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Henry Gilman

Henry Gilman (May 19, 1893, - November 7, 1986) was an American organic chemist known as the father of organometallic chemistry, the field within which his most notable work was done. He discovered the Gilman reagent, which bears his name.

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Early life and education (1893-1918)

Henry Gilman was born in Boston, Massachusetts, as the son of a tailor. He was the third of eight children. Gilman graduated from a Boston high school and later attended Harvard University where he graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1915. During his final year as an undergraduate at Harvard, Gilman researched with Roger Adams. Gilman claimed that this was an important step toward his interest in research. After undergraduate work Gilman was invited to stay for postgraduate work with the head of the Harvard department of chemistry, E.P. Kohler. Based on his work, he received a Master of Arts degree in 1917 and a Ph.D. in 1918.


For a short time after receiving his Ph.D., Henry Gilman worked an associate professor at the University of Illinois after being invited by his former instructor Roger Adams. In 1919, Gilman moved on to become an assistant professor in charge of organic chemistry at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Iowa State University). At the age of 30, Gilman was given the title of full professor. While at Iowa State College, Gilman met Ruth V. Shaw, a student of his first-year organic chemistry class, and the two were married in 1929.

Gilman had high expectations for his graduate students, and it often took them more than twice as long as the norm to earn their degrees. They were expected to work in the research lab well into the night and on weekends. Gilman was known for frequently visiting the lab during the day and questioning each student as to what they had accomplished since his last visit.

During his career, Gilman consulted for many companies such as Quaker Oats and DuPont, although he continued as a professor at Iowa State University, as it came to be known. At the usual retirement age of 70, at that time, Gilman chose not to retire from Iowa State University and remained active in research until 1975 when he was 82 years old.

Later years (1947-1986)

In 1947, due to a combination of glaucoma and detachment of a retina Henry Gilman became blind in one eye and lost most of his vision in the other. He was forced to rely on his wife and students to act as his eyes, to read and write for him. His wife was almost always at his side to guide him in unfamiliar places and inform him of the people around him. Remarkably, he continued much of his work and never let his loss of sight hinder his skills. It could be argued that the majority of Gilman’s work was done after 1947. In 1973, the current chemistry building at Iowa State University was renamed Henry Gilman Hall.

Gilman suffered from heart problems late in his life and was fitted with a pace-maker at the age of 88. He passed away in Ames, IA at the age of 93 and was followed by his wife less than two months later.


During his lifetime, Gilman completed more than one thousand papers; more than half were written after his loss of eyesight in 1947. In 1938, he published a two-volume textbook titled Organic Chemistry: An Advanced Treatise, the first major organic chemistry textbook. Subsequent additions were published in 1943 and 1953.


  • National Academy of Sciences Biography of Henry Gilman
  • Iowa State University Visions, Fall 2006
  • John McMurry, Organic Chemistry, 6th edition (Brooks/Cole-Thomson, 2004, ISBN 0-534-42003-6)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Henry_Gilman". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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