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In Memoriam: William Theilheimer (1914-2005)


Dr. William Theilheimer, a foremost pioneer in chemical reaction documentation, passed away on July 14, 2005, at the age of 90 in Clifton, New Jersey.

He was born in Augsburg, Germany, in 1914. He received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Basel University, Switzerland, in 1940, and stayed with the University till 1947 as Assistant to Prof. Hans Erlenmeyer.

He was a consultant (1948-1959), literature chemist (1959-1963), and resident consultant (1964-1981) to Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc.

The first volume of "Synthetische Methoden der Organische Chemie", edited by William Theilheimer, was published by S. Karger Verlag in Basel in 1946. It had a foreword by Prof. Thaddeus Reichstein, then the Chairman of the Organic Chemistry at the Basel University, future Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (1950). The first volume covered literature from 1942-1944. A new feature was a reaction scheme, called "Systematic Survey", in which reaction symbols were related to the chemical bond formed during the reaction, distinguishing between addition, rearrangement, exchange, and elimination.

With Vol. 5 in 1951, the series started to be published in English with the title "Synthetic Methods of Organic Chemistry". In Vol. 8 in 1954, a section entitled "Trends in Synthetic Organic Chemistry" was introduced, a feature that continues to be part of every volume.

By 1981, the series grew to 35 volumes, all edited by Dr. Theilheimer. When Alan F. Finch took over as editor, the official title of the series became "Theilheimer's Synthetic Methods of Organic Chemistry" with Volume 36 in 1982. Volume 70 was published in 2007, still by the same publisher, S. Karger AG.

In 1987, Dr. Theilheimer received the Herman Skolnik Award of the ACS Division of Chemical Information for "pioneering a chemical reaction documentation system, embodied in 40 yearbooks of "Theilheimer's Synthetic Methods of Organic Chemistry" and paving the way to modern chemical reaction databases through codification of chemical reactions and categorization of reactions in terms of reaction type and essential bond breaking and formation".

At a symposium honoring Dr. Theilheimer at the 194th ACS National Meeting in New Orleans in September 1987, presentations were made by producers and users of chemical reaction documentation.

Dr. Theilheimer was truly a "father" of chemical reaction documentation and his legacy continues to this day. His compilations became the "bible" of the chemists doing syntheses. All the syntheses reported throughout all these years are now online in the Elsevier MDL databases.

W. Val Metanomski