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Ross Aiken Gortner papers

Identifier: ua-00484

Scope and Content

A significant portion of the Ross Aiken Gortner papers consist of twenty-eight folders of general correspondence (1908-1942). These letters highlight Dr. Gortner's far-reaching influence in the fields of agricultural and biochemistry with a petition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking Dr. Gortner to submit a paper for presentation at the next meeting of the American Chemical Society, Section of Biological Chemistry (1911). In addition to his professional correspondence these folders contain more personal letters including correspondence with Ms. Snyder regarding the naming of the new biochemistry building Harry Snyder Hall (1938).

There is correspondence relating to the professional organizations Dr. Gortner belonged to including Sigma Xi (1937-1941) and the American Chemical Society (1934-1941). Dr. Gortner's papers contain extensive professional correspondence with peers and colleagues including Hubert Max Finlay Fruendlich, William James Mayo, and John J. