The Othmer Library of Chemical History collects, preserves, and makes accessible materials relating to the history of science, technology, and medicine, with an emphasis on chemistry and chemical engineering from ancient to modern times. The Othmer Library currently houses approximately 160,000 print and microform volumes, rare books and manuscripts, significant archival materials, and historical photographs of great value to researchers and our cultural heritage. Together these collections, spanning nearly 6 miles of shelves, form an unrivaled resource for the history of chemistry and related sciences, technologies, and industries. The Library also has an online tumblr site, Othmeralia, showcasing the hidden treasures in the collections. The Library provides subject guides online.
The nucleus of the rare-book collection comes from both the library of the Chemists’ Club of New York and the Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library. The collection now consists of over 6,000 volumes of rare books dealing with all aspects of chemistry and related subjects from the 15th century on. The Neville Collection contains works primarily from the 17th and 18th centuries, focusing on the early chemical industry and commerce, such as distillation, dyes and dyeing, the gas-lighting industry, saltpeter, as well as the manufacture of steel, glass, and alcoholic beverages. Alchemy is exceptionally well represented, as are the closely related subjects of mining and metallurgy, botany, natural history, and balneology. The Rare Books collection also many digital collections and files.
SHI holds about 5,200 linear feet of historical manuscripts and photographs. SHI actively collects and preserves the papers of individuals and groups whose work has significantly advanced our scientific understanding and whose discoveries have helped shape our lives. The archival collections include the papers of numerous notable figures, including polymer chemists Carl Marvel, Daniel W. Fox, and the Nobel laureate Paul Flory. The collection also includes contributions from Nobel laureates Sir John Pople, Glenn Seaborg, Johann Deisenhofer, and Richard Smalley. The organizational collections detail the activities of many influential scientific organizations, such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the Chemists’ Club, the Gordon Research Conferences, and several divisions of the American Chemical Society. The corporate collections document the business practices of such chemical giants as the Dow Chemical Company, the Aldrich Chemical Company, and Rohm and Haas Company. SHI's ephemera collections include advertisements, magazines, and trade cards connected to chemistry and related industries. SHI's collections of moving images and audio are an untapped resource, consisting of 16-mm film reels, VHS cassettes, U-Matic videotapes, and reel-to-reel audio tapes. Features of this collection include the CHEM Study and Eminent Chemists series. Some archival items, including finding aids, documents, and images are available online.
The photograph collection of over 25,000 images provides visual documentation of chemists, laboratories, and instrumentation. Through archives SHI documents the history and heritage of chemistry and related sciences and illuminates the broad impact of these sciences on society. One highlight is the Williams Haynes Portrait Collection of nearly 1,000 formal portraits of important chemists from the early 1900s. Other highlights include the Travis Hignett Collection of images from the Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory (1920–1950); the Joseph Labovsky Collection, which supplies an illustrative narrative of the history of nylon; and the Dow Historical Collection, which provides some powerful 20th-century industrial imagery. The informal snapshots and personal photos in our collection capture notable scientists at work and at play, such as the polymer chemists Wallace Carothers and Carl Marvel on a fishing trip and chemical engineer Donald Othmer and his wife on their wedding day. Some of the images are available online.
The Fine Art Collection contains artworks in a variety of media, including oil paintings and portraits, prints, sculpture, multimedia works, and contemporary and non-traditional media. Strengths of SHI's fine-art collection include the Fisher Scientific International Collection and the Roy Eddleman Collection, more than 90 paintings and 200 works on paper that unmask the fascinating world of the alchemists. Other highlights of the fine-art collection include oil paintings depicting such early modern chemical activities as distillation and metallurgy and watercolors showing the production process of the textile ramie. Some images are available online as part of “The Art of Iatrochemistry.”
SHI collects three-dimensional artifacts to gain a representative group of material-culture objects that can be used as resources for both research and exhibition. SHI holds a variety of fascinating historical artifacts related to chemistry and chemical education, including one of the best public collections of chemistry sets, with approximately 100 different sets from all over the world, including Australia and Germany. The artifact collection also features the history of bakelite and the relationship between chemistry and fashion. Some images are available online.
SHI also collects scientific instruments, such as early handheld balances and late-20th century mass spectrometers. Strengths of SHI's instrument collection include the Beckman IR-1 spectrophotometer, John Fenn’s electrospray mass spectrometer, and Bruce Merrifield’s solid-phase peptide synthesizer. This collection is supplemented by a vast array of instrumentation manuals and trade literature. The collection also features Nobel Prize instruments.
The Center for Oral History provides information about oral histories online, including specific oral history projects. Projects include: Atmospheric Science; Critical Mass; Rubber Matters; Chemical Engineering; Chemical History of Electronics; Chemical Industry; Mass Spectrometry; Pew Biomedical Scholars; Polymers; Scientific Technical Information Systems; Voices from Pittcon; and Women in Chemistry. More information can be found here:
The SHI also offers online resources. These resources offer users the chance to explore the role chemistry has played in everyday life through biographies of those whose have advanced our understanding, chemistry activities, and online resources. Featured online resources include: Fellow Friday; Scientists You Must Know; Iconic Innovators; Chemistry in History; Women in Chemistry; Stories from the Field; Thanks to Chemistry; Conflicts in Chemistry; It’s Elemental; and Chemistry Now.
SHI also offers a Museum for visitors. The Museum at SHI features permanent and changing exhibits that explore the fascinating history of chemistry and the role science plays in the modern world. The permanent exhibit, Making Modernity, demonstrates how chemistry has touched our lives, frequently in unexpected ways.
Projects of the Institute for Research include: REACH Ambler, examining a town exposed to asbestos; the Arnold O. Beckman Legacy Project, which seeks to raise understanding and awareness of the ongoing significance of Dr. Arnold O. Beckman; the Gordon E. Moore Biography Project, a full-length biography of the Silicon Valley pioneer Gordon E. Moore; Sensing Change, a study of long-term climate change; and Sustainability Reporting, which encompasses the state of sustainability reporting standards and metrics among chemical, petroleum, and pharmaceutical companies.
The SHI offers a number of fellowships and travel grants for researchers.