as sort of a guide to scientists in the future. Did you have any brothers and sisters?

Hammett:

Yes, I have one brother and one sister.

Gortler:

And you were where in the line?

Hammett:

I was the oldest child in the family.

Gortler:

What did your brother go on and do?

Hammett:

My brother was an accountant and for years he was in the employ of an American firm in Europe and ended up in a German prison camp during the Second World War He then went back to his company. Now heís retired and lives in Southern California and enjoys what has always been of interest to him, raising plants. He has an acre and a half in Pauma Valley and raises macadamia nuts and all kinds of things to eat. Heís a bachelor, apparently taken care of very well by his neighbors. My sister is married to a chap who was an employee of the Graybar Company, is now retired, and lives in Friendship, Maine. Iíve seen them recently.

Gortler:

Your father was a mechanical engineer, and he was educated at Harvard and M.I.T. What did he do in Portland?

Hammett:

Well, he was an official of the Maine Central Railroad. In fact he was in railroad work all his working life. He was retired rather early because of reorganization. The Boston & Maine absorbed the Maine Central and Dad was out, somewhat to his surprise. He had a very happy retirement; traveled in Europe. He grew up in Newport, Rhode Island. Thereís been a Hammett there for several generations. He graduated from the Newport High School, got a medal, a very large gold medal, for proficiency in Greek. Then he went to college at Harvard and decided he wanted to be a mechanical engineer, so after he finished Harvard with a summa cum laude degree and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, he went two years at M.I.T. Then he went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad, married my mother in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I was born in Wilmington, Delaware. Just the family passing through. Thatís the background. My mother was of German parentage. My maternal grandfather came from Hesse in Germany. In fact, Iím named for him. His name was Louis Planck. He came over to this country as a young man. He had been apprenticed as a baker, but he got into the real estate business. I think when he died he was a millionaire. And this was fortunate because we inherited enough to pay for my education and that of my brother and sister.

Gortler:

I have a feeling that your father had quite an influence on you.

Hammett:

We were very close.

Gortler:

Tell me a bit more about the kind of things you did.

Hammett:

Well, he was a very conscientious person. He kept track of pencils and that kind of thing. When I was a child he traveled a good deal to various railroad shops in Maine and I went with him quite often. My Uncle Louis, who lived with us for a while, was rather a remarkable person. He had been educated as an architect. He studied in Europe and set up as an architect in Worcester, Massachusetts. He couldnít get on with people; he knew what they wanted better than they did. I guess he failed, and then came up and got a job as a draftsman in the Maine Central Railroad office. My uncle had a shop in our house; taught me a lot about tools. He had a wood turning lathe, and I became proficient in the use of it while still a child. They (uncle and father) built some very lovely furniture and that sort of thing. He did give me a feel for hand work which stayed with me all my life.

Gortler:

In fact I want to digress at this point because later on it seemed to me that even though you were probably more of a theoretician in one sense than most organic chemists and most physical organic chemists, you really seem to have had a fascination with the mechanics of measurement. You were always enamored with the machines you were using. I had a feeling that you recommended some of your papers to me because of the beauty of the experimental work. Weíll come back to them later, but maybe you want to comment about that. You know your first use of UV spectroscopy...

Hammett:

Well, that is true, but it wasnít in the sense that I admired the tool, though I suppose I did. My first UV work goes back to Hantzsch, because Hantzsch was doing ultraviolet absorption work on ionization; rather crude, but it was a pioneering thing. When I find scientists using ultraviolet absorption or visible absorption as a means of determining extent of ionization, well then I guess I was something of a pioneer. I get referred to as having initiated this by biological chemists, for instance, who use it to study complicated ionization equilibrium. Now that was a pioneering piece of work. As far as I was concerned spectroscopy was just a tool, and, of course, as we used it back in the thirties, it was rather a crude tool. What you did was take a series of photographs of a multilined spectrum in a split beam sector photo photometer. One beam was attenuated by the solution under investigation, the other by a series of settings of a rotating sector. You then determined the frequencies at which the intensities of the two beam pictures matched and plotted the absorption curve. It was terribly crude and it took an awful long time. When I think of what you can do now (laughter). Our access to the spectrophotometer was a part of the rather dismal pre-war picture on apparatus. It just happened that a colleague of mine, a close friend, Hal Beans, had been given the equipment for this kind of ultraviolet absorption work by an industrial firm who also hired somebody to operate it, a man named Dingwall. And I got to use it. You might say it was a lucky accident. Although I was fully conscious of the possibility of using spectroscopy, nobody was offering me a fancy spectroscope until this happened.

Gortler:

I am very interested in what was going on before the war and weíll get back to that a little bit later. Can you think of anything else in your early home life that gave you appropriate preparation for a scientific career?

Hammett:

Well, yes. Some of my fatherís textbooks fascinated me and I did things like casting zinc crowís feet and making gravity batteries, making induction coils and then shocking my friends with them. You know kid stuff. In fact the lathe came in very nicely to wind the immense coils for an induction coil. I was always interested in technical things. I did things like making nitrogen iodide, the stuff that goes off at a touch when it gets dry. Itís a wonder I didnít burn the house down working with perchlorate-sulfur mixtures and that sort of thing; kind of dangerous things. I canít say that I was inspired by my high school teacher of chemistry, although I guess I was, indirectly, because although heíd been hired primarily to coach the high school basketball team, he picked a good textbook. But thatís about it. I was interested in chemical things. Set my mind on being a chemist even before I went to college.

Gortler:

How did you have such easy access to the chemicals and materials you needed?

Hammett:

The local drug stores. I donít know whether itís so easy now. I have a grandson who is currently approaching a Ph.D. in chemistry at Berkeley. He graduated from M.I.T. His name is Zwemer; my daughterís son. He was fooling around with one of these home chemical sets, and he wrote me a letter asking me to supply him with a wild list of chemicals. I was embarrassed, I didnít want to tell my daughter and I didnít want him to be fooling around with the kind of things I fooled around with when I was his age. Essentially I warned him against some of these things. I guess heís calmed down now, although I donít have very much insight into the research heís doing. Heís working on surface problems in catalysis. Iíve forgotten the name of the professor heís working with.

Gortler:

You were an avid reader as a child; you mentioned that in your autobiographical sketch.

Hammett:

Well, we had a tremendous library in the house, really. I discovered the local public library. And my father used to bring back kind of trashy magazines. I read them. I read all kinds of stuff. I read all of Shakespeare before I was ten, I think. We had that sort of thing in the house.

Gortler:

Did someone sort of guide you through them? I canít imagine...

Hammett:

No one guided me. We had the stuff there and I found my way around the library.

Gortler:

And your fatherís science books, you mentioned those.

Hammett:

Yes. Those started me or inspired me.

Gortler:

Did you hold any jobs at any time?

Hammett:

No.

Gortler:

Apparently your family was relatively well off.

Hammett:

As I say, my maternal grandfather left a considerable estate. He had ten children so it got diluted considerably but in fact he set up a trust, a thirty year trust and Iím sure that the proceeds from that helped a great deal to give us a comfortable life and provide for our education. For instance, I never held a scholarship in college. My family was well enough off so they couldnít conscientiously ask for it.

Gortler:

You went to Harvard right after graduating from high school.

Hammett:

Thatís right.

Gortler:

Did you ever consider any other institution?

Hammett:

No. My father went to Harvard and I went to Harvard, my son went to Harvard, my sonís son went to Harvard.

Gortler:

It was a family thing.

Hammett:

Four generations in the male line.

Gortler:

Now you wanted to become a chemist before you even went to college.

Hammett:

Yes, I was convinced I wanted to be a chemist.

Gortler:

In an interview last year, C. S. Marvel said that in 1913 there was practically no chemistry anywhere in the country except university chemistry and no way to get a job except as a teacher. What were your perceptions of a career in chemistry at that time and what sort of life did you expect to lead at the time?

Hammett:

I donít think I thought very much about it.

Gortler:

You just wanted to be a chemist.

