Bader's father's family was of Czech Jewish descent; his mother was a Catholic Hungarian aristocrat. He fled from Austria (via the Kindertransport) to England in 1938 (at age 14) to escape Nazi persecution. After a brief time in a Canadian internment camp for European refugees (which Bader described as spartan but a good influence on his academic and social education), he studied engineering chemistry at Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, then continued his education at Harvard University.
- Engineering Chemistry BS, Queen's University (1945)
- History BA, Queen's University (1946)
- Chemistry MSc, Queen's University (1947)
- Chemistry MA, Harvard University (1949)
- Chemistry PhD, Harvard University (1950)
Bader was employed as a research chemist by Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. in 1950, remaining with PPG until 1954. While pursuing this career, he sensed the need for a small reliable company dedicated to providing quality research chemicals (at that time Kodak was their only supplier, and that large company seemed to show insufficient consideration for small and independent researchers), and as a result he co-founded the Aldrich Chemical Company in 1951, with the title of Chief Chemist (the company operated out of a garage). By 1954 he was able to buy out his partner to become sole proprieter and company president, at which time he took his leave from PPG. Alfred Bader founded Alfa Inorganics in 1962 in a 50:50 venture between Aldrich Chemicals and Metal Hydrides Inc. In 1975 the Aldrich Chemical Company merged with the Sigma Chemical Corporation to become the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, the 80th largest chemical company in the United States. Bader was president (later chairman) of the combined company.
In an unexpected corporation upheaval Bader was ousted from the company in 1991. He decided it gave him more time to pursue his artistic desires and his philanthropy. A few years later, however, Bader was invited to return as chemist collector of paintings for covers of the company journal, Aldrichimica Acta (which Bader had founded).
Art connoisseur and philanthropist
Bader stated, "I am an inveterate collector. It may be a sickness, and it began with stamps at eight, drawings at 10, paintings at 20, and rare chemicals at 30." He collected stamps as a youth when his finances permitted. He purchased his first oil painting in the Canadian internment camp: his portrait, painted by a fellow inmate, for a fee of one Canadian dollar.
While involved with Aldrich Chemical, Bader contributed numerous articles on art subjects to the company's journal, and printed full-color copies of works from Dutch masters.
A lifelong collector, Bader has devoted himself to the study of art history and collection of many fine paintings.
Bader has given various charitable donations to Queen's, both financial and in-kind. He is the donor of the 15th century Herstmonceux Castle, as well as Old Masters artworks such as two Rembrandt paintings. In honour of his numerous contributions, in 2004 Queen's renamed a campus road from "Queen's Crescent" to "Bader Lane". Other Queen's namesakes include "Bader Hall", the residence at the International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle, the Alfred Bader Fellowship, and the Bader Chairs in Southern Baroque Art, and in Northern Baroque Art. For Victoria University (Toronto) he funded construction of a performing arts theatre, named in honour of his wife. He is presently establishing a similar performing arts theatre site at Queen's University, which will also be named in honour of his wife.
In 1995 Bader published his autobiography, Adventures of a Chemist Collector, which details his experiences from Nazi-era refugee, to chemist magnate, to fine arts connoisseur. In 2008 he published his second autobiography, Chemistry & Art - Further Adventures of a Chemist Collector.
- Thèse, métaphore, chimère: Symposium francophone pluridisciplinaire sur la dynamique esthétique dans l'art, la folie et la science (co-author with Gérard Salem), P. Lang 1986, ISBN 3-261-03548-X
- Adventures of a Chemist Collector, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995 ISBN 0-297-83461-4
- Further Adventures of a Chemist Collector, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008 ISBN 978-0-297-85512-5
Honorary degrees and honours
- DSc from University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (1980)
- DSc from Purdue University (1984)
- DSc from University of Wisconsin–Madison (1984)
- LL.D .from Queen's University (1986)
- DUniv from University of Sussex (1989)
- DSc from Northwestern University (1990)
- DSc from University of Edinburgh (1998)
- DSc from Glasgow University (1999)
- DSc from Masaryk University (2000)
- American Chemical Society, Milwaukee Section - Award (1971)
- Royal Society of Chemistry - Honorary Fellow (1990)
- Royal Society of Arts - Fellow
- Milwaukee Art Museum - Guest Curator (1976, 1989)
- Winthrop-Sears Medal (1980)
- Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters - Fellow
- Czech Academy of Sciences - J.E. Purkyne Medal (1994)
- American Chemical Society - Charles Lathrop Parsons Award (1995)
- University of Vienna - Honorary Citizen (1995)
- Chemical Institute of Canada - Honorary Fellow (1996)
- Boron USA Award (1997)
- American Institute of Chemists - Gold Medal (1997)
- American Chemical Society - "One of the top 75 Distinguished Contributors to the Chemical Enterprise in the Last 75 Years" (1998)
- Order of the British Empire
- Austrian Chemical Society - Honorary Membership (2002)
- Pittcon Heritage Award (2009)
His marriages are described in his autobiographical books. His romance in England with Isabel involved a shipboard meeting and courtship and some 400 love letters, but it was broken off prematurely. Alfred went on to meet and marry his first wife, Danny, in the U.S., and raise a family with her. After several decades they divorced; Danny died not many years later. Eventually Alfred reestablished his romance with Isabel and the two got happily married. Alfred and Danny's two sons, David and Daniel, now serve as half-owners of the Alfred Bader Fine Arts (descendants of Bader's onetime partner in that gallery, Marvin Klitsner, now own the other half).
- A Generous Chemist with a Keen Eye, Chemical & Engineering News, 87 11 (16 March 2009), p. 58
- A Generous Chemist with a Keen Eye