Born in Golden,
Colorado, and educated at the universities of Colorado and Michigan, John
Bailar became an instructor at the University of Illinois in 1928. It
was the start of a sixty-three year career in the Department of Chemistry.
As a graduate student he became interested in organic isomerism, but while
teaching a general chemistry course he realized that isomerism, the occurrence
of different compounds with the same chemical composition, could also
exist among inorganic compounds.
Bailar went on to train several generations of coordination chemists,
helping to make the University of Illinois as well known for inorganic
chemistry as it was for organic. Ninety doctoral candidates, thirty-eight
postdoctoral fellows, and numerous masters and bachelors degree
candidates studied under Bailar.
The growth of inorganic chemistry in the late 1940s and 1950s, known as
"the renaissance of inorganic chemistry," owed much to Bailars
pioneering work. As such, Bailar was responsible as well for the growing
interest in coordination chemistry, and he came to be known as the "father
of American coordination chemistry."
Bailar was best known for his work on the stereochemistry of coordination
compounds. In 1934, along with a senior undergraduate, Robert W. Auten,
Bailar discovered an inorganic counterpart of the well-known organic Walden
inversion reaction. This work was the first installment in a 37-part series
called "The Stereochemistry of Complex Compounds," issued from
1934-1985. In 1959 Bailar and future Nobel laureate Elias J. Corey wrote
a classic article on octahedral complexes that pioneered the application
of conformational analysis to coordination compounds.
Bailar contributed substantially to the development of heat-resistant
inorganic polymers and to the field of homogeneous catalysis. He also
studied the role of coordination compounds in electrochemical processes.
His investigations included their stability in solution and their function
in the electrodeposition of metals.
Bailar was involved in founding the monograph Inorganic Syntheses
in 1939. In 1957 he helped establish the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry,
serving as its first chairman. His efforts were rewarded when in 1962
the journal Inorganic Chemistry began publication. Bailar won the
Priestley Medal in 1964 and served as President of the American Chemical
Society in 1959.