Hammett:

I wanted to be a chemist.

Gortler:

Can you tell me something about your life as an undergraduate at Harvard?

Hammett:

I was a good student who learned things very easily. As you know, I graduated summa cum laude and I was given the Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, although Jim Conant, who was assistant in charge of the organic chemistry laboratory, disapproved of my getting an A in that course. So as I say, I was a good student. I wasnít a grind. I didnít belong to any of the fancy clubs. But I did belong to a small club that has since expired, and I had good friends and many of them. Most of them are dead now. I had a very healthy, happy, undergraduate career.

Gortler:

Did any of the friends become colleagues later on?

Hammett:

No. No, none of them were scientists. Well, yes, a chap named George Priest who went into the paint industry. Heís dead now. But I didnít have any close friends among the chemists. One of my friends became very prominent in the fund raising business; his name was Seymour (Harold). Heís dead, too. He wrote a book on fund raising which is the central document for that profession. Oh yes, Jack Coffin became an engineer. In fact he took his senior year at M.I.T. and ended up a year later with an electrical engineering degree. He ended up as a vice-president of Jackson-Morland, which is a big engineering consulting firm. He died a number of years ago. But mostly, as I say, theyíre gone.

Gortler:

What about the chemistry courses. You mentioned a couple of people who had extreme influences on you.

Hammett:

Well, you may want to censor some of this. Let me think about it. A. B. Lamb taught the freshman chemistry and this was a very good course. Much of it was new to me, although I had had high school chemistry. The second term was a synthetic inorganic course, a laboratory course, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then Forbes (George S.) taught the qualitative analysis course and there was an Armenian chap who was the assistant in charge of the laboratory and wasnít popular. As far as I am concerned, that course was something of a disaster. It taught me some awful sloppy habits that I had to get rid of later. Forbes was a very prosy person, frankly. I suppose that I may want to censor some of this, but the department was pretty well filled with rather pale copies of T. W. Richards, who was the head of the department and, of course, a great man. He pioneered a great deal in the way of exact atomic weight determination. Along with the qualitative analysis in my sophomore year, I took a half-year course of what was supposed to be an introduction to physical chemistry, but turned out to be mostly biographical reminiscences by T. W. Richards. Later on I took a physical chemistry course which was taught partly by Richards and partly by Forbes, which found, again, a little tiresome (for one thing it had to be intelligible to students who had not studied calculus, which was not required). There was a very good course, industrial chemistry, which involved trips to the plants in the Boston area, which I think was very informative. It was taught by Grinnell Jones. And then, of course, I had two years of quantitative analytical courses with Baxter (Gregory) and these were very valuable. He taught me a real sense for exact manipulations. And then Kohler (Elmer) was a very inspiring person. In fact I think I could have repeated word for word most of his lectures. He was intensely interested in the theory of chemistry. His lectures were full of attempts to analyze the procedures of organic chemistry and it was very inspiring. At that time, however, nobody had any idea that you could learn anything by studying reaction rates. Kohler never mentioned the possibility but he did certainly inspire his students to be very much interested in problems of structure and reactivity, whatever one could tell about mechanisms without studying reaction rates. I got the Sheldon Traveling Fellowship when I graduated. We werenít in the war, but the war was on in Europe. I decided where I wanted to go, and I wanted to go to Europe. In fact I talked to T. W. Richards and he said well, there werenít any physical chemists in Europe that it would be worth working with that werenít in the countries at war. He mentioned G. N. Lewis as a bright young fellow; I donít think he wholly approved of him. I sometimes wondered whether I would have been better off if I had gone to California, but I didnít, because I talked to Kohler and Kohler suggested Staudinger. So I went to Switzerland and I was there for a year had a wonderful time. I learned to speak German well and to understand spoken German, although the local dialect was terrible. But it was an exciting place. For propaganda reasons all of the best cultural groups came there; there was Reinhardtís theater company and the Leipzig Gewandthaus Orchestra from Germany, the Theater an der Wien, from Vienna, and the Comedie Francaise from Paris. And, as I say, I lived German. I was in a pension which was run by some German people and the guests came from all over Europe. There was one woman who had been brought up, I guess, as an Irish aristocrat and had been educated in Germany, had married an Austrian nobleman and had lived all her adult life in Austria. She was very fluent in German except that she wouldnít be bothered with things like der, die, and das. She just had one article, da.

Gortler:

Before we get too far away from the Harvard years, let me go back and ask you a little bit about your social and professional contact with a group of brilliant graduate students. You mentioned this in your autobiographical sketch.

Hammett:

Oh yes. I donít know whether itís still there the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity.

Gortler:

I donít remember that from my days. By the way, I just wanted to mention that Forbes was still shuffling around and he was there in the late Ď50ís when I was there.

Hammett:

When I got the Norris Award in teaching he was around. He came to a lecture I gave. And incidentally he used my textbook of qualitative analysis.

Gortler:

But tell me about this group. Hammett The society still exists, because I get some literature once in a while. At that time it was primarily a group of graduate students, but they took in some advanced undergraduates, so I got to know many of the graduate students personally as well as in the laboratory. A number of the professorial staff used to attend the meetings. So this was a very interesting and valuable experience. I knew Conant, for instance; he was in that group. And Norris Hall, who went to Wisconsin later, and Emmet Carver, who spent most of his life after graduation with Eastman Kodak Company. His widow is here in Medford Leas.

Gortler:

As a result of this, did you have much contact with Conant later professionally?

Hammett:

Yes. Particularly in the days when he was still being a chemist we had a good deal of correspondence. I would see him at chemical society meetings. After he was president (of Harvard) I was on ad hoc committees to consider appointments to the chemistry staff two or three times.

Gortler:

I want to go back to your early course in chemistry that was being taught by Lamb. What was the nature of the atom at that time? Did they talk much about what Bohr was doing?

Hammett:

No. Hadnít heard of Bohr.

Gortler:

Certainly G. N. Lewisís ideas of bonding werenít talked about.

Hammett:

No. No, they didnít arrive until later on. Lewisís paired electron theory came out after the war, after the First World War, late teens. I discovered Lewis after I got to Columbia. Of course I was very enthusiastic about those ideas. But they were new ideas in the early twenties. And I donít think Bohrís stuff came out till later, too.

Gortler:

Can you vaguely remember what your picture of the atom was at that time?

Hammett:

I donít remember any picture. Yeah, it was just a lump. In fact it was still indivisible. I donít think it was very much. Mind you, quantum theory was very new and certainly I never heard anything about it while I was in college. Furthermore, I became fascinated later on with Wernerís inorganic theory, his theories of inorganic complexes. I never heard of Werner while I was an undergraduate. When I was in Zurich, I was at the Polytechnical and Werner was professor at the University and I didnít have sense enough to go around and hear any of his lectures. It was Pop (J.M.) Nelson at Columbia who taught me to be interested in Werner theory.

Gortler:

You do mention that you did occasionally see the professors and I wondered just how much contact you had with them. What was Baxterís character? Did they have many relations with their students? How about Kohler? He obviously talked to you.

Hammett:

Yes, Kohler did. I was never invited into any professorís home. But Kohler and Lamb would come around to these Alpha Chi Sigma meetings and Conant too. Of course Conant wasnít a professor then, but he was a prominent, important graduate student.

Gortler:

How exposed were you to the research labs at that time? Did you do any undergraduate research?

Hammett:

No. One of my friends, George Priest did some but I think, as a graduate student. Henry Gilman was a year ahead of me; Gilman at Iowa. In fact, he was a year ahead of me in Zurich, too. During my senior year he was doing some research, but as a graduate student. I think he was working with Grinnell Jones.

Gortler:

You mentioned the quant course and the qual course. What about the labs? Were any of them particularly stimulating or were they mostly cookbook style? Were they well equipped for that day?

Hammett:

Yes. The quantitative labs were. Oh yes; but qualitative, no. I remember one of the important things I learned was when not to report something because it was too small an amount. I learned when I was teaching the subject later that the so-called qualitative filter papers were contaminated with calcium and iron and you would always get a test for calcium and iron if you ran through an analysis according to the book.

