The Chemists' Club History


In the early 1890s, chemical gatherings for chemists, businessmen, and New York-resident members of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the New York Section of the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) were held in private homes or lecture halls of the chemical departments of local colleges and universities. As the gatherings attracted an increasing number of participants, a permanent location for chemists to connect with each other outside of scheduled meetings became necessary.1

An organizational committee was formed to procure a location for the first Chemists’ Club, and to promote the Club to those in the chemical industry in the NY metropolitan area. The building of choice was the Mendelssohn Glee Club at 108 West 55th Street.1

The first Club building was leased at 108 West 55th Street, and consisted of a large assembly hall, small chemical library, and reading rooms. Connections with the library of the ACS provided accessible chemical literature to club members. The Chemists’ Club could not secure a long-term lease for the Mendelssohn building, however, and the Club moved on.1

The Buildings of the Chemists' Club

Under the leadership of President Morris Loeb in 1909, the Chemists’ Club found suitable land for a new Club building at Nos. 50-54 East 41st Street. The Chemists’ Building Company was incorporated to finance the construction, and sold stocks to those in the chemical industry. The completed building consisted of a social floor, a scientific floor, three laboratories for rent, and residential areas for visiting members.6 The Chemists’ Club moved into the new building by Saint Patrick’s Day 1911.1

The Club Library, now known as the Chandler Library'', flourished. Monetary donations and the addition of the Library of the ACS and private libraries of Club members expanded the Club Library to a total of 36,000 volumes by 1914. The Library was opened to the general public in 1913.7

The Club building was sold in 1987 and renovated multiple times until New York real-estate investor Morris Moinian acquired the building to reopen it as an upscale boutique hotel. All renovations left York & Sawyer’s facade carefully intact.9, 11, 12 Many aspects of the former Club building were retained in the edifice, which would eventually reopen in 1988 as the Dylan Hotel NYC. The building has been proposed as a landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.13

Engagement With Other Chemical Societies

The Chemists’ Club was originally founded by members of the New York Sections of the ACS and SCI. The private Club welcomed regular meetings of the New York Sections of the ACS, SCI, and the Verein Deutscher Chemiker (the Association of German Chemists). As the Club expanded, a great number of chemical societies were welcomed.

Both technical and social chemical gatherings were held at the Club building. As the Club grew in influence, the Club building came to host international chemical gatherings as well. In 1912, the Club building served as the headquarters for the 8th International Congress of Applied Chemistry in New York.1

The chemical industry flourished after WWI and the Chemists’ Club rose higher in prominence. The convenient Midtown location of the Club allowed it to become an information hub for chemists from all over. The Club’s Rumford Hall became the official meeting place for the 1928 meeting of the SCI, held in New York and hosted a party from Great Britain for the first time since 1912.1

The Chemists' Club as a Historical Institution

As the United States entered WWI, anti-German tensions developed back home. Under pressure from widespread fears of German espionage and sabotage, the Chemists’ Club requested that German not be spoken in the Club and that those not in accord with the U.S. in WWI, resign their Club membership. The Club acknowledged that while chemistry is something that has for so long been intimately connected with things German the Chemists’ Club is, and always has been, in the front ranks as a patriotic institution.16

The Chemists’ Club was similarly active during Prohibition, and publicly spoke out against the Volstead Act in 1921. Prohibition nevertheless became law, but a conference of industrial alcohol manufacturers and Prohibition enforcers was later held at the Chemists’ Club so that the government and alcohol manufacturers might reach an understanding.3

The Chemists’ Club also honored many distinguished figures and their contributions to science and chemistry over the course of history. Honorary membership of the Chemists’ Club was conferred to many outstanding individuals, including French chemist Henry Louis Le Chatelier, author of Le Chatelier’s principle,19 and Danish physicist Niels Hendrik David Bohr, Nobel laureate and developer of the Bohr atomic model.1

Supporting Students

The Chemists’ Club has had a long history of supporting students of the chemical sciences. In 1903, Junior Membership of the Club was established for those who had graduated from a professional school less than five years ago. In 1916, the Bloede and Hoffmann scholarship funds were established for students studying industrial chemistry or chemical engineering.1, 8

In 2012, the Chemists’ Club allowed membership to students of New York colleges and universities. New York University (NYU), the City College of New York, the Cooper Union, and Columbia University opened up university chapters of the Chemists’ Club.21