Charles J. Pedersen papers1928-1988
Charles J. Pedersen (1904-1989) spent more than forty years as a DuPont research chemist in the Organic Chemicals and Elastomer Chemicals departments. Pedersen’s early investigations led to the development of a dramatically improved process for manufacturing tetraethyl lead, an important gasoline additive. His discoveries relating to the degradative effects of heavy metals on petroleum products resulted in thirty patents for antioxidants and other related products. Pedersen’s greatest achievement, however, came toward the end of his career when he discovered a new class of molecules that he called "crown compounds." Twenty years after his ground-breaking discovery was first disclosed publicly, Pedersen shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Pedersen’s research notebooks provide detailed accounts of laboratory preparations and analytical procedures. Also included in this collection are files compiled by Pedersen relating to his original research on crown compounds, as well as his earlier research.
- Pedersen, Charles J., 1904-1989 (Person)
12.25 Linear Feet
Charles J. Pedersen (1904-1989) was a research chemist with E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company who spent most of his career at the Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey, and the Elastomer Chemicals Department in Wilmington, Delaware.
Pedersen was born in Pusan, Korea, on October 3, 1904. Pedersen’s Norwegian father, Brede Pedersen (1865-1932), was a mining engineer with the Oriental Consolidated Mining Company, an American firm that operated the Unsan gold mines in northern Korea. His mother, Takino Yashui (1874-1950), was the daughter of a Japanese merchant dealing in soybeans and silkworms.
Pedersen was educated at a Catholic preparatory school in Yokohama, Japan, run by the Marianist Order. In 1922, he came to the United States to attend the University of Dayton, also a Marianist institution. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Dayton in 1926, Pedersen was awarded a master’s degree in organic chemistry the following year from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Recognizing Pedersen’s promise, Professor James F. Norris (1871-1940) urged him to pursue a doctorate, but Pedersen opted to enter private industry instead.
Pedersen was hired by the DuPont Company in 1927. After spending thirty years with the Organic Chemicals Department at the Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey, Pedersen joined the newly formed Elastomer Chemicals Department in 1957. Early in his career, Pedersen’s investigations led to the development of a dramatically improved process for manufacturing tetraethyl lead, an important gasoline additive. His discoveries relating to the degradative effects of heavy metals on petroleum products resulted in thirty patents for antioxidants and other related products.
In 1946, Pedersen’s promotion to Research Associate, the company’s highest ranking research position, allowed him to design his own projects. In 1957, the Elastomer Chemicals Department was created from the Elastomers Division of the Organic Chemicals Department and Pedersen accepted an invitation to join the new staff at the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware.
Although he was certainly one of DuPont’s most productive industrial chemists during his years at the Jackson Laboratory, Pedersen’s greatest achievement came during the final decade of his illustrious career. While conducting research on the catalytic action of trace heavy metals and methods of controlling them by means of organic ligands, Pedersen inadvertently discovered some unknown crystals. He found that by combining any methanol-soluble salt with sodium, he could dissolve this crystal in methanol. The crystal, which Pedersen named a crown ether, had a ring-shaped molecular structure containing hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms. Each oxygen atom was bound between two carbon atoms and contained six oxygen atoms exposed along the inner wall of the ring. When the atoms of certain metallic elements such as sodium or potassium pass through the center of the ring, they attach themselves to the exposed oxygen atoms and fit together the way a key fits into a lock. These “crown compounds” then act as hosts, escorting their guest atoms to places they would otherwise be unable to travel. By accepting specific atoms for transport in this fashion, crown compounds mimic the catalytic functions performed by enzymes.
Pedersen’s contributions to modern chemistry were truly exceptional. In the twenty years following publication of his seminal paper, “Cyclic Polyethers and Their Complexes in Metal Salts,” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 89, 7017 (1967), this work was cited more than 1,500 times by other researchers. It is interesting to note that fewer than .005 percent of all papers garner as many as 300 citations.
In the course of his career, Pedersen was awarded a total of fifty-five United States patents and published fifteen papers. For his discovery of crown compounds, Pedersen shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1987 with Professors Donald J. Cram (1919-2001) of the University of California at Los Angeles and Jean-Marie Lehn (1939-) of the Institute de chemie at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. He is still the only career DuPont scientist to have won chemistry’s most coveted prize. Pedersen died on October 27, 1989.
Scope and Contents
The papers of Charles J. Pedersen are arranged in six series. The first and second series are divided between Pedersen’s research on "crown compounds" and his pre-crown research. The other four series span both periods of his career. This collection documents the career and accomplishments of one of the DuPont Company’s most distinguished scientists.
Series I consists of records from the first thirty years of Pedersen’s career, when he worked in the Organic Chemicals Department as a research chemist at Jackson Laboratory. This series is divided into two sub-series. Sub-Series A contains two sets of research notebooks which provide detailed accounts of laboratory preparations and analytical procedures. Sub-Series B contains files Pedersen compiled of his research on antioxidants, metal deactivators, and photochemistry.
Series II consists of records from the last twelve years of Pedersen’s career, after he joined the Elastomer Chemicals Department. Sub-Series A contains a set of research notebooks that describe the laboratory preparations and analytical procedures that led to the discovery and identification of macrocyclic polyethers, or crown compounds. Sub-Series B contains files Pedersen compiled relating to his original crown compound research. Sub-Series C contains Pedersen’s files on the crown compound research conducted by his colleagues in the years following his initial discovery.
Series III consists of papers and publications covering both crown and pre-crown periods of Pedersen’s career. These records include individual papers, as well as collections of papers presented at various conferences and seminars.
Series IV consists of files on chemical conferences and symposia. These records include programs, abstracts, and related correspondence.
Series V consists of Pedersen’s collected correspondence. These files are divided between correspondence with DuPont colleagues and correspondence with colleagues outside of DuPont.
Series VI documents the many honors and awards Pedersen received during his lifetime. These records include files on the Delaware Section Award of the American Chemical Society and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded nearly twenty years after Pedersen had retired from active research at DuPont.
This collection is open for research.
Slides (Box 16) are housed in cold storage and must reacclimate prior to viewing. Please contact the Manuscripts and Archives Department at least 48 hours in advance of research visit.
- Chemistry, Organic
- E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Elastomer Chemicals Department
- E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Organic Chemicals Department
- Jackson Laboratory (E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company)
- Laboratory notebooks
- Organic compounds -- Synthesis
- Phase-transfer catalysts
- Research, Industrial
- Pedersen, Charles J., 1904-1989 (Person)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Charles J. Pedersen papers
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
- 2020: Laurie Sather