Gortler:

As a student did you and the other students work together on problems or were you pretty much a loner when it came to studies?

Hammett:

Well, as far as studies went I was a loner, yes. I didnít have anybody I talked to about chemical work. As I say, I didnít have close friends with many chemists.

Gortler:

I think one of the things that fascinated me was you felt particularly influenced by a comparative literature course.

Hammett:

Yes, it was taught by Barrett Wendell. It was a wonderful course. We went through the whole literature of the world. I read Dante with a trot. I read Goetheís ďFaustĒ in the German. I remember Wendell used to lecture and he would read extensively from the important books in the worldís history, but when it came to German he said ďit pleased the good Lord to keep me virgin o-F the German language.Ē It was sort of characteristic of the guy. I wrote a paper on the Faust legend which Wendell said he wished heíd written himself. I took a course in mineralogy which taught me a little about crystallography. Of course I had to fulfill the concentration requirements; I had to take some courses in philosophy. I didnít get enough mathematics really. Thatís always been a drawback. I went through calculus; a year of calculus. I had a whole year of analytical geometry, too. But as far as modern mathematics was concerned, I didnít have anything.

Gortler:

Weíll probably get back to that. I take it that most of your math then, in a sense, has been self-taught.

Hammett:

Yes.

Gortler:

It makes it all the more admirable. You mentioned your indoctrination in contemporary German thinking on theoretical organic chemistry. I wanted to ask you about that. (Hammett showed me the book by Ferdinand Henreich, ďTheorien der Organischen Chemie.Ē)

Hammett:

There isnít a mention of a reaction rate measurement in the whole book. And I read it. One of the first things Staudinger had told me to do was to read that book, which I did.

Gortler:

This is a later printing but this was the book you read at that time.

Hammett:

Yes. Well, when I came back we were in the war. This was December of Ď17. So I had to be a little bit careful about luggage. I didnít take any books. I didnít even have the records of my research work.

Gortler:

I see. You did get a couple of papers out of the work you did.

Hammett:

Yes, after the war, Staudinger wrote them up.

Gortler:

What is your view of theoretical organic chemistry at that time? You say there was no mention of rates.

Hammett:

No there wasnít. Staudinger was intensely interested in structural problems. For instance, the research I did was concerned with an attempt to solve an uncertainty about two competing views about the structure of the aliphatic diazo compounds. One theory was that they included a three member ring, the two nitrogens linked to the carbon. And the other theory was that the nitrogens were a linear structure, which is the right one. One of Staudingerís students had discovered a technique of reducing the diazo compounds to the hydrazo compounds. I carried through that reduction and then I tried things with methyl derivatives of hydrazo compounds to determine the structure of the hydrazo compound, which, of course, is related to the structure of the diazo compound. But that was the kind of problem that did fascinate theoretical organic chemists at that time.

Gortler:

I see. These people were considered theoretical as opposed to the synthetic people.

Hammett:

Oh yes. One of the things that was happening in Staudingerís laboratory at the time, was one of his paid assistants was manufacturing isoprene, which, of course, led him into the rubber synthesis later on, but this was just a gleam in his eyes, so to speak, at that time.

Gortler:

I see. He already had some experience with polymers. It may have been by accident, but he reported them in literature.

Hammett:

I donít know. As I say I think he was just beginning to get into the polymer problem. I remember the gossip around the laboratory was that he was going to work on the rubber problem. One of his paid assistants was manufacturing isoprene in large amounts.

Gortler:

Do you have any general feelings about the year you spent in Zurich and what affect it might have had on your science?

Hammett:

Well I certainly learned a lot of technique and I learned techniques that werenít in common use in this country. For instance, they had equipment for high vacuum distillation at pressures of a fraction of a millimeter. And I did a lot of carbon-hydrogen and nitrogen analyses. I think I could do four of them in a day by alternating between the carbon hydrogen and the nitrogen.

Gortler:

Thatís impressive.

Hammett:

It was pretty good. Of course this is long before microanalysis; it took about a gram to run an analysis.

Gortler:

When you came back you did some war work and then you moved into industry. If you have any general comments about your war work Iíd like to hear them, but I want to know how you got the job with E. C. Worden.

Hammett:

One of my fatherís friends from his days in Altoona was a man named Voorhees who was a chemist and went to the Bureau of Standards. Of course, when I got back there was a lot of, what was called propaganda, about the importance of scientific work in the war effort, and Voorhees got me a job in a group at the Bureau of Standards in which he was somewhat involved. But the man who was actually running the chemical group was Hal Beans from Columbia. Beans had been hired by an Italian purchasing group in this country to analyze materials that went into airplanes that were being bought by Italy. You see, Italy was on our side in that war. When we went into the war, Beans took charge of a group which was doing analytical control work at the Bureau of Standards. And what I got into actually was analytical control work on cellulose derivatives. You know, planes in those days were made of sticks and covered with linen fabric which was painted with, originally, a nitrocellulose dope which shrank the fabric; tightened it up. But they got into a terrible hassle over the inflammability of nitrocellulose and they wanted to substitute cellulose acetate and cellulose acetate was a relatively new material. We not only did analytical work, we got into things like developing new solvents for the acetate and that sort of thing. Itís a more difficult material to dissolve than nitrocellulose. So we had quite an active research group. It moved from the Bureau of Standards to Pittsburgh and at the end of the war to Dayton. During all of that time I was heavily involved in cellulose ester studies. One of the people who was producing cellulose acetate with government encouragement was a man named Isermann, a German chap who had started as a perfume chemist, and operated a factory for perfume materials in Jersey City. He had gotten into an alliance with E. C. Worden, who was rather an odd fellow. Worden was a literature hound. He got out ten volume works on the technology of the cellulose acetates which were actually meticulous; they had every possible reference. He had a library in his home in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Isermann had a plant in the neighborhood which was making dye stuffs and so I went to work for the pair of them. There were housing problems, and my wife and I ended up in a railroad flat over the A&P store on the main street of Millburn. I was newly married and we were very happy. We had good friends; chemists at the Isermann plant and people who were working on literature problems with Worden. My laboratory was in Wordenís home. At one time I nearly went to work for the Commercial Solvents Company, which became a big company. There is an interesting history to that. Weizmann, who became President of Israel later on, was a biological chemist living in Switzerland and he developed a fermentation process which produced acetone and butyl alcohol. The British were terribly short of acetone as a solvent for cellulose esters and of acetate derivatives generally. At that time, the only way you could get anything derived from acetate, and they knew acetone was made from calcium acetate, was from wood distillation, and they wanted Weizmannís process. My understanding is Weizermann said you can have my process, my fermentation process, if youíll set up a Jewish homeland. This led to the Balfour Declaration, you know. And after the war Hercules had discovered a technique for making low viscosity nitrocellulose and acetone wasnít the critical thing so much as the butyl alcohol because butyl acetate was a very good high boiling solvent for nitrocellulose. So the Commercial Solvents Company was set up to exploit that process and most of the automobiles produced in the early twenties were painted with a nitrocellulose lacquer made of this low viscosity nitrocellulose and Worden wanted me to go out there. He had become tired of me. He and I werenít very sympathetic. He was an amazing person. He wore a diamond stickpin, perfectly enormous diamond and he dressed rather flashily and he wrote his reports on sheets of paper with an engine-turned border with an enormous flourishing signature. He was a ham actor, absolutely but also, absolutely devoted to the meticulous recording of the literature. Anyway, that didnít work because Isermann wanted me to stay and then this offer to go to Columbia came along. Again thereís a story to that. My wife was with her family in Maine expecting the birth of our oldest child and I got an invitation to a lecture at Columbia. I think it was one of the Chandler lectures, but Iím not sure. I hadnít heard from Beans. Mind you, we lived in the same lodging house in Dayton after the war for half a year. I mean weíd been close friends, and Beans had come back to Columbia and I hadnít heard from him, not a word from him. I had written to him occasionally. Anyway I got this invitation to a lecture at Columbia. I took the train in from the Lackawanna Station in Millburn. Beans wasnít at the lecture but after the lecture was over, I went and found him working in his laboratory. He was very much a laboratory technician. He didnít want to be bothered listening to lectures, but he was working on his own problems upstairs. We got to talking about people weíd known during the war-time laboratory. One of those people was a man named Yntema. He said, ďI just had a disappointment.Ē He said, ďWeíd offered Yntema a job as instructor here and he turned it down and so we have an instructorship open.Ē And he said, ďI knew you wouldnít be interested because you are determined to work in industry,Ē and I said, ďWell, ask me,Ē and he did. I called up my wife and she consulted her father, who was very generous. He was a businessman but he was interested in chemistry and he offered financial support. So I started in as an instructor at Columbia at a magnificent salary. Iíve forgotten, but I think it was $2,000. I also got a job teaching evening courses for nine hours a week at $900 a year. The evening courses were the same qualitative analysis courses I taught in the daytime, and I was taking courses as a graduate student. Some of them were very good and some of them werenít. Nelson had a profound influence on me. He was a very remarkable, creative person. He gave a course which was supposed to be a review of organic chemistry but was essentially a highly original discussion of the principles of organic chemistry. He got over into things like Werner theory of inorganic complexes. This was really a fascinating and highly inspiring experience. And I also took some courses with a man named James Kendall who came from Edinburgh. Always said he was going back and ultimately did. He died recently. A nice little device. He would decide he wanted a promotion and his wife would come around and call on the neighbors and say how sorry they were that they were going back to Edinburgh, and the neighborsí wives would then report this to the authorities and he would get a promotion or an increase in pay and he would stay. Finally, he did go down to NYU in Washington Square and stayed there for several years. Then he finally went back to Edinburgh. He again was a highly original, quite creative, person but he never carried through on any of his ideas.

