Noyes, William A. (William Albert) (1857-1941) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Noyes, William A. (William Albert) (1857-1941)

Historical Note:

William Albert Noyes (1857-1941) was professor of chemistry (1907-26), head of the Chemistry Department (1907-26), and director of laboratories (1907-26) at the University of Illinois (UI). He was a pioneering analytic and organic chemist, most widely known for his work with atomic weights. Under his leadership, the UI's Chemistry Department became one of the leading in the nation.

Noyes was born on a farm outside of Independence, Iowa, on November 6, 1857, to parents Mary and Spencer W. Noyes. He earned BA and BS degrees from Iowa College (later Grinnell College) in 1879, undertaking coursework in the classics and chemistry. He studied and taught analytical chemistry following his undergraduate work and was awarded an MA from Iowa College in 1880. In 1882, Noyes earned a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, working under famed chemist Ira Remsen (1846-1927). After receiving his doctorate, Noyes held a teaching position at the University of Minnesota (1882/83) and was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Tennessee (1883-86) and Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana (1886-1903). For a semester during the 1888/1889 school year, he worked with organic chemist Adolf von Baeyer (1835-1917) at the University of Munich. He also served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (1902-17), the first chief chemist of the federal Bureau of Standards (1903-07), founder and first editor (1919-41) of American Chemical Society Scientific Monographs, and founder and first editor (1924-26) of Chemical Reviews.

In his roles as professor, department head, and laboratory director at UI from 1907 to 1926, Noyes reformed the curriculum, expanded the number of teaching staff and students, encouraged an increase in faculty publications, and oversaw the expansion of the laboratory in 1916. He was awarded the Nichols Medal in 1908 along with H. C. P. Weber for their contributions to understanding the atomic weight of chlorine. After beginning his career primarily in the field of analytic chemistry, he made a host of contributions to organic chemistry, including proving the structure of camphor, exploring electronic theories of valence, and developing methods for determining sulfur, manganese, and phosphorus in iron.

Noyes was active in his field and was a member of many organizations, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), Illinois Academy of Science, Society of Chemical Industry, the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft, and the Société Chimie Industrielle. He was honorary member/fellow of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, and American Philosophical Society. Noyes also served Section C of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as secretary and vice president (1896) and the ACS as editor, secretary, and president (1920). He was member and secretary of the Illinois State Board of Natural Resources and Conservation from 1917 until his death.

Noyes received honorary doctorates from Clark University (1909), the University of Pittsburgh (1920), and Grinnell College (1929). He was awarded the Priestley Medal by the ACS in 1935. The UI's chemistry laboratory was renamed in Noyes's honor in 1939.

Noyes died on October 24, 1941.


Wikipedia, s.v. "William A. Noyes," accessed May 6, 2020,

Roger Adams, William Albert Noyes (1857â??1941), Biographical Memoir (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1952): 179â??208, accessed May 6, 2020,

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