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1935: Gerhard Herzberg arrives at the University

J.W.T. Spinks said he often pinched himself “to reassure myself that I had been so lucky.”  The source of his good fortune was Dr. Gerhard Herzberg, who had agreed to let Spinks spend 1933-1934 in his laboratory in Darmstadt, Germany.  For Spinks, the situation “was just about ideal” – noting, with understatement, that “Herzberg did very nice experimental work in spectroscopy.”

But the situation in Germany for Herzberg was becoming increasingly untenable: his wife, Louise, was Jewish.  This was, as President Walter Murray ironically noted, “a misfortune, according to Hitler’s standards.”  Efforts were begun to find Herzberg a position outside of Germany.

Murray wrote his colleagues in Toronto and at the National Research Council in Ottawa to see if they had openings.  “Should neither of you feel inclined to invite him to come,” Murray stated, “we would do so with joy.”  It was, as Spinks later noted, an interesting claim, given that “Murray knew that the bulk of the University assets in 1935 consisted of a bunch of IOUs in his safe!”

Larger Version

Neither Toronto nor the NRC would take Herzberg.  Murray approached the Carnegie Corporation for funding.  Although no public announcement had yet been made, Murray believed that the Carnegie Corporation was providing fellowships for “German scholars in distress” – a notion the American-based Corporation was quick to downplay: “...there has been a slight misunderstanding regarding [our] Corporation’s interest in displaced German scholars.”  They said they had no formal system of fellowships, but would give consideration to providing a grant “if you are convinced that a certain German scholar will fill a gap on the staff.”  Murray obtained a grant of $4,500 – two years’ salary.

The next hurdle was with Immigration, who felt that Herzberg “would not come within the classes ordinarily admissible to Canada,” but were persuaded that the arrangement was, indeed, temporary.

Herzberg arrived at the U of S in 1935.  The Shortt Library of Canadiana and the University Museum were both removed from their homes in the Physics Building, creating a “light and special experiments laboratory” and an office for Herzberg.  Of more concern to Murray must have been the estimates for equipment costs for Herzberg’s research, expected to reach $3,000.

Herzberg remained at the U of S for 10 years and went on to receive numerous awards for his research, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1971.1


1935a: Gerhard Herzberg. Photograph Collection, A-3234.
1935b. Letter of acceptance from Dr. Herzberg to President Murray. President’s Office fonds, RG 2001, Series I, file B.27 (copy negative available in Photograph Collection, A-2455).


President’s Office fonds, RG 2001, Series I, file B27.
President's Report, 1972, p. 5.
1. On Campus News, 19 March 1996.

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