Gortler:

What field was he in?

Hammett:

He was in physical chemistry. He taught advanced physical chemistry courses and again these were very, very useful to me. I didnít like the man. Probably, I suppose, because Beans and he didnít get on. I was a friend and supporter of Beans and there are politics in departments.

Gortler:

Who was the chairman at that time?

Hammett:

Oh, Sherman, Henry Sherman, who was a biological chemist. Actually, he was a food chemist. One of the sidelights of that is that food chemistry is a field in which many women got interested and as a result, we had a good many women graduate students in the Columbia department. One of Shermanís students ended up finally as a full professor in the field of food chemistry. She did creative work on enzymes. Very important work. Her name was Mary Caldwell. She also did all the dirty administrative work of the department; advised graduate students and so on.

Gortler:

I want to go back for just a minute. When you left war work you went into industry. Was the major reason for that that you got married and you had to make a living?

Hammett:

Well, nobody was around clamoring for my services in a university. It was a historical situation in chemistry. Weíd been educating people for academic jobs and nine-tenths of them had to take industrial jobs.

Gortler:

Thatís true. What was the industrial experience like?

Hammett:

The research I did was on the production of some pharmaceuticals and dye stuffs. Mostly I used textbooks on dye stuff chemistry written by a professor at Zurich named Fierz, who had betrayed the dye industry by reporting exactly how things were actually made. These were laboratory scale directions. I was essentially working on building the scale up, and I also tried to produce some new dyes. So I had a lot of experience in dyestuff chemistry. I knew the triphenylmethane section of the Schulz-Julius Farbstoff Tabellen by heart; that sort of thing. I really had an intense schooling in practical organic chemistry.

Gortler:

I wonder if your knowledge of dyes was carried over into your indicator work.

Hammett:

It was.

Gortler:

Thatís intriguing. Everything just seemed to happen right.

Hammett:

Yes. When I was teaching qualitative we had a very unsatisfactory final detection test for aluminum, and because I knew dyestuff chemistry I had an idea about a particular dye that might be used as a test for aluminum. The test became quite successful. It is sold as ďAluminonĒ and is one of these chelate structures based on salicylic acid.

Gortler:

What were the conditions like in the industrial labs at that time? Your equipment? Your colleagues?

Hammett:

Well, there werenít any colleagues at E. C. Wordenís. I did do pilot plant operations on one of the pharmaceutical plants in Jersey City.

Gortler:

Letís see, I still have a question before we get into your real Columbia career as a graduate student. I wanted to ask you about your wife. You married a Portland girl?

Hammett:

Thatís right.

Gortler:

You had known her when you were a young man?

Hammett:

Yes.

Gortler:

Before college?

Hammett:

Yes. Well, we went to the same dancing school, for instance. But we became interested in each other just about the time I graduated from college, just before I left for Switzerland. We corresponded from there and during the time I was in the war work after I got back. Then we decided to get married.

Gortler:

How do you think she was influenced by your career, and your scientific work?

Hammett:

Sheís very proud of me, as you may have noticed.

Gortler:

Rightfully so.

Hammett:

She thinks I tend to be too modest. Sheís not in any sense a scientist but sheís known a lot of scientists, of course. When I was department chairman at Columbia, she was very friendly with the wives of all the staff and we had them in our apartment and that sort of thing. Sheís been a great help in that sense, the social sense. But we didnít come back and talk science at home.

Gortler:

What effect do you think being a scientist had on your children?

Hammett:

I donít think it had any real influence, although my son-in-law is a distinguished aeronautical engineer. I suppose in a way thatís an indirect influence and then his son has become a chemist. I donít know how much influence I had on that, but I kept him from blowing himself up.

Gortler:

When you first came to Columbia you were hired as instructor?

Hammett:

I was employed as an instructor and I was also entered as a graduate student.

Gortler:

What did you teach at that time?

Hammett:

I taught qualitative analysis.

Gortler:

Now did you teach it in the lab as our present day graduate students would do, or were you the official instructor?

Hammett:

I was an instructor and I gave lectures and also patrolled the lab. One of my colleagues from the war job, George Walden, who was a close personal friend, had come to Columbia a year before I did, and was also an instructor in the qualitative analysis laboratory. Thereís a story there; one of my personal stories. The actual vacancy was in the inorganic course and the man in charge of the inorganic course, Clifford Carpenter, didnít take to me and there was a lot of flurrying around. The chap who was in charge of the qualitative laboratory, Zanetti, was a Harvard Ph.D., incidentally, a chap of Cuban origin, and was taken by the fact that I was a Harvard graduate. So he took me, and somebody else whoíd been slated for the qualitative job went into the inorganic one. I taught qualitative analysis for several years. Iíve forgotten exactly how long. Well, the second edition of my qualitative analysis book came out in Ď29. I was probably still teaching the course into the early 30ís. Then I got into the course in physical chemistry. I never taught a course in organic chemistry. I taught a course on valence, a general valence course. We took up a lot of crystal structures, complex inorganic compounds, silicate structures and things like that, and there was Bohr theory and Lewis theory.

Gortler:

More of the Werner business.

Hammett:

Yes. That again involves local politics because the graduate students in the department, some of whom had been laboratory assistants in the qualitative course, petitioned the department to put in a course on valence theory and they specified they wanted me to teach it. So I was permitted to teach this course.

Gortler:

An early version of student demands.

Hammett:

Yes. It was a compliment. I must have gotten on pretty well with them. The main qualitative course was one term, and thatís essentially what the textbook of mine covered. But they also had scheduled an advanced qualitative course which took up the qualitative analysis of the less common elements and I was put in charge of that and I taught it. That brought me in contact with a very fine group of undergraduates, many of whom became my Ph.D. students later on. They were enthusiastic supporters of mine.

Gortler:

Things havenít changed very much. We still try to recruit occasionally from our own undergraduates. I want to get back to that. Had you made up your mind to work for Beans before you entered Columbia?

