Oesper History of Chemistry Collection

Collection Description

The Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry is a research-level collection containing over 7,000 journals and 10,000 monographs from the late 16th to mid-20th century. The intent of this collection is to function as an active resource for historians and teachers. Since it is part of an ongoing chemistry library, it is possible to do research on everything from eighteenth-century pneumatic chemistry to the early development of molecular-orbital calculations in the 1930s and 1940s.

The history of chemistry collection also encompasses the Oesper Collection of Portraits and Prints, The Apparatus Museum, and the Harry Shipley Fry Papers (contained in the University of Cincinnati archives).


Ralph Edward Oesper received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Cincinnati in 1914 and returned to the university in 1918 as a member of the chemistry faculty. Shortly after his return, Oesper was put in charge of building up the chemistry library. During the next thirty years, he was able to fill in the missing journal holdings of the library, as well as purchase a substantial collection of 17th, 18th, and early 19th century monographs and journals. This historical collection, coupled with outdated items retired from the active research collection (dating from 1874), and a small number of Oesper's personal books, formed the nucleus of the Oesper Collection of Books and Journals in the History of Chemistry.

Other than the transfer of retired titles from the active research collection, no new titles were purchased for this collection after Oesper's retirement in 1951 until the appointment of the current occupant of the Oesper Position in 1986.  Currently we are adding several hundred titles a year to the collection. Though items are not lent through interlibrary loan, photocopying is available at cost.

Oesper Digital Collections

This special digital collection highlights The Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry, a joint venture of the Ralph E. Oesper Chemistry-Biology Library and the Department of Chemistry of the University of Cincinnati. The collections consist of three components: the Apparatus Museum, the rare Books and Journals collection, and the historical Portraits and Prints collection. Virtual Tours are available for the Museum and the circa 1900 Laboratory. From the Museum virtual tour, or from the Museum Displays, users may click on a case, then a shelf and then an individual apparatus for 3-D and high resolution images of each apparatus.

This site has been funded in part by the generous donation of Mary Ellen Ramey Betz, UC Alumna, and the Ralph E. Oesper Endowment.


The Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry are open by appointment only between the hours of 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM, Monday-Friday.  Please contact the Chemistry-Biology Library (513-556-1498) or William B. Jensen (513-556-9326) to schedule an appointment.


Additional Information

Additional information on this collection is available by contacting William B. Jensen, Oesper Professor in the History of Chemistry and Chemical Education.