Today, the Chemical Heritage Foundation (C.H.F.) is located in Philadelphia's Old Town. The CHF opened The John C. Haas Archive of Science & Business in a state-of-the-art facility on Thursday, October 10, 2013.
Thirty two years ago, if one had wanted to consult the archives of the CHF - originally known as the Center for the History of Chemistry - one had to descend into the basement of a building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), where Professor Edgar Fahs Smith (1854-1928) had founded the History Division of the American Chemical Society (A.C.S.). Professor Smith served as president of the ACS three times.
Arnold Thackray, CHF's founder and chancellor, recounted in an interview in April of 2011, not long after John C. Haas died, how the businessman and philanthropist had played a critical role in helping Thackray realize his vision. Our story begins in 1976, when the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial (the 200th anniversary of the declaration, if not the achievement, of independence from Great Britain) and the ACS, based in Washington, D.C., celebrated its centennial (the 100th anniversary of its foundation). Thackray joked there was also “envy of the physicists and their Center for the History of Physics.”
By 1981 the ACS invited universities and other institutions to express interest in hosting a center for the history of chemistry. While the historical collections that Professor Smith assembled at Penn had drawn Professor Thackray from Cambridge to Philadelphia as a young academic over a dozen years earlier, to create a viable center would require strong help from the area’s chemical community.
A friend from Harvard University directed Thackray to Professor Charles C. Price, a former ACS president and Swarthmore College board chair who suggested he contact John C. Haas of Rohm & Haas. The latter committed $40,000, provided the history center be located in Philadelphia.
Thanks to his commitment, Thackray soon secured additional resources from Penn and funds from the chief executives officers of DuPont and Dow. In January of 1982, the ACS and the University of Pennsylvania created the Center for the History of Chemistry (CHOC).
Hass was active in the leadership of the CHOC for thirty years as a board member, member of the Board of Overseers, and member of the Fundraising Committee. Thackray described him as "an engaged friend and advisor,” and said, “He would not hesitate to go on visits with me. He introduced me to Irénée du Pont, the patriach of the du Pont clan, and vouched for me and for what we planned to do.”
John C. Haas was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania and attended the Episcopal Academy. He received his A.B. degree from Amherst College in 1940, and his M.S. degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in 1942.
That year, he went to work for the chemical company his father, Otto Haas, had co-founded, the Rohm & Haas Company. He started as a process engineer at the Bridesburg plant in Philadelphia.
John C. Haas served as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the Second Great World War. In 1946, he returned to the Bridesburg plant. He went on to hold administrative posts at plants in Knoxville, Tennessee and Houston, Texas.
In 1952, while he was in Houston, John C. Haas married Chara Aurora Cooper and they went on to have five children. Her life had very different from his. Twice, she had worked as a domestic servant.
She was born one of seven children in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, one of seven children. Her father, Frederick J. Cooper, an English immigrant, was a watchmaker.
Chara Cooper's first job was as a domestic servant at the Glencairn Estate in Bryn Athyn. Later, she worked as a shipping clerk and errand girl at Fred J. Cooper, her father's jewelry store in Philadelphia.
Her father died in 1941, and her mother, Aurora Synnesvedt Cooper, died in 1945, when Chara was eighteen. Nevertheless, in 1949 Chara was able to fulfill part of her father's dream that his children should see Europe when she sailed by herself to England on the Queen Elizabeth (and back on the Queen Mary).
In 1951, a family she had worked for invited her to move to Houston, Texas to help care for their children. While in Houston, she met John C. Haas. At the time, he worked at the Rohm & Haas plant in town.
They married in Bryn Athyn on June 21, 1952. They settled in Houston, where their first child Barbara was born. Later, John and Chara Haas moved their growing family to Wyncote, Pennsylvania before they made their final move to the the Haas family's Stoneleigh estate in Villanova, Pennsylvania.
By 1953, John C. Haas had become Vice President in charge of Personnel, and soon added Purchasing and Logistics to his brief. In 1959, he became Vice-Chairman of the Board.
After his father's death in 1960, his brother F. Otto Haas, became President and CEO of the Rohm & Haas Company. John C. Haas became Executive Vice President of Rohm & Haas and Chairman of the William Penn Foundation, which his father and mother, Phoebe Waterman Haas, had founded in 1945 to address social problems they perceived in the wake of World War II.
He also served as president of the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. In 1984, he co-founded the Alexis de Tocqueville Society to encourage people to become significant donors to the United Way.
Haas was also a director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia. He was a supporter of both the Natural Lands Trust and the Rev. Leon Sullivan's Opportunities Industrialization Center for America (OIC).
The Natural Lands Trust is devoted to land conservation in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. In the 1960s, Phoebe Waterman Haas introduced her son John C. Haas to Rev. Sullivan (1922-2001), a Baptist preacher active in the Civil Rights movement who taught self help through education and skills training.
In 1976, he co-founded the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, and served as trustee until its absorption by the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 2002. Haas was a trustee of MIT and a member of the Board of Governors of Temple University Health System.