Hammett:

Oh, Iíd made up my mind as soon as I entered. Of course, he tried to persuade me not to commit myself. The first year I was there I wasnít doing any research. I was just taking courses. Some of them were very good and some of them were pretty terrible. There was a course in physical chemistry that could have been taught by Ostwald. In fact it was taught by one of Ostwaldís students. The chap who gave it had his own textbook, and it was completely old-fashioned. He would essentially repeat the textbook and then heíd run out of the room before anybody could come up and ask him questions.

Gortler:

Do you remember his name?

Hammett:

J. L. R. Morgan. Oh, he was a fine gentleman but as a scientist he was twenty or thirty years behind the times.

Gortler:

You seem to have a habit during your undergraduate, graduate years, of coming up against physical chemists who were essentially remembering their past glories.

Hammett:

Yes. I canít say that I found Richards or Forbes very inspiring.

Gortler:

Your physical outlook and your mathematical tendency seem to be in spite of your education, rather than because of it.

Hammett:

Beans was an odd character. I was very fond of him and we were very good friends, but he would take violent dislikes. For instance, once an article heíd submitted to the Journal [Journal of the American Chemical Society] was turned down by Lamb, who was the editor then, and from then on Beans wouldnít publish anything. He just had no use for this Journal.

Gortler:

He published elsewhere, I take it?

Hammett:

No, he never published in the journals. He did some very fine research on Bredig gold sols, the way you made these gold sols was to strike an arc between two gold electrodes under water. Beans discovered that if you took really pure water you couldnít get a sol. You had to have a certain amount of electrolyte in it. He studied the electrolyte but he never published any of that research in the journals. Columbia had a requirement that any Ph.D. thesis had to be published. Usually they were printed and submitted as such, as a printed document. Mine was, for instance. Beans took the attitude that all of these researches which were carried out by his students were embodied in doctoral theses and they were therefore published. He wasnít going to be bothered with the periodical literature. Of course, he was cutting off his nose to spite his face. Years later some German translated and published Beansí gold sol work in a special pamphlet.

Gortler:

You say Beans tried to dissuade you. Were there established ways of searching out a research mentor?

Hammett:

Oh yes. The student had a choice. Nobody pushed him into a particular research group. But there were certain courses that were required to be taken and the people who taught those courses had good contact with students. There was, as I said, this course in physical chemistry, which I took purely for political reasons because the instructor was an influential member of the staff. Marston Bogert was a distinguished professor, and he taught organic chemistry. He taught it completely from the point of view of making compounds. In fact he was responsible for what I thought was a memorable remark: ďOne of the beautiful things about organic chemistry was that you might start out to make a pharmaceutical and end up with a dye — or vice versa.Ē It was typical of the man. In some ways he was rather pompous. Again I reflect some of the prejudices that came along with my being an adherent of Beans. Beans was an embattled adversary of Bogertís. The funny thing is that I wrote the memorial notice for Bogert for the National Academy of Sciences and it was published as such. Among Bogertís students were Scatchard, who became a distinguished physical chemist at M.I.T., Beans, who became an analytical chemist, and Nelson, who pioneered in all kinds of directions. He [Nelson] was the first person who used a hydrogen electrode on a biochemical problem. He was the first person to do all kinds of things. After heíd start something heíd go off on another tangent on something else. He never got the recognition he deserved, although one of his students, Northrup, got a Nobel Prize. The Columbia Chemistry Department was in some ways a very exciting place. Here was Bogert who never took a course in organic chemistry as a student or, at least, never finished one. He was half way through the first course in organic chemistry and the professor got sick and they appointed him to give the rest of the course. He never studied in Europe and he became a very prominent member of the American Chemical Society, one of the founders of the Chemists Club in New York City and all that sort of thing. He was a big shot person. By the time I got there his organic chemistry was pretty old stuff to me. And he took himself very seriously.

Gortler:

How about Beans. You obviously have a great deal of admiration for him. Was he much older than you?

Hammett:

Oh yes, probably twenty or thirty years older. While weíre on the subject of Beans, Beans and Walden and I got into consulting work working together. Beans was head of an organization of consulting chemists and chemical engineers. He made a lot of contacts. For instance, we were asked to work on a paper phonograph record. I remember something called the ďhit of the weekĒ record. It was a paper phonograph record that could be made on a printing press. It involved a resorcin-formaldehyde resin which is very similar to Bakelite except that the resorcin is much more reactive than phenol and this resin went through the whole cycle of melting and hardening very quickly. You could spread it on a paper sheet and put it in a printing press with a heated dye which came down and clamped it and the dye would go back and you would have the thing. It not only melted and took the impress of the record, but it set in seconds or less. And then we got into a big hassle with the fellow who got us into this problem. They had set up a business and had a big plant. But they couldnít make the records in the plant, and we had to show them how to do it. Then we got into an argument over whether that was an important new invention. We called in the Law School; our university trustees were told that we were misbehaving and the Law School defended us. We had our adventures.

Gortler:

About when did you start that?

Hammett:

Oh it was in the late thirties.

Gortler:

Had you done much consulting before that?

Hammett:

Off and on, yes, mostly to just make a penny or two.

Gortler:

Do you remember how much you were paid for consulting?

Hammett:

Well I know one time we were getting about a thousand dollars apiece, the three of us.

Gortler:

For a yearís work?

Hammett:

Yes. That was the peak.

Gortler:

Did your consulting work ever have any effect on your research? I mean, did it contribute at all?

Hammett:

No. I donít think it did. It was pure pot boiling. It was just to make a living. University salaries werenít generous you know, in those days.

Gortler:

I can appreciate that. Weíll get back to the consulting work later. How did you arrive at th research topic that you worked on for Beans? Did he suggest it?

Hammett:

No, I did.

Gortler:

I see. And how did you come by hydrogen electrodes at that particular point.

Hammett:

I started out studying the precipitation of aluminum hydroxide because Iíd discovered, puttering around, that what you got was not aluminum hydroxide but essentially the precipitate included a little bit of any other anion present in the solution from which it was precipitated. For instance, if you precipitated it from aluminum chloride you got chloride in the precipitate as well as hydroxide. The amount of chloride went up with the amount of chloride in the solution. On the other hand, you could get the chloride out of these fresh precipitates by treating them with sulphate. In other words they had some of the properties of an ion exchange resin. And in order to do that I wanted to study the pH of the solution and the hydrogen electrode was just brand new in those days. In fact, as I said, Nelson had been a pioneer in using it in biological systems. So I got into the hydrogen electrode and studied that, and ended up with a Ph.D. thesis. I did some other work on electrode kinetics. I studied the quinone-hydroquinone system.

Gortler:

Yes, you did that later on with a fellow by the name of Lorch.

Hammett:

Yes, Lorch.

Gortler:

And Lorch was on the staff?

Hammett:

Well, he was an instructor, yes.

Gortler:

He was not a student of yours.

Hammett:

Yes, he was. He became an instructor; then he went down to Hunter College.

Gortler:

Was it common for students to suggest their own problem?

Hammett:

I think it was not unusual. Certainly Beans encouraged me. Of course, he had students for whom he suggested problems but he also had other students who sort of set out on their own. Of course, weíd been working together during the war and we knew each other pretty well. We were personal friends.

Gortler:

How much direction did he give you?

Hammett:

Damn little. [Laughter] Oh, I mean I worked in his laboratory and I talked to him about what I was doing. It was out of his line; he wasnít specifically interested.

Gortler:

I see. He had other students at the time?

Hammett:

Oh yes.

Gortler:

What did they think of him?

Hammett:

Oh, they were enthusiastic. He was very popular.

Gortler:

Did the students discuss their work with one another?

Hammett:

Yes.

Gortler:

You did discuss your work with other students.

Hammett:

Yes. Well, Walden was working for his doctorate at the time and there were others. We were a congenial research group.

Gortler:

Youíve already mentioned a number of members of the faculty. You mentioned Nelson, Kendall, Bogert, Morgan, Sherman...

Hammett:

Carpenter.

Gortler:

Carpenter?

Hammett:

Yes, he taught the general chemistry course.

Gortler:

Does that pretty much take in most of the influential members of the faculty?

