Milton Harris (scientist)

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Milton Harris
Milton Harris (scientist) 1980s.jpg
Harris in the 1980s
BornMarch 21, 1906
DiedSeptember 12, 1991(1991-09-12) (aged 85)
Alma materOregon Agricultural College
Yale University
Known forFounding the Harris Research Laboratories
AwardsHarold DeWitt Smith Memorial Medal (1966)
Perkin Medal (1970)
Priestley Medal (1980)

Milton Harris (March 21, 1906 – September 12, 1991) was a scientist who founded the Harris Research Laboratories and, for six years, chaired the Board of Directors of the American Chemical Society.

Early life[edit]

Harris was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in Portland, Oregon. His first independent business enterprise, at the age of twelve or thirteen, was building crystal radio sets. A high school science course piqued his interest in chemistry. In 1924, at the age of sixteen, Harris began his college education at Oregon State University, then known as Oregon Agricultural College (OAC), where he was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.[1] Despite the lack of a chemistry department at that time, Harris pursued a degree in chemical engineering and took all available courses in chemistry.

Graduate School and Textile Work[edit]

At the age of 18, Harris graduated from OAC, and began graduate work at Yale University. Upon his graduation from Yale in 1929, Harris took his first job as a chemist at the Cheney Brothers Mill. Harris was called away from Cheney in 1931 to join a new textile research group at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). Harris was later appointed director of the research group, which would ultimately produce roughly 200 scientific papers on various aspects of textile chemistry. While he was at the NBS Harris, along with Vincent du Vigneaud, made important discoveries with regard to similarities between the three-dimensional molecular structures of wool, insulin, and human hair.

World War II Era[edit]

With the beginning of US involvement in World War II, Harris’ group began advising the Army Quartermaster about textiles, as well as helping to solve a myriad of problems for the NBS. Harris aided the research and redesign of sandbag sacking, tent cloth, and the chemical additives in military underwear that were used to protect soldiers from the effects of a gas attack. At the end of World War II, while the Textile Foundation was relocated to Princeton, New Jersey, Harris elected to stay in Washington, D.C. With the help of some colleagues, Harris started the Harris Research Laboratories, which operated as a consulting laboratory for the Gillette Company and American Enka Company, among others.

Later career[edit]

Harris’ association with the Gillette Company grew with the development of his consulting business. In 1955, Gillette bought the Harris Research Laboratories and appointed Harris Vice President of Research. Just before his retirement from Gillette in 1966, Milton Harris was approached by the American Chemical Society (ACS) Board of Directors and asked if he would accept a nomination to the board. He accepted and served as head for six years. In 1975 Harris headed an ACS panel which produced a study instrumental to the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendation for widespread cultivation of the jojoba shrub.

Harris died of cancer September 12, 1991. His papers were donated to Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections in November 1995.

Honors and awards[edit]


  1. ^ Beta Deuteron historian (2013). Office of the Archivist (ed.). Phi Sigma Kappa (U of MN) Archive: Chapter history and national roster. 218 Elmer L. Andersen Library, 222 21st Ave. So., Minneapolis, MN 55455: Triton Corp., alumni association – via University of Minnesota.CS1 maint: location (link)

External links[edit]