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Charles Loring Jackson

Charles Loring Jackson (1847-1935) was the first significant organic chemist in the United States. He brought organic chemistry to the United States from Germany and educated a generation of American organic chemists.


Personal life

Charles Loring Jackson was born in Boston on April 4, 1845. He graduated from Harvard College in 1867 after studying in private schools in Boston. He joined the Harvard chemistry department as an assistant lecturer immediately after graduation and on his twenty-first birthday became an assistant professor. He was the third member of the department which consisted of Josiah Parsons Cooke and Henry Barker Hill.

In 1870 Jackson developed a chemistry course which evolved into Chemistry I, that he taught for more than forty years.

As an adult Jackson enjoyed amateur theatricals and writing poetry and romantic fiction. In retirement he enjoyed gardening at his beautiful estate in Pride's Crossing near Beverly, Massachusetts.

Learning chemistry

Jackson was frustrated studying chemistry at Harvard because in the early 1870s there were no chemists in Cambridge, Massachusetts to train him. He therefore traveled to Heidelberg, Germany to study at Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg. There he trained under Robert Bunsen, a specialist in gas analysis and platinum metals. Although he did not intend to make organic chemistry his specialty, he also worked with the organic chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann. However, Hofmann inspired Jackson to pursue organic chemistry as a career. Jackson was known to have said that he learned to "use his mind" under Hofmann, "an activity that Bunsen rather discouraged."

During Jackson's time in Heidelberg Hofmann was writing his Faraday Lectures on Justus von Liebig and had Jackson correct his English. This was a great opportunity for Jackson to develop an intimate association with Hofmann. In 1874 Jackson published his first paper which dealt with organic selenium compounds.

Research at Harvard

In 1875 after returning to Harvard Jackson synthesized the first new organic compound made in a Harvard laboratory, p-bromobenzyl bromide. This provided a method of producing substituted benzyl compounds with interesting results, such as a synthesis of anthracene. In the following years he developed syntheses of flavoring compounds curcumin and vanillin. He also synthesised benzine tri-sulfonic acid and developed what is now a traditional method of nitrating organic materials, preliminary sulfonation followed by nitration. In the late 1880s he discovered the reaction between highly substituted aromatic halides and malonic ester in which a halogen radical is replaced by a hydrogen, his most prolific source of scientific publications. He also did considerable work on the o-quinones, although he missed the discovery of the parent compound o-benzoquinone by only a small margin.

The European connection

The importance of Jackson's studies in Europe to the development of the organic chemistry industry in the United States should not be under estimated. In the 1870s when Jackson traveled to Europe there literally was no organic synthesis being done in the United States either in academia or in industry. This short-coming became very evident with the advent of World War I and World War II when the supply of strategic organic materials from Germany to the United States was cut off. Had the United States been unable to quickly develop an organic synthesis capability, the outcome of the World Wars might have been quite different.

Several of Jackson's students at Harvard, Roger Adams, Farrington Daniels, Frank C. Whitmore, James B. Sumner and James Bryant Conant to name a few, were instrumental in developing organic synthesis in the United States. Some of them had traveled to Germany to study organic synthesis using the connections Jackson had established.

In Jackson's time academic research was generally quite open, resulting in an open and internationalist philosophy among scientists. The World Wars put this philosophy at odds with commonly held beliefs about national security, intellectual property, trade secrets and technology leakage.



  • Charles Loring Jackson, The Gold Point and Other Strange Stories, Stratford Company of Boston (1926)


  • Charles Loring Jackson, Biographical memoir of Henry Barker Hill, 1849-1903, National Academy of Sciences (January 1, 1905) ASIN B0008AF3CW
  • Charles Loring Jackson, On certain colored substances derived from nitro compounds, ASIN B0008CBY1E
  • Charles Loring Jackson, Charles Robert Sanger: [Biographical notice], Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, ASIN B0008CWAYE
  • Charles Loring Jackson, On certain nitro derivatives of the vicinal tribrombenzol, Harvard University--Chemical Laboratory Contributions, ASIN B0008CBYHS
  • Charles Loring Jackson, Memoir of Josiah Parsons Cooke, 1827-1894, National Academy of Sciences (January 1, 1902) ASIN B0008AF390
  • Charles Loring Jackson, On certain derivatives of orthobenzoquinone, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (January 1, 1900) ASIN B0008CBYIC
  • Charles Loring Jackson, On the action of sodic ethylate on tribromdinitrobenzol, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (January 1, 1898) ASIN B0008CBYH8
  • Charles Loring Jackson, On certain derivatives of symmetrical trichlorbenzol, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (January 1, 1898) ASIN B0008CBYHI
  • Charles Loring Jackson, On the oxide of dichlormethoxyquinone-dibenzoylmethylacetal, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (January 1, 1898) ASIN B0008CBYI2
  • Charles Loring Jackson, Samuel Cabot, John Wilson and Son, University Press (January 1, 1908) ASIN B0008D0U36


Frank C. Whitmore, Charles Loring Jackson, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Vol. 18, No. 8 (1926)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Charles_Loring_Jackson". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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