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Othmer Library of Chemical History: About

The Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library is an independent research library.

Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History

Donald F. Othmer (1904–1995) and Mildred Topp Othmer (1907–1998), both natives of Nebraska, met in 1949 and married in New York in 1950. A prolific inventor, with more than 150 patents, and a founding editor of the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, Donald worked for Eastman Kodak for four years before going to Brooklyn Polytechnic in 1932. Mildred was a high-school teacher and a buyer for her family’s department store in Omaha.

In 1988 they launched a challenge grant to establish the Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History at the Science History Institute. To preserve their vision, both endowed the Othmer Library in their wills, making possible its continued operation and growth for the future.

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 140,000 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 form an unrivaled resource for the history of chemistry and related sciences, technologies, and industries.
The Othmer Library is an independent research library. It is open by appointment to all users, but the collections and services are designed for scholars and experienced researchers who are working on specific topics, with a research strategy in place.

Print Collection History

Monographs and Journals

The foundation of the modern library collection is the 30,000 volumes donated by the Chemists’ Club in 1988. Since then, the Othmer Library collection has grown to over 140,000 volumes. The monographs and journals range from the general fields of inorganic and organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, chemical engineering, food chemistry, and pharmacology, to specific subjects such as brewing, cosmetics, dyes, plastics, soaps, and textiles. Virtually every subject of modern chemical theory is represented, from quantum chemistry and chemical thermodynamics through cryogenics and molecular biology. Other less obvious categories include books by less-prominent toilers, early attempts at public outreach, and the collection of old textbooks.


Rare Books

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. Readers will find all of the landmark works of the history of chemistry, often in multiple editions. In addition, hundreds of other less well-known works of equal interest to researchers can be found.

Roy G. Neville, a consulting chemist by profession and a passionate bibliophile by avocation began collecting books almost 60 years ago and amassed one of the largest private collections of rare books in the fields of science and technology, chemistry in particular.

Donald and Mildred Othmer

Donald Othmer Papers, Science History Institute Archives.