Louis Fieser

Louis F. Fieser (April 7, 1899July 25, 1977) was an organic chemist, professor, and in 1968, professor emeritus at Harvard University. He was renowned as the inventor, in 1943, of a militarily effective form of napalm. His award-winning research included work on blood-clotting agents including the first synthesis of vitamin K, synthesis and screening of quinones as antimalarial drugs, work with steroids leading to the synthesis of cortisone, and study of the nature of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.


Fieser was born in Columbus, Ohio, obtained his BA in chemistry in 1920 from Williams College, and his PhD under James Bryant Conant at Harvard in 1924. With his research assistant and wife Mary Peters Fieser (MA, 1936, Radcliffe) he coauthored eight books and the first seven volumes of the classic series Reagents for Organic Synthesis known popularly among chemists as "Fieser and Fieser".

Fieser had two chemical reagents named for him. Fieser's reagent is a mixture of chromium trioxide in acetic acid. Fieser's solution is an aqueous solution of potassium hydroxide, sodium hydrosulfite, and sodium anthraquinone b-sulfonate. Woodward's rules for calculating UV absorption maxima are also known as the Woodward-Fieser rules.

Fieser was the graduate advisor of 1987 Nobel laureate Donald J. Cram.

Dow Chemical began producing his formula for napalm during World War II. But it was not until the Vietnam War that the use of the jellied gasoline stirred controversy. Fieser, however, was unapologetic for its creation. He stated, "I have no right to judge the morality of napalm just because I invented it.



  • Gates, M., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 1994, vol. 65, p. 161-175
  • "Steroids", Scientific American, January 1955, Vol.192, No.1, pp.52-60

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