Oberlin to become Chemical Landmark

Abby Person

On September 17, Oberlin's structural bond with Charles Martin Hall will be formally recognized by the American Chemical Society (ACS) when it becomes the 11th chemical landmark in the country.

"It is enormous," Professor of Chemistry Norman Craig said regarding the event. About a thousand people have been invited to attend the event including "a lot of dignitarireas and interesting people," Craig said.

The ACS started the National Historic Chemical Landmark program in 1994 and since then the society has recognized sites across the country for significant contributions to the advancement of Chemistry.

Craig said Oberlin is the first chemical landmark he knows of that is at a college. He added that it is the fourth chemical landmark in the Cleveland area owing to the strong Cleveland Section of the American Chemical Society.

Craig and Lewis McCarty, a chemist and graduate of Oberlin, drafted the nomination last year and submitted it to the Cleveland section of the ACS. The section, Alcoa and two historians of science made adjustments to the nomination, and it was then submitted to the national society.

The national society then chose Oberlin as a chemical landmark.

Oberlin is being recognized because of Charles Martin Hall, a chemist and graduate of Oberlin College, who was the first to successfully refine aluminum in 1886. Aluminum was previously treated as a precious metal.

According to Oberlin College lore, Professor Jewett told his chemistry class that if someone could discover an inexpensive means of extracting aluminum from ore he would make a mint. Hall turned to his classmate and said, "I'm gong for the metal."

His discovery and the subsequent industry yielded a fortune that Hall largely donated to the College. His donations made much of what the physical Oberlin is today and forms the bulk of the endowment. Hall's donations were contingent upon destroying the college buildings in Tappan Square in order to create a green space.

A number of events have been planned around the ceremony including a walking tour of Hall's Oberlin. The tour includes the Jewett house where Hall conducted his research and the Hall Arboretum.

The center of the events is the presentation of a plaque.

A new exhibit is also in place at Jewett House in honor of Hall.

"I think it's going to be a big event," Craig said. The President of the the American Chemical Society will be presenting the plaque, and a relative of Hall will be speaking at the ceremony along with a relative of Paul Heroult, the French scientist who made the same discovery a week too late.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 1, September 5, 1997

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