Hammett:

Well, there was a fellow named Thomas whoíd been a student of Shermanís. He taught a course in colloid chemistry which I took. It was a good course.

Gortler:

You started on the staff of Columbia full time as assistant professor in 1924, I think it was.

Hammett:

Yes.

Gortler:

And you did mention that you were not besieged by offers upon receiving your degree. Were there any other prospects?

Hammett:

No.

Gortler:

What was the job situation in chemistry in general?

Hammett:

It wasnít very good. I didnít actively go out and search but neither did anybody come to me.

Gortler:

I see. You didnít actively go out because you had something in hand.

Hammett:

I guess the answer is that, in a sense, I was quite happy in an academic environment. But on the other hand, Iíd been glad to make more money than I was getting.

Gortler:

About how much were you making then?

Hammett:

Well, by virtue of teaching the nine hours a week in the evening...

Gortler:

You were still doing that as an assistant professor.

Hammett:

Oh yes, and teaching six weeks hard work in the summer session and the regular instructorship. I guess between them I was getting about $3,500.

Gortler:

What kind of a chemist did you consider yourself at the time?

Hammett:

I guess I considered myself a physical chemist. I read the literature. I was fascinated by Lewisís valence theories; fascinated by them. And I was tremendously excited by his work on electrolyte solutions and Bronstedís work on electrolyte solutions. I was an intense student of thermodynamics. I really wanted to know this. It took me a long time to get myself into it, but I did. And of course the Lewis and Randall Thermodynamics was a very influential book, tremendously influential book. I think one of the great tragedies of American Science is that Lewis never got the Nobel Prize and that it was given to Langmuir for inventing Lewisís valence theories. I think Langmuir deserved the prize for his surface work but he was given the prize for valence theory when everything he added to Lewisís original ideas was wrong. But Langmuir went around getting to know people and Lewis didnít.

Gortler:

One of my historian friends will be very interested in that because heís done a series of papers on Lewis-Langmuir.

Hammett:

I violently objected to it being called the Lewis-Langmuir theory.

Gortler:

What were your early facilities like? The physical facilities, your office, your laboratory, space, equipment, that sort of thing?

Hammett:

Well, LaMer, who was also an instructor, and I shared an office; a good sized office. LaMer had been one of Shermanís students, but he got a traveling fellowship and worked with Bronsted and came back and turned himself into an electrolyte chemist. At another time I shared an office with George Walden. When they built the Chandler laboratory I got an office for myself. But it was always a little cramped until that time.

Gortler:

What was the building you were in before?

Hammett:

Havemeyer. They were good sized offices; there was room for two people to work in.

Gortler:

What about laboratory equipment?

Hammett:

Well, anything that you could get out of the stock room you could get. Money for anything special was very difficult; there wasnít much of it around. A fellow named Alexander Smith, who came originally from Scotland, had been brought from Chicago to Columbia to teach chemistry and to be head of the department. And he brought with him a fellow named Freas, whoíd been in charge of the stockroom facilities at Chicago and took over the stockroom at Columbia. He had a professional title, but his real job was running the stockroom. And they cooked up a deal by which there was a certain allowance for instructional equipment and it was big enough so that any ordinary expenses for research could be taken out under that guise. Incidentally, one of the funniest conversations I ever heard, involved Harned and Hildebrand, who had both been on the staff of the University of Pennsylvania when E. F. Smith was the despotic head of the department. This was at a National Academy meeting. They got to reminiscing about the times that they had there, when they had to sneak off and hide under stairways somewhere so that Smith wouldnít know that they were using undergraduate laboratory equipment to do research. That was a fascinating revelation, actually. Smith wanted to run everything, you see, and his people were dodging around, hiding from him and doing undercover research. Another case of that sort was at Hopkins. Urey came to Columbia from Hopkins and he told us that the fellow whoíd been head of the department at Hopkins had a theory that the head of the department directed all research. Urey couldnít take that. Iíve forgotten his name now. Anyway he ran the thing right from the top, you see. And Urey once said that if he had one criterion for appointing chemists to an academic job, it would be to appoint people whoíd been fired from Hopkins.

Gortler:

Those were people who could do research under difficult conditions.

Hammett:

Well, thatís probably why.

Gortler:

When you started as an instructor what specialties were particularly strong in the department?

Hammett:

Well, Bogert had a big group of people doing synthetic organic work. Sherman had a tremendous research program on food chemistry which involved a good many women.

Gortler:

By the way, did Smith succeed Sherman as chairman?

Hammett:

No. It was the other way around. Well, the history is that originally chemistry and chemical engineering were one department. For all practical purposes, it was headed or founded and maintained for years by Charles Chandler for whom the Chandler Lab was named. When Chandler came to retire, the department brought Alexander Smith on, and Alexander Smith, I gather, was another despot. And then he went nuts. He did, he lost his mind. Just about the time I came to Columbia was about a year after Smith had to resign and the department staff essentially nominated Sherman to be chairman. At that time, being a department chairman was a promotion, essentially a permanent appointment and it was an honor. It gave a man a good deal of power because he prepared the department budget and that sort of thing. And Sherman, in some ways I think, was a pretty fair and decent kind of a person. I think he had a tendency to see to it that his own Ph.D. students found a job in the department if not somewhere else. Ultimately there was a good deal of internal dissension in the department. Then they brought on Harold Urey who was a very vigorous person; tremendously driving, active person. Urey was full of the Berkeley ideas about how the department should operate, what should be taught, and all of that sort of thing. Finally, after his deuterium discovery, he just decided he was going to be head of the department. He accumulated several offers from outside and he went to the administration and said, ďNow, I like it here at Columbia. Iíd love to be department chairman but if Iím not department chairman Iím going somewhere else.Ē So they made him department chairman. It was a deliberate hold-up, if you want. Then the war came along and Urey went into the Manhattan Project and by this time Sherman had semi-retired anyway. He kept some students but he was writing a revision of his textbook. Then Thomas was appointed chairman. I should make it clear that the chairman was appointed by the president of the university. He wasnít elected by the department which nominated him. So Thomas was put in as chairman. When the war ended Thomas was still chairman and expecting to continue and the department had been pretty badly depleted. A lot of us were on leave during the war. Urey didnít want to come back. Iím not quite certain what he wanted. He may have wanted to come back but while most of us were still away they essentially had a vote in the department and the people who stayed home voted to have Thomas continue as chairman, and I think that had a good deal to do with Urey deciding to leave and go to Chicago.

Gortler:

I recently read something about the Manhattan Project. Urey was in charge of some of the work done at Columbia but he didnít get on well with.

Hammett:

He didnít get on well with Dunning who was the physics department head.

Gortler:

Yes, Dunning and he.

Hammett:

Neither did I get on with Dunning.

Gortler:

I see, but my feeling was that somehow Urey just wasnít running things properly as an executive officer at that time. He wasnít a good administrator. He was essentially displaced at the Manhattan Project.

Hammett:

I tried to find out what happened. There was a difference of opinion in the Manhattan District about the best method of isolating or concentrating the U235. Dunning promoted the diffusion process and Urey was promoting some other method. Dunning turned out to be successful. So Urey wasnít too happy. As a matter of fact, toward the end of the war one of my younger colleagues, Ray Crist, came out to see me at the Explosives Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh and he was all in favor of having Libby, who discovered the carbon dating technique, on the Columbia staff. Libby was never on the Columbia staff, but he was on the Manhattan District Project at Columbia. And Ray Crist had held an important administrative job in the Manhattan District, too. He admired Libby very much and Ray said that unless Libby was appointed to the Columbia Chemistry Department, he was sure that he and a lot of other people on the staff were going to leave. Well, they did. Urey left, the statistical mechanics man, whose wife got a Nobel PrizeÖ

Gortler:

Mayer?

Hammett:

Mayer, Joe Mayer, yeah. He was a man whom Urey had brought to Columbia. Oh, a bunch of them left. The department was pretty badly shot. Doering had been appointed, however, during that period. And we got in several more young people.

Gortler:

Was Elderfield there before?