From 1974 to '78, John C. Haas served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Rohm & Haas Company. He retired from the Board of Directors in 1988. Four years later, his brother died.
In 2006, John & Chara Haas founded the Stoneleigh Foundation, which they named in honor of the Stoneleigh estate. He attributed the idea to devote their personal estate to help serve the needs of vulnerable and underserved children and youth to Chara.
The Dow Chemical Company purchased the Rohm & Haas Company for $15,000,000,000 in 2009. John C. Haas set aside a significant amount of money for the William Penn Foundation.
Haas died April 2, 2011 at the age of ninety-two on the Stoneleigh estate. “Knowing Mr. Haas for the past seven years has been an extraordinary privilege for me,” said Feather Houstoun, President of the William Penn Foundation. “I know that the staff who have worked at the Foundation during the past half-century feel the same. He was the epitome of humility and kindness, setting an example for everyone associated with the Foundation. His special brand of quiet leadership has been deeply ingrained in our organization’s mission, values, and work and remains the standard to which we hold ourselves. He will be greatly missed.”
He was survived by Chara; their daughter, Barbara; their sons David, Leonard, Frederick, and Duncan; and ten grandchildren, as recounted in his obituary. Chara Aurora Cooper Haas passed away on August 15, 2012 at the age of eighty-five.
She had been one of the founders of the Pathway School in Norristown, Pennsylvania. She served as chair of the board.
In 1986, Dr. Arnold Orville Beckman (1900-2004), the chemist, industrialist, and philanthropist, presented a generous challenge grant to the Center for the History of Chemistry at a time when the four-year-old organization still occupied two basement rooms on the Penn campus. One year later, Arnold & Mabel Beckman created CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.
The Beckman gift inspired other major gifts that by the turn of the century allowed the CHF to move to a permanent facility and greatly expand its work. By the 2011-12 academic year, the CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry was America's largest grantor of fellowships in the history of science.
Arnold O. Beckman was born in the small farming community of Cullom, Illinois, on April 10, 1900. He became interested in science at a young age when he discovered a chemistry book from Steele's textbook series Fourteen Weeks in Science, originally published in 1861, in the family attic. Beckman soon converted a tool shed his father had built for him for his tenth birthday into a chemistry lab.
He earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois in 1922, and his master's degree in physical chemistry in '23. He paid for his education and helped support his family by playing the piano in movie theaters (back when live musicians played the accompaniment for silent films). Beckman went on to receive his doctorate in photochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1928.
In 1935, Beckman, who as a Caltech professor had invented a pH meter to test acidity, founded National Technical Laboratories in a garage in Pasadena to commercialize his invention. He changed the name of the company to Arnold O. Beckman, Inc. in the 1940s as he expanded the product range and Beckman Instruments in the 1950s.
The biomedical instruments manufacturer was known as Beckman Coulter, Inc. after its acquisition of the Coulter Corporation in 1997. Beckman Coulter, Inc. is now an operating company of the Danaher Corporation, which acquired it in 2011. Danaher began in 1969 as DHM, Inc., a real estate investment trust that changed its name to Diversified Mortgage Investors, Inc. in 1978, and the Danaher Corporation in 1984.
Today, the CHF is located at 315 Chestnut Street. The John C. Haas Archive of Science & Business is located near the northwest corner of 3rd Street and Chestnut Street.
It houses the personal papers of significant scientists, engineers, and innovators; historical records of businesses and industries with a strong science, technology, or medical connection; and the papers of major scientific and engineering societies and organizations. Thanks to money from the Wyncote Foundation, the CHF was able to restore the brownstone façade of an original building (erected around 1855) and transformed the building’s interior into a storage facility.
The archive’s shelves are 3.5 stories tall, and most are accessible only with a lift. When filled to capacity, the building will hold 8,500 linear feet, or 1.5 miles, of material and allow CHF room to expand its collections.
“The new building allows us to collect and preserve more material than ever before,” said Carsten Reinhardt, CHF’s President and CEO. “This is important, as the heritage of the molecular sciences and technologies, engineering and industry, is enormous and plays a crucial role in modern society.”
The expansion provides space to house collections that CHF otherwise could not acquire. In some cases, it allows CHF to save historically significant materials from being lost altogether.
“The archive improves the chances of preserving collections that otherwise might not find a home,” said Ronald Brashear, the Arnold Thackray Director of the Othmer Library of Chemical History at CHF. “Further, if you have all this material in one place, researchers can start making connections between different collections that might not be obvious on the surface. The more you have in one place, the more you can dig in and make serendipitous discoveries.”
The first collection placed in the John C. Haas Archive of Science & Business was the Rohm & Haas Company archives. The archive-building dedication ceremony on Thursday, October 10, 2013 included remarks by David Haas, Chairman of the William Penn Foundation; E. N. “Ned” Brandt, vice president and secretary, Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation; and Richard Negrin, deputy mayor of administration and coordination, and managing director, City of Philadelphia.