Chemistry at Illinois University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois

George Frederick Smith (1891 – 1976)

G. Frederick SmithG. Frederick Smith, as he was more generally known, was born in Lucasville, Ohio, and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Smith attended the University of Michigan, and received his BS, MS and PhD (1922) degrees, the PhD obtained under H. H. Willard in analytical chemistry.

He joined the faculty of the University of Illinois to teach analytical chemistry in 1921. At Michigan he had learned about perchlorates – at Illinois he published an article on the analysis of steel, in which he pointed out the advantages of magnesium perchlorate, which he prepared for his own use, as a super drying agent. Chemists in steel laboratories wrote to him requesting some for trials, continuing their demands until Smith told them to buy it from a commercial manufacturer. When he found there was none, A. H. Thomas Co. persuaded and financed Smith to make magnesium perchlorate for them, selling it under the name "Dehydrite”. Smith made it in his garage laboratory for years, finally erecting a small perchlorate plant in Columbus, Ohio – the G. F. Smith Chemical Co, established in 1928. This company, which is still in existence today, is the largest manufacturer of perchloric acid and perchlorate salts in the world.

Around 1930 George Walden, Jr. of Columbia University publicized the use of phenanthroline as an oxidation-reduction indicator. Smith started producing commercial quantities of phenanthroline and its derivatives, producing a range of indicators to meet every need. Smith also investigated the preparation of cerium compounds for use as titrants in oxidation reactions, aided by phenanthroline indicators, finally producing hexanitratocerate as a primary standard.

During the depression, one of Smith’s students, Charles Getz, working his way through college, learned that milk would foam if CO2 were forced into it and the pressure released. This led to the idea of producing whipped cream by the release of gas under pressure. Getz and Smith found that nitrous oxide was a satisfactory gas and developed a product called Instantwhip, the first spraycan product.

1. American Chemists and Chemical Engineers; Miles, W. D. and Gould, R. F., Eds.; Gould Books: 1994; p259-260.
2. Talanta. 1966, 13, 867-894.