Hammett:

Yes, and Kimball, George Kimball, who was very much a chemical physicist; another brilliant man. Urey was responsible for bringing him in. Elderfield and Kimball and Mayer were all on leave during the war and Hammett, Ray Crist, in other words, the department was pretty much a skeleton.

Gortler:

David Curtin? Was he around at the time, or did he come later?

Hammett:

Yes, thatís right; he was on the staff when I came back.

Gortler:

What textbooks were important around the 1924, Ď25 to Ď30 eras? Youíve already mentioned the Lewis book. Anything else?

Hammett:

Well, there was a textbook on food chemistry that was used in the courses at Columbia. I donít think there were any textbooks in organic chemistry of any kind. As I said, Nelson would teach this highly original, creative course and Iím sure it would change from year to year. I donít remember any textbook on quantitative. We did use the Noyes ďQualitative AnalysisĒ in the laboratory until I wrote my book.

Gortler:

When and how did you decide to tackle the acidity problem?

Hammett:

Well, quite early in the 20ís. And it was certainly Hantzsch that started me in this direction.

Gortler:

When did you become familiar with the Hantzsch papers?

Hammett:

In the early 20ís. One thing that I have mentioned before was that when I started in, the textbook we used for the theoretical side of qualitative analysis was written by Stieglitz of Chicago. Stieglitz was originally an organic chemist. At that time, in Chicago, they had a policy of rotating people from one field to another. Stieglitz, whose fascination, I think, was with organic chemistry, was teaching qualitative analysis. He wrote a textbook on it. And this was, letís say, an organic chemistís approach to the theory of electrolyte solutions, which is, of course, the theory with which qualitative analysis is concerned. The book didnít have any kinetics in it but it was full of speculative discussions of theoretical problems.

Hammett:

The paper I wrote on the theory of acidity that was published in Ď28 resulted very much from Hantzschís work. It set me thinking about the subject that is about the work of Hantzsch and Bronsted and what Iíd learned in thermodynamics.

Gortler:

I have a note about that, probably taken from the Norris Award Lecture,[1] about how you had been teaching all these wrong things for three or four years, and then you really realized it.

Hammett:

Yes. Well, for instance, we had an experiment in qualitative analysis in which we demonstrated that HC1 dissolved in benzene wasnít ionized and therefore it wasnít acid. The way you proved that was to put some calcium carbonate powder in it and it didnít fizz. Whereas HC1 in benzene is actually a lot more acid than it is in water. It was a reaction against those ideas that stimulated me enormously when I read Hantzsch, who discovered that HC1 was more acid in some non-aqueous solvents than it is in water.

Gortler:

You really took a big step there. In fact, the title of that first paper was called ďThe Theory of Acidity."[2] For some reason, I wrote that it seemed almost presumptuous for one starting out, but you were 34, and it wasnít as though you were a beginner. Youíd had several papers.

Hammett:

Well, a couple of papers on the hydrogen electrode.

Gortler:

Who did you discuss the acidity work with? Who were some of the people you talked with?

Hammett:

Deyrup, a very bright fellow; very industrious, very intense, hard-working fellow.

Gortler:

He started with you about when, in the late 1920ís?

Hammett:

Letís see. Itís a little hard to say when.

Gortler:

I think your papers with Deyrup were published in 1932, Ď33.

Hammett:

Actually my first student was Dietz who studied acid-base titration systems in formic acid solutions. This was, of course, about the time that Conant and Hall were working on acetic acid solutions, ďsuper-acids.Ē

Gortler:

Did you talk with Conant at all before that paper?

Hammett:

No. But I began to correspond with him on matters of acids and bases. I would see him occasionally at ACS meetings.

Gortler:

There was no one inside Columbia who really had an interest in this?

Hammett:

No, this came from here. [Pointed to his head]

Gortler:

About this time how much time were you able to spend on research and how much time on teaching?

Hammett:

I donít know.

Gortler:

Do you remember how many courses you had to teach a semester?

Hammett:

I had, what we would call, a really heavy teaching schedule because I was teaching evenings, and I was teaching for six weeks in the summer session. I had three lectures a week in qualitative analysis, I had six hours every week in the qualitative laboratory, and I was in the laboratory. I had a busy schedule.

Gortler:

Yes, it does seem that way. I am surprised you could find time for research at all. Did you have any administrative duties?

Hammett:

No. Oh, one thing that I should point out is that one of the students I had in the valence course was a chap named Auchincloss who was a well-to-do New Yorker.

Gortler:

Oh yes, he comes up later, Reginald.

Hammett:

Yes. He was so impressed with me and with Nelson that he offered to buy me some special equipment. Well, I didnít want special equipment. I wanted some help in the laboratory, and I persuaded him to endow a laboratory assistantship. I took on an undergraduate named Treffers, who later took his doctorate with me, and is now head of the Department of Microbiology at Yale. But Treffers worked with me and I did some of the very early orienting experiments on acid-base systems. Treffers helped a lot in that. If nothing else, he cleaned up after the mess, you know, just having someone around the laboratory, who could clean up after you and do routine jobs is a big help. He was very helpful, very valuable. Because of this I felt it was proper to make an acknowledgment to Auchincloss on the Deyrup papers.

Gortler:

Yes, I was looking at those and I wondered who in the world Auchincloss was.

Hammett:

He kept up that assistantship for a good many years. It was a great help. It was the only financial support I had.

Gortler:

Did you keep pretty regular hours? It seems as though you were there day and night.

Hammett:

Kind of hard on my wife.

Gortler:

It must have been.

Hammett:

Kendall used to give lectures in a course I had to take at 8:00 every morning because he liked to get up early and get the job out of the way. You remember these things. So Iíd leave my wife, we were living at 181st Street then, and had a new baby, to get down to Columbia for the 8 A.M. lecture and Iíd get back at half past 10 at night after an evening laboratory. It was hard, but I was young.

Gortler:

Who were some of your closest colleagues on the staff? Those you associated with?

Hammett:

Beans, Walden, Nelson; those were the people I was very close to and worked very well with.

Gortler:

When did you begin to define your area as physical organic chemistry?

Hammett:

Oh, sometime in the 30ís.

Gortler:

There were others who began working in the field at the time. Who did you think were the most influential people outside of Columbia?

Hammett:

Conant, certainly, and Ingold.

Gortler:

Yes, I wondered whether the English School had much impact. Were you looking at their papers?

Hammett:

Oh yes. Although they didnít start me on anything, I read their work with interest but... Ingold for instance, started out as a classical organic chemist. Then he pioneered with that paper on the dibasic acids, the ester hydrolysis. Ingold tended very much to start out from theory and predict an experiment and I tended to start out from experiment and lead to theory. He was more of a deductive chemist and I was more of an inductive scientist.

Gortler:

I noticed in your books that you donít say much about Robinsonís work and I wondered if Robinson had very much of an influence. There seemed to be quite a controversy going on in England at the time between Robinson and Ingold, I canít give you the details of the controversy now. I just wondered if you had any recollections of it.

Hammett:

I donít remember. I knew who Robinson was, and I knew something about his work. I think there was some kind of an argument about priority of ideas. But I think this was sort of typical Ingold. He was a combative fellow. I donít think thereís a reference for Robinson in my book.

Gortler:

There may be one or two.

Hammett:

I donít think there is.[3] [Looks in second edition of his book ďPhysical Organic ChemistryĒ and finds one reference.] R. Robinson I think thatís the fellow. But Robinson got into natural products. I donít think he was very influential on theory.

Gortler:

Well, you got into some of the displacement work at one point that Ingold, Kenyon and Hughes were working on.

Hammett:

[4] [Reading from book, p. 324] ďThe Ďelectronic theory of valencingí which was developed by Lapworth, by Robinson, and by Ingold in the 1920ís.Ē

Gortler:

How about Bartlett?

Hammett:

The first time I met Bartlett was at an ACS meeting. He gave a very fine lecture. He was the first person I knew of who was thinking along the kind of lines that I was. It was really quite a revelation. Iíve forgotten exactly what had happened. We were always fairly congenial.

