October 1, 1867-February 7, 1953


WILDER DWIGHT BANCROFT, although little known today, was one of America's best-known physical chemists during the early twentieth century and among the founders of that specialty in the United States. A pupil of Wilhelm Ostwald and J. H. van't Hoff, Bancroft brought to America a firsthand knowledge of the "Ionists"' teachings about electrolytic dissociation, osmotic pressure, and electromotive force at a time when those teachings were still new and controversial. In America, he became an apostle for the study and application of the phase rule of J. Willard Gibbs and, later, an enthusiastic and sometimes erratic advocate of the study of colloid chemistry. At Cornell, where Bancroft taught from 1895 to 1937, he helped educate scores of chemists and took a leading role in founding the Journal of Physical Chemistry, the first English-language journal in its field. As its owner and editor from 1896 to 1933, Bancroft brought a sharp wit and shrewd judgment to bear on the work of his colleagues through hundreds of reviews and review articles. Although he earned enemies through his editorializing, even the victims of his criticism often found it impossible to resist his personal charm. He served two terms as president of the Electrochemical Society and, in 1910, he was elected president of the American Chemical Society.

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