William F. Hillebrand NISTs chief chemist,
F. Hillebrand is remembered for his contributions to analytical chemistry
and his absolute insistence on the highest standards of accuracy in
Born in Honolulu in 1853, Hillebrand was the son of a physician who
was also an authority on the botany of the Sandwich Islands. In 1872,
after two years at Cornell University, he decided to become a chemist,
heading for the University of Heidelberg that fall. In 1875, he received
a doctorate, summa cum laude. He had discovered the pyrophoric properties
of cerium filings, later used commercially for the tips of gas lighters.
In 1876, Hillebrand attended the University of Strasbourg and, in 1877,
studied at the Mining Academy at Freiberg. He joined the United States
Geological Survey in 1880, analyzing rocks and minerals. In 1904, he
called attention to the large quantities of potash that were lost during
the processing of Portland cement. Years later, recovery became a valuable
In 1908, Hillebrand became chief chemist of the National Bureau of Standards,
now NIST. Among his responsibilities was the program of Standard Reference
Materials. An initially modest list of standard samples, which included
three of iron, one limestone and one zinc ore, grew to 5,000 samples
representing 65 materials by 1925.
Known for his exacting standards, Hillebrand was referred to by his
staff as "The Supreme Court of Analytical Chemistry." He read
voraciously, watched birds, fished for bass and enjoyed piano and philately.
Hillebrand was active in the American Chemical Society, serving as associate
editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, assistant
editor of the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry and
as the Societys president in 1906. He is memorialized by the Hillebrand
Award of the Societys Washington section, given annually to an
outstanding area chemist.
In 1916, Hillebrand was awarded the Chandler Gold Medal by Columbia
University. In 1923, he began co-authoring Applied Inorganic Analysis,
which was incomplete at his death in 1925. The work was published in
1929 and became known as "the analysts bible."