Henry Aaron Hill
Black History Month, February the United States and Canada and September in the United Kingdom, celebrates the achievements of individuals like Henry Aaron Hill, the first African-American president of the American Chemical Society.
Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Hill graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. After a year of graduate study at the University of Chicago, Hill went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1942. At MIT he met Professor James Flack Norris, a pioneer physical organic chemist and former president of the American Chemical Society, and “the first big man . . . who was more interested in my ability to learn chemistry than in the identity of my grandparents.”
As an African American, Hill often encountered prejudice, the probable reason that he had to send out 54 applications before he landed a job with North Atlantic Research Corporation of Newtonville, Massachusetts. He eventually rose to be vice president while doing research on and development of water-based paints, firefighting foam, and several types of synthetic rubber. After leaving North Atlantic Research, he worked as a group leader in the research laboratories of the Dewey and Almy Chemical Company before starting his own entrepreneurial venture—National Polychemicals. Ten years later he founded Riverside Research Laboratories, which offered research, development, and consulting services in polymer production.
Visit Chemistry in History to learn more about Henry Aaron Hill.
Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation