The study of chemistry at The Johns Hopkins University goes back to the founding of the university. In 1876 the Trustees named Ira Remsen Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemical Laboratory. Remsen had earned an M.D. from New York City's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1867, before traveling to Munich, where he received his first systematic training in chemistry. He transferred to Gottingen in 1868, and received the Ph.D. in 1870. Remsen returned to the United States in 1872 and taught chemistry at Williams College. Seeing the lack of good chemistry textbooks in this country, he soon turned to remedying that deficiency; his first text, Theoretical Chemistry, reduced the fundamentals of the science to a form simple enough for beginning students to understand. The book was widely praised and was ultimately translated into several languages.
Once at Hopkins, Remsen transformed the laboratory into a center for the training of chemists, and, in 1879, he founded the American Chemical Journal, which was published by the Johns Hopkins Press. He continued to write textbooks which became standards in the field; Organic Chemistry was translated into seven languages and three textbooks on inorganic chemistry were also well received. In the area of research, Remsen is perhaps best known for the 1880 discovery of saccharin by Constantin Fahlberg, a graduate student experimenting under Remsen's direction. Remsen had no interest in the commercial possibilities of the discovery, but Fahlberg developed and patented a process for manufacturing the substance.
When Gilman retired from the presidency in 1901, the Trustees chose Professor Remsen to succeed him as the second president of the young university. In addition to serving Hopkins, Remsen was also called upon to serve the general public, being named in 1909 to head a Referee Board set up by President Theodore Roosevelt to consider questions relating to the quality of food products and their adulteration. In 1913, due to ill-health, Remsen resigned both the presidency and the professorship of chemistry which he had held since 1876.
Remsen was extremely influential in shaping the teaching of chemistry at Hopkins. Since both Remsen and his colleague, Harmon Northrup Morse, who taught at Hopkins from 1876 until 1916, had received their scientific training in Germany, they wholeheartedly supported Gilman's plan to pattern the new institution after the German model, emphasizing advanced study and original research, rather than the mere transmission of knowledge then prevalent at American institutions of higher learning.
In 1916 the university moved to its present location on the Homewood campus, but the Chemical Laboratory remained in its downtown Howard Street building until the completion of a new laboratory building in 1924. This building was named Remsen Hall in honor of Hopkins's first Professor of Chemistry. In the President's Report for 1925, the Chairman of the Department said, "By this move the Chemistry Department is reunited with the rest of the University after many years of isolation in the old laboratory downtown." After Remsen died in 1927, his ashes were interred behind a plaque in the building which bears his name.
In 1918, the degree of Bachelor of Science in Chemistry was introduced. Offered in cooperation with the School of Engineering, it was designed to meet the requirements of those who desired more intensive training in Chemistry, with the fourth year of the program devoted entirely to Chemistry. From the founding of the university until the present time, an undergraduate who majors in Chemistry or any other science is granted the Bachelor of Arts degree. Generally, the Bachelor of Science degree is reserved for graduates of the university's part-time programs and of the School of Engineering.
In 1925 an attempt was made to change radically the structure of undergraduate education at Hopkins. This was the "New Plan," devised by President Frank J. Goodnow. The idea behind the New Plan (or Goodnow Plan, as it came to be known) was to abolish the first two years of undergraduate study. In the President's Report for 1926, the goal of this Plan is described as the "building up of an institution which is exclusively devoted to graduate work." The university would thus cease to offer undergraduate degrees. Several students enrolled in the Department of Chemistry under the New Plan, although the Plan was never fully implemented, due primarily to negative reaction from outside the university.
In 1928, the Honorable Francis P. Garvan provided funds to endow a Chair of Chemical Education, for the purpose of studying basic methods of improving Chemical Education. Also in 1928, the Dohme Lectureship was introduced, with funds provided by Alfred R. L. Dohme, an 1889 Hopkins Ph.D. in Chemistry. These annual lectures were instituted to bring students into closer touch with well-known contemporary chemists. In 1934, undergraduates who were interested in Chemistry located a sponsor and formed the first chemistry club at Hopkins, known as the Remsen Club.
By 1938, the Department was placing an increasing emphasis on research and formal instruction in certain areas of chemistry which would be of critical importance to the future development of the science; the following year the Department opened a nuclear research lab. In 1940, the graduate curriculum was changed to allow for earlier specialization and to shorten the preliminary training preceding doctoral research problems.
In the same year that Ira Remsen died, another chemist began a long career at Hopkins. Donald Hatch Andrews received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1923 before joining the Hopkins faculty in 1927. He became chairman of the Department in 1936, a position he held until 1944. During Andrews's tenure as chairman he oversaw an almost total commitment of departmental resources to government-sponsored research during the Second World War. In 1944, the Chemistry Department announced that its activities were almost exclusively confined to war research and undergraduate instruction, with the graduate students in attendance serving as full-time instructors in the Army Specialized Training Program.
One of the many classified research projects which took place on campus involved the development of certain materials and procedures used in the construction of the atomic bomb; this research was carried out under the supervision of Dr. Robert D. Fowler. Fowler, with a 1931 Ph.D. from the University of California, joined the Hopkins faculty in 1935. He began researching nuclear fission in 1939 and spent much of his Hopkins career working in this area (in addition to serving as chairman of the department from 1948 until his departure in 1952). Andrews himself was responsible for the development of the bolometer, a device for measuring heat with infra-red rays, and was also an expert in the properties of matter at extremely low temperatures. Another important project of the Chemistry Department during the war years was Dr. Frederick Wiselogle's synthesis of an anti-malarial drug, which proved to be more effective than quinine.
By 1945, all research being done for the military was secret, although the Department had begun to plan for research in the post-war period. Information on wartime projects was released in 1946, heralding the re-conversion of laboratories from wartime research facilities into university labs emphasizing fundamental instruction and advanced research. By 1947, work on new laboratories was underway, the first being the Analytic Chemistry lab, followed by the Organic Chemistry lab (1948), and the Physical Chemistry lab (1949).
In 1952 the administrative structure of the Department was reorganized on a committee basis with each faculty member undertaking certain administrative duties. The faculty met each week as a whole committee to report on and discuss problems. The Department continued its emphasis on pure research as opposed to research on problems of immediate practical application while working also to improve the quality of graduate research and the research facilities themselves.
Dr. Andrews, after relinquishing the chairmanship of the department in 1944, remained on the Hopkins faculty until his retirement in 1963. In 1958 he instituted a program to revitalize the teaching of freshman chemistry, assisted by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Andrews's successor as chairman of the department was Alsoph Corwin. After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1932, Corwin immediately joined the Hopkins faculty, becoming Professor and Chairman in 1944. He served as Chairman until 1947 and as Professor until his retirement in 1973. Corwin's primary interests in the field concerned chlorophyll and hemoglobin, toxins and allergens, and the development of balances and precision weighing instruments for minute quantities of substances.
In 1959, the Department again appointed a chairman, Dr. Walter Koski. Koski, a Hopkins Ph.D. who studied under Fowler, chaired the Department until 1969. Dr. Robert G. Parr headed the Department from 1969 to 1973, and was succeeded for one year by Dr. Richard J. Kokes. In 1974, Dr. Brown L. Murr was named chairman and served for two years. Dr. Dean W. Robinson then became chairman from 1976 until 1983. Succeeding Robinson in 1983 was Dr. Douglas Poland, who currently chairs the Department.
Annual Report of the President. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1876-1968.