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Milton Harris (scientist)
Milton Harris (March 21, 1906—September 12, 1991) was a scientist who founded the Harris Research Laboratories and, for six years, chaired the Board of Directors of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Harris was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in Portland, Oregon. His first independent business enterprise, at the age of twelve or thirteen, was building crystal radio sets. A high school science course piqued his interest in chemistry. In 1924, at the age of sixteen, Harris began his college education at Oregon State University, then known as Oregon Agricultural College (OAC). Despite the lack of a chemistry department at that time, Harris pursued a degree in chemical engineering and took all available courses in chemistry.
At the age of 18, Harris graduated from OAC, and began graduate work at Yale University. Upon his graduation from Yale in 1929, Harris took his first job as a chemist at the Cheney Brothers Mill. Harris was called away from Cheney in 1931 to join a new textile research group at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). Harris was later appointed director of the research group, which would ultimately produce roughly 200 scientific papers on various aspects of textile chemistry. While he was at the NBS Harris, along with Vincent du Vigneaud, made important discoveries with regard to similarities between the three-dimensional molecular structures of wool, insulin, and human hair.
With the beginning of US involvement in World War II, Harris’ group began advising the Army Quartermaster about textiles, as well as helping to solve a myriad of problems for the NBS. Harris aided the research and redesign of sandbag sacking, tent cloth, and the chemical additives in military underwear that were used to protect soldiers from the effects of a gas attack. At the end of World War II, while the Textile Foundation was relocated to Princeton University, Harris elected to stay in Washington, D.C. With the help of some fellow colleagues, Harris started the Harris Research Laboratories, which operated as a consulting laboratory for the Gillette Company and America Enka Company, among others.
Harris’ association with the Gillette Company grew with the development of his consulting business. In 1955, Gillette bought the Harris Research Laboratories and appointed Harris Vice President of Research. Just before his retirement from Gillette in 1966, Milton Harris was approached by the American Chemical Society (ACS) Board of Directors and asked if he would accept a nomination to the board. He accepted and served as head for six years. In 1975 Harris headed an ACS panel which produced a study instrumental to the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendation for widespread cultivation of the jojoba shrub.
Harris was the receipient of many major honors in the field of chemistry, including the Harold DeWitt Smith Memorial Medal (1966), the Perkin Medal (1970), and the Priestley Medal (1980). He died of cancer September 12, 1991. His papers were donated to Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections in November of 1995.
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