Joel Hildebrand


Sources for the following are "Blue and Gold 1926," "Blue and Gold 1981-1982," and Cal Monthly, as well as email from Professor Bartlett.

Joel Hildebrand (1881-1983) began his career at Cal early in 1907 after serving briefly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined the University of California faculty as an Instructor of Chemistry. He became an Assistant Professor in 1913, Associate Professor in 1918, and Professor in 1919. After his supposed retirement, Hildebrand was University Professor of Chemistry in the University of California from 1952 until his death. Professor Hildebrand held several positions within the University. He was Chairman of the Department of Chemistry from 1941 through 1943. Hildebrand served as Dean of the College of Chemistry from 1949 through 1951. Previously he had served as Dean of Men from the creation of that position in 1923 until 1926, and he served as Dean of the College of Letters and Science from 1939 through 1943.

Joel Hildebrand was a major figure in twentieth century chemistry research. Professor Hildebrand won virtually every major prize for chemistry, though the Nobel never came his way. The American Chemical Society created the Joel Hildebrand award in his honor. Hildebrand Hall on the Berkeley campus is named for him. Professor Hildebrand remained active in chemistry and research even in retirement. Current Dean of the College of Chemistry, Professor Paul Bartlett, recalls: "I remember Joel from my days as an assistant professor; he had been emeritus longer than I had been alive, and he was still publishing at a rate greater than I was!" He is also remembered as the inventor, and for many years the enactor of the famed "Big Game Color Change Experiment,"* beloved event of generations of Cal students, wherein a flask of red and white solution would change into triumphant blue and gold!

Professor Hildebrand often said he most cherished his role as a teacher. In an interview conducted shortly before his 100th birthday, he observed: "Good teaching is primarily an art, and can neither be defined or standardized ... Good teachers are born_and_made; neither part of the process can be omitted." He remained committed to working with undergraduate students even at the age of 100. He came to his office on campus nearly every school day until declining health made it impossible.

Hildebrand was also active in the Sierra Club, serving as its president from 1937 through 1940. As a member he contributed to many important land-use reports about State and National Parks in California.

Joel Hildebrand was the very epitome of Cal: scholarship of the finest order, concern for teaching future generations, care for worth while causes, and a healthy dose of "Go Bears!" spirit.

* (Properly, a demonstration)

Hildebrand Sculpture

The bronze bust of Professor Hildebrand in Hildebrand Hall, is a gift of the American Chemical Society to the UCB College of Chemistry. It was sculpted by Castro Valley, California artist Richard P. Murphy. The artist's work was based on his sketches of Professor Hildebrand that were made at the Hildebrand home, and on photographs that Mr. Murphy used at his studio.