Gortler:

What about other places? Other schools? Chicago? California? Did you know much about Lucas, for example?

Hammett:

I read Lucasís papers, and was very much interested in them. I met him during the Second World War and Bill Young, who was a student of Lucasís, was a good friend of mine. We were on an ACS committee on professional training. Who was the other fellow at UCLA?

Gortler:

Weinstein?

Hammett:

Yes, Weinstein. I met Weinstein. Those people influenced me. I donít think the people at Berkeley, for instance, Branch and Calvin, had very much influence. I think thereís some references to Branch, of course, the two of them wrote a book which had a point of view quite different from mine. I have a couple of references here (in Hammettís book) to Branch, but again my criticism of the Branch and Calvin book was that it started out from theory and sometimes the theory wasnít very satisfactory. But Branch was certainly a pioneer in using kinetics as a technique for studying mechanisms. And, of course, Norris did some really remarkable work. Incidentally, he taught a short course in organic chemistry that I took as an undergraduate at Harvard. He was a visiting professor. This was James Norris from Simmons College in Boston. The Norris award is named for him. James Flack Norris. Some of his work was very fine.

Gortler:

At any point did you feel that centers were beginning to develop; Centers of either just individuals or several individuals who were beginning to come together?

Hammett:

Well, certainly Harvard with Paul Bartlett, UCLA with Young and Weinstein. In that period anyway, I donít remember any other place that I would think of as an important center. Harvard was certainly a pioneering place.

Gortler:

What about Chicago with Kharasch?

Hammett:

Walling was a student of Kharasch. Kharasch certainly pioneered in free radical chemistry. No doubt about that. It didnít influence me very much, though. I knew him and I knew his work.

Gortler:

How about George Wheland?

Hammett:

Not very much.

Gortler:

He may have been a little later.

Hammett:

I knew his book but these people start out from theory. I start out from the experiment and not from theory, except that I have great faith in Gibbs. I also learned some statistical mechanics.

Gortler:

Youíve remarked on that 20, 25 year lapse between 1900 when Lapworth was still doing some kinetics and 1928, 1929, when you started doing kinetics.[5]

Hammett:

Thatís an amazing thing.

Gortler:

Did you have any other thoughts about that? Why no-one picked it up earlier?

Hammett:

I donít know. It could have been the influence of people like Bogert, for instance, the classical organics. And the kind of organic chemistry that went on at Illinois and Wisconsin in those days was, R would say, kind of backward. Who was the fellow who was the head of the department at Illinois for so many years?

Gortler:

Roger Adams?

Hammett:

Roger Adams, yes. Now Roger Adams and I got on very well as far as that goes. Adkins at Wisconsin was another sort of classical organic person, interested in structure determination and that sort of thing, making new compounds which might turn out to be a pharmaceutical or a dyestuff.

Gortler:

I told you before that Iíve looked at this interview with C. S. Marvel, another student of Adams, and he talked in exactly that way. If you wanted to make something, thatís what organic chemistry, was all about. I think he still has those ideas.

Hammett:

Yes, but he did some beautiful work on the rubber program during the war.

Gortler:

Why did people pick it up when they did pick it up?

Hammett:

I donít know.

Gortler:

You just seemed to be oriented in the right direction.

Hammett:

I was dissatisfied with that kind of organic chemistry and I had become fascinated with physical chemistry and with thermodynamics and things like that; the valence theory. So I was sort of prepared for it.

Gortler:

But you were the odd physical chemist who was willing to do work in organic chemistry. I think that you pointed out somewhere that they (physical chemists) tended to not want anything to do with that sort of thing.

Hammett:

Thatís right. But after I wrote that 1940 book, the organic chemists welcomed me. Thereís no doubt about that. They were very glad. Iíve had many organic chemists tell me that the book had a great influence on their thinking thereafter.

Gortler:

Absolutely.

Hammett:

And Roger Adams, for instance, welcomed me. I mean this, in a way, was a revelation. Iím not trying to be too conceited, but it put a lot of things together, people suddenly realized that they knew this all along, but nobody told them.

Gortler:

I was just looking through the book the last couple of weeks, again, and I thought, ďThis is todayís undergraduate textbook in organic chemistry.Ē

Hammett:

Essentially.

Gortler:

So it really has had an enormous influence. What led you to write it?

Hammett:

I donít know.

Gortler:

By then you must have been teaching a course in organic chemistry.

Hammett:

No, I wasnít. I never taught a course in organic chemistry. At that time I was teaching the undergraduate physical chemistry course and I did teach that off and on. Particularly after the war because, then, my main teaching assignment was a physical chemistry course.

Gortler:

Were the ideas that you put together mainly from your own research?

Hammett:

From my own research and from my reading. I have never been completely sympathetic to the idea that the only way you can learn from a great scientist is to go and do postdoctoral work with him. I never met Hantzsch. I never met Werner. I didnít meet Bronsted or G. N. Lewis till years later. But they all influenced me very much because they wrote and because I read.

Gortler:

Did McGraw-Hill object to publishing your book in this brand new area at all? Did you have any trouble with that?

Hammett:

No. You see, my qualitative analysis books had been moderately successful. They werenít great sellers, but somebody said they were the kind of book that anybody who taught qualitative analysis kept on his own desk. Maybe he didnít use it in his course, but... So I stood well with McGraw-Hill. And I think I was already a consulting editor for them by the time I wrote that book in Ď40.

Gortler:

Do you remember any details of the preparation of the hook? Preparing books are always a hardship on your family but do you remember how you went about writing it?

Hammett:

Iím trying to think. I wrote the second edition of the qualitative analysis mostly in the summer. By that time I wasnít teaching summer session any more. I may have had a sabbatical when I wrote that 1940 book. I just donít remember.

Gortler:

Did you take many sabbaticals?

Hammett:

Not a great many. They werenít popular around Columbia. They werenít supposed to be taken. The first one I ever took was late in the Ď30ís I know. Iím not even sure of that: I know I took them after the war but I think I took one once before the second World War, but not more than one.

Gortler:

Were there other influential books? Huckel had a book out at some point, and I donít know whether that came out before yours or later.

Hammett:

The ethylene theory, yes. I donít think so. Because I read books like Coulson and I made a rather intense effort to learn something about quantum mechanics. I wonít say I ever became very skillful at it, but I tried.

Gortler:

Do you think that the fact that Lewisí ideas about bonding finally got through to the chemical community that that had some influence on what organic chemists started to do in terms of pushing electrons perhaps, or understanding what mechanisms were all about?

Hammett:

.Yes, Iím sure it did. Oh yes.

Gortler:

Iím really trying to grasp for some reason for the beginning of physical organic chemistry in the late 1920ís.

Hammett:

Yes. Lewisí ideas were certainly influential. They cleared up a lot of mysteries; just the shared electron idea. This was a real stroke of genius, thereís no doubt about it. It was a revelation.

Gortler:

Weíve already cleared up the topic of departmental support. Were there any other agencies that supported research before 1940?

Hammett:

Not that I ever had any.

Gortler:

The Rockefeller people didnít come in with money for chemistry?

Hammett:

No. Columbia had some money for a traveling fellowship in science. LaMer had this fellowship once and worked with Bronsted for a year. One of my students, Pfluger, had it. Iíve forgotten what itís called, but I never had it. It was a traveling fellowship similar to the Sheldon Fellowship at Harvard.

[1]ĒPhysical Organic Chemistry in Retrospect,Ē J. Chem Ed. , 43, 464 (1966).

[2] ďThe Theory of Acidity,Ē J.Am.Chem.Soc.., 50, 2666 (1928).

[3]L.P. Hammett, ďPhysical Organic Chemistry,Ē 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1970

[4]In his article ďPhysical Organic Chemistry in Retrospect,Ē J.Chem.Ed., 43, 464 (1966)

[5]L.P. Hammett, ďPhysical Organic Chemistry,Ē McGraw-Hill, New York, 1940.

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