In Memoriam: Benjamin H. Weil (1916-1997)

(Chemical Information Bulletin vol. 50, No. 1, Spring 1998)


Before the Holidays, Ben Weil mailed his wishes to his many friends with a long personal report on not only what had happened in the past year to him and his family, but also on detailed plans for 1998. He became involved in the management of the retirement community to which he had moved recently and he intended to continue some of his professional activities.

It was then more than a small shock to learn that Ben died at the age of 81 on 30 December 1997.

Ben received his B.Sc. degree in chemical engineering from the University of Missouri in 1939 and an M.Sc. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1940. He was first employed by Gulf Research and Development Company in Pittsburgh, where he soon became head of their Information Section. His subsequent positions were head of the Technical Information Division at the Georgia Institute of Technology Experimental Station (1945), manager of the Information Services of Ethyl Corporation Research Laboratories (1950), Chief Editor and Head of the Literature and Information Center of the Technical Information Division of Esso Research and Engineering Company (1957), and Senior Staff Advisor of Exxon Research and Engineering Company (1975). Since retiring from Exxon 15 years ago, he consulted on copyright matters and modern information systems.

Ben was recognized by his peers in many ways. In 1977 he received the Patterson-Crane Award for documentation in chemistry from the ACS Columbus and Dayton Local Sections. In 1978 he was named the Miles Conrad Memorial Lecturer by the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services (NFAIS) and delivered a lecture on "Information Transfer in a Time of Transition". In 1980 he won the W. T. Knox Outstanding Information Manager Award from the Associated Information Managers. In 1981 he received the Herman Skolnik Award from the ACS Division of Chemical Information for distinguished and dedicated services to the chemical profession, particularly in definition and documentation of chemical literature, and pioneering work in chemical information systems and copyright.

How early he influenced the research in this field is well shown by the development in the 1950's of one of the first punch card indexing systems placed in actual use.

Ben was one of the founders of the ACS Division of Chemical Literature in 1948 (renamed as the Division of Chemical Information in 1975). This was 50 years ago and the Division will celebrate that anniversary in the Fall of 1998, unfortunately without Ben's participation. How active Ben was in the Division becomes obvious by just glancing at the Name Index of the 1993 Divisional History. There are more entries under his name than for any other member.

He was the first Editor (1949-1957) of the Chemical Literature (renamed as Chemical Information Bulletin in 1975); Division's chairman in 1958; chairman of numerous Divisional committees; Divisional representative and Director on the Documentation Abstracts, Inc., Board; symposia organizer; and speaker. His first paper presented before the Chemical Literature Group (the predecessor of the Division) on 17 September 1947 was on "Reproduction Techniques for Reports and Information Services" (subsequently published in the Journal of Chemical Education in 1948).

He started contributing articles even earlier; one of them was on "Information Service and the War Effort", published in Chemical & Engineering News on 25 May 1944.

Ben was often described as "Mr. Copyright". He was one of the foremost U.S. authorities on copyright and copyright law. He served on copyright committees, published articles and books on the subject, and helped to establish the Copyright Clearance Center.

An earlier strong interest in abstracts and abstracting led to the publication of often-cited and applied "Technical-Abstracting Fundamentals" in 1963 and "Standards for Writing Abstracts" in 1970 which became part of the American National Standards.

It is evident that Ben Weil was a foremost pioneer in chemical information science, an authority on its many aspects, and a teacher for several generations of chemical information practitioners and users. We will remember him, particularly this fall, at the celebration of the Division 50th anniversary.

W. Val Metanomski, CINF Archivist/Historian