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Science & Technology

August 4, 2008
Volume 86, Number 31
pp. 43-47

Preserving A Legacy

Traude Sadtler fights to keep alive the memory of three generations of chemists

Linda Wang

OUTSIDE THE SPACIOUS home that Traude Sadtler once shared with her husband, Philip, there are signs of change. The backyard pool they used to swim in is now covered with a blue tarp, masked by a thin layer of dried leaves that have lingered since autumn. The garden they used to tend in this quiet Philadelphia neighborhood now sits empty.

AT HOME Traude keeps her husband Philip close to her heart. Linda Wang/C&EN
AT HOME Traude keeps her husband Philip close to her heart.

Listen to Traude Sadtler share her secret to happiness:

If you cannot play the audio file, download the free Quicktime Player.

When Philip was alive, he and Traude frequently hosted friends from around the world. Now, she rarely gets visitors, and the house is mostly quiet—except for the squeaky floors and the constant beeping and crushing sound of bulldozers outside.

Some people fear change and worry about the future, but Traude is not one to dwell on the past. She credits her sense of peace to having lived a good life: She fell in love with a man who shared her passion for chemistry and for sharing it with others.

Samuel Philip Sadtler
Samuel Philip Sadtler
Samuel Schmucker Sadtler
Samuel Schmucker Sadtler
Philip Sadtler Courtesy of Traude Sadtler
Philip Sadtler

Philip died of lung cancer 12 years ago. Since then, Traude has been on a mission to keep his chemical legacy—and that of his family—alive.

Traude's husband, Samuel Philip Sadtler, was the third of three generations of Sadtler chemists. Philip's grandfather, also named Samuel Philip Sadtler, was a member of the American Chemical Society and founding president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

The elder Sadtler attended Lehigh University and Harvard University and received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Georg August University in G??ttingen, Germany. He served as a professor of organic and industrial chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently as chair of the chemistry department at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now University of the Sciences in Philadelphia). One obituary referred to Sadtler as a "Ulysses in Chemistry" for his pioneering contributions to chemistry (J. Ind. Eng. Chem. 1924, 2, 195).

In 1901, Sadtler and his son Samuel Schmucker Sadtler, a chemist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, founded the Philadelphia chemical consulting firm Samuel P. Sadtler & Son. In 1920, Samuel S. Sadtler took over as president of the family business. He was also one of the first editors of Chemical Abstracts, a founder of the Chemists Club of New York, and a member of ACS and AIChE.

In 1947, Philip, who received a bachelor's in chemistry from Lehigh University, took over the business, now called Sadtler Research Laboratories, from his father and began generating and publishing reference spectral data. Mention the name Sadtler today, and many older chemists will recall the green loose-leaf binders that contained the Sadtler Standard Spectra.

Philip had hoped that one of his three children would inherit his passion for chemistry and take the reins of the family business after he retired. But they each had their own plans. His oldest child, daughter Joanna, became a grade-school teacher and is now retired. His middle child, Samuel, who goes by Sandy, had a fascination with cars and now runs a business restoring vintage automobiles. And his youngest son, Thomas, who goes by Tommy, now works for a computer company in Boston.

"Philip had wanted his kids to take over the family business. He was maybe too forceful. He almost demanded it, and that doesn't work," says Traude of her stepchildren. "No one was interested in chemistry. Not one."

TRAUDE AND PHILIP met in 1961 when she accepted a position as a spectroscopist at Sadtler Research Labs. She had turned down an offer from SmithKline, despite being offered a significantly higher salary than Sadtler was able to offer. "Sadtler needed me much more," she said.

Traude had been working as a spectroscopist at the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim in Germany and was familiar with the Sadtler spectra, which, she said, "needed some major improvements in quality."

Sadtler Research Labs had been running infrared and ultraviolet spectra on organic and inorganic compounds, but they were getting poor results. Traude found that they were preparing materials for analysis under less than ideal conditions. For example, during sample preparation, they could not completely dry the compounds because the lab did not own a drying oven. And to weigh the samples, they used a balance commonly used to weigh food.

After Traude started at Sadtler Research Labs, she asked Philip to purchase a more accurate microbalance and a vacuum oven and subsequently began rerunning many of the samples. The quality of the spectra improved dramatically. She later added NMR and Raman spectra to the Sadtler spectral database.

SHARED PASSION Scandone, Banik, and Traude meet in Bio-Rad's Philadelphia office. Linda Wang/C&EN
SHARED PASSION Scandone, Banik, and Traude meet in Bio-Rad's Philadelphia office.

On a beautiful fall day in 1964, Phil invited Traude out for a walk and took her by surprise with a marriage proposal. Traude recalls her disbelief, which turned to anger: "Mr. Sadtler! What did you ask me?" After realization sank in, she replied sternly, "No, thank you!"

Traude did end up accepting Philip's proposal. Despite initial shock from members of the lab, nobody questioned Philip's choice for a life partner. "Phil could tell who was really dedicated to the company," says Bill Simons, who worked at Sadtler Research Labs for 35 years. "He knew Traude was there for the long haul."

THE SADTLER home is decorated with artwork from friends, and with souvenirs that Traude and Philip picked up during their travels: a wooden elephant from Bangkok, pottery from Peru, a wooden plate made by tribespeople in Africa.

Over the years, Traude and Philip traveled the world together, visiting their regional sales reps and giving lectures on spectra. Philip would deliver the first part of a lecture. "Now Traude, you continue," Traude recalls Philip saying when he got to the technical part. Philip had the business skills; Traude had the technical expertise. "It worked beautifully," she says.

In 1970, Philip decided to retire and sell Sadtler Research Labs to Block Engineering, which at the time was making a new Fourier transform infrared instrument. Simons recalls Philip's excitement about the sale and how he believed it would infuse the cash-strapped Sadtler Research Labs with more money so it could expand. But as Block Engineering hit hard times, the investment turned into a disappointment, Traude recalls. Financially unable to retire, Philip started another company, Sanda Corp., to market a computerized thermometric titration instrument. "Üerleben, Üerleben," Traude says, which in German means surviving, surviving. "What we cannot change, we have to just accept and move on," she says.


A Century Ago, AIChE Was Born

In New Orleans this past April, the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers colocated their meetings for the first time in AIChE's 100-year history. It was a quiet milestone—and a symbolic one—because ACS once viewed AIChE as a rival.

AIChE was formed in 1908 out of a growing sentiment that chemical engineers needed their own professional society. In an October 1905 editorial in the journal Chemical Engineer, engineer Richard K. Meade argued that a chemical engineering discipline had been slowly emerging and estimated that there were at least 500 chemical engineers in the U.S. He pointed out that several colleges had begun offering courses titled "chemical engineering."

MEMENTO The AIChE certificate of membership of Samuel Philip Sadtler hangs in the home of Traude Sadtler, the widow of his grandson and namesake.
MEMENTO The AIChE certificate of membership of Samuel Philip Sadtler hangs in the home of Traude Sadtler, the widow of his grandson and namesake.

Meade wrote letters to 50 chemists and chemical engineers seeking their support for the founding of a chemical engineering organization. He called a preliminary meeting on June 21, 1907, during a meeting of the American Society for Testing & Materials, in Atlantic City, N.J., to discuss the idea.

On June 22, 1908, AIChE held its first official meeting in Philadelphia, with 40 men in attendance. They elected chemist Samuel P. Sadtler to be the society's first president.

AIChE devoted its early years to legitimizing chemical engineering as an independent discipline. Some prominent members of ACS initially opposed AIChE's formation, fearing that a new organization would siphon away members. ACS had already experienced the splintering of electrochemists when they formed the American Electrochemical Society in 1902 and of leather chemists when they formed the American Leather Chemists Association in 1904.

ACS promptly took action to prevent AIChE from infringing on its territory. Eight days after the formal founding of AIChE, ACS created its first technical division, the Division of Industrial Chemistry & Chemical Engineering. Other ACS divisions soon followed.

The leaders of AIChE, many of whom were ACS members, tried to ease tensions by adopting very restrictive membership requirements and by emphasizing AIChE's role as complementary to ACS's.

Because of its strict membership requirements, AIChE grew slowly. By 1930, the society had only 872 members. In comparison, ACS had roughly 18,000 members in 1930, up from 5,000 in 1908.

Today, AIChE's membership consists of more than 40,000 chemical engineering professionals from 93 countries, and it partners with ACS on various programs.

AIChE is holding its annual meeting in Philadelphia this November and will highlight chemical engineering innovations over the past 100 years.

In 1978, Bio-Rad bought Sadtler Research Labs from Block Engineering, and two years later, it began publishing electronic spectral databases. Today, Bio-Rad's Informatics Division, located in downtown Philadelphia, maintains the Sadtler Spectral Databases; the collection now includes data on more than 1.3 million reference spectra.

Marie Scandone, who started at Sadtler Research Labs 37 years ago and is now database product manager at Bio-Rad's Informatics Division, says that the technology has changed, but what they are doing is essentially the same. "We're still presenting data, reference material, for our customers so they can look at the unknowns and do research," she says. "Essentially, we're doing the same thing that Philip Sadtler started in 1947."

Traude, who took over as president of Sanda when Philip passed away, wakes up every day at 5:30 AM and starts work at 8 AM. Luckily, she doesn't have far to go because Sanda moved from a nearby office building to her basement 18 years ago.

Boxes of titration equipment and computer hardware line the basement hall. Bottles of chemicals are stacked along the walls. Plaques hang everywhere—reminders of the Sadtler family's long history of service to the chemistry community. One of the plaques is a certificate of membership that AIChE presented to the elder Samuel P. Sadtler.

AT AGE 85, Traude is sharp as a tack. She still drives her 20-year-old tan BMW around town to run errands. She has 20/20 vision and only wears glasses to read. She still can navigate downtown Philadelphia during rush hour, although she admits that the traffic makes her nervous. She walks briskly—thanks to a recent hip replacement—and if you were to meet her, you wouldn't think she was a day over 65.

Diane Henesey, who has been an office manager at Sanda since 1994, is protective of Traude, which is evident in all the maps she prints for Traude whenever she needs to drive somewhere unfamiliar. Sanda employs three other people, who work part-time: a programmer, a technical assembly person, and an engineer.

Like many companies, Sanda is feeling the impact of a slow economy. "Companies are not spending any money," Traude says. "It's so hard to sell."

Traude is looking for a company to buy Sanda and help build up the business. "It was so much work, and it took all these years to develop," says Traude of Sanda. "I hope and pray that what Philip and I did here will go on."

As for the Sadtler name, Traude has found an ally in keeping the family's legacy alive. Since last September, Gregory M. Banik, general manager of Bio-Rad's Informatics Division, has been poring over old books and photographs to learn everything he can about the three generations of Sadtler chemists.

Banik realizes that if something is not done to preserve the family's history, their contributions will eventually be forgotten. "How can someone who was heralded as the Ulysses in Chemistry be unknown?" says Banik, referring to the elder Samuel P. Sadtler. "It boggles the mind."

Banik himself has been preserving his own family's history. In his free time, he scans old photos and posts them on the Internet to share with friends and family. His passion to keep alive his family's memories may explain why he has immersed himself in the Sadtlers' history.

"I've spent days on this project because it's important to me. And I see the Sadtler project in the same way," Banik says. "It's part of the company that I'm working for, and I'm very, very proud to be a part of what we're doing."

Banik will share the story of the three generations of Sadtler chemists on Bio-Rad's website, and he will give a talk on the history of Sadtler spectroscopy during the ACS meeting in Philadelphia later this month, as well as at the AIChE meeting in Philadelphia in November.

"The Sadtler name is going to live on for as long as we're doing this, and our intent is to do this for a very long time," Banik says. "We are looking at growing the Sadtler collection. It's a brand name that has clout, and it's a brand name that has history."

Driving to Bio-Rad's Informatics Division recently, Traude pulled up to a red light and realized that another tan BMW had pulled up behind her, this one shiny and new. She laughed and said that although her car looks timeworn, on the inside it's as sturdy as ever. She could have said the same about herself.

When asked whether she's ever felt disappointed that her stepchildren did not continue the family business, Traude responded: "Why should I be sad? They're married, and they're happy." What more can you ask for?

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