William Francis Hillebrand

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William Francis Hillebrand
Frank Wigglesworth Clarke (and others).jpg
Hillebrand second from left in top row
Born (1853-12-12)December 12, 1853
Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii
Died February 7, 1925(1925-02-07) (aged 71)
United States
Nationality American
Fields geochemistry
Institutions United States Geological Survey
National Bureau of Standards
Alma mater University of Heidelberg

William Francis Hillebrand (December 12, 1853 – February 7, 1925) was an American chemist.


He was the son of the renowned botanist William Hillebrand. He studied at Cornell University[1] and then in Germany at the University of Heidelberg where he received his Ph.D. in 1875. He then worked with Robert Bunsen for two semesters. His research on metallic cerium, which he together with Thomas Norton obtained first in 1872, started his academic career.

He studied organic chemistry for three semesters with Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig at the University of Strasbourg, but changed to geochemistry and metallurgy by studying at the Freiberg Mining Academy. After returning home to the United States in 1878, he opened an assay office in Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, and then started working as a chemist at the United States Geological Survey in 1880. That year he was sent to Denver to establish a chemical laboratory for the Rocky Mountain Division of the Survey. For five years he remained in charge of this laboratory, and then was transferred to the chief laboratory in Washington.[2] He changed to the National Bureau of Standards in 1909 where he was chief chemist.[1]

He was professor of general chemistry and physics at the National College of Pharmacy, from 1892 to 1910; president of the American Chemical Society in 1906; and in 1908 he became editor of the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. He was the author of several books on chemical subjects.[1]

His son was the professor of English literature Harold Newcomb Hillebrand (1887–1953).

Studies of uranium

During an analysis of the uranium containing mineral uranite he discovered that a gas evolved. He identified this gas by spectroscopic methods to be nitrogen. Several years later in 1895 William Ramsay did similar experiments with uranium containing minerals and discovered by similar methods that the gas was a mixture of argon and helium which until then had only been detected in the corona of stars.

A reexamination by Ramsay of Hillebrand's samples showed that the gas from uranite contained a large amount of nitrogen.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). [https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikisource.org%2Fwiki%2FCollier%27s_New_Encyclopedia_%281921%29%2FHillebrand%2C_William_Francis "Hillebrand, William Francis" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). [https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikisource.org%2Fwiki%2FAppletons%27_Cyclop%C3%A6dia_of_American_Biography%2FHillebrand%2C_William_Francis "Hillebrand, William Francis" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Frank Wigglesworth Clarke. "William Francis Hillebrand" (PDF). Biographical Memoir of the National Academy of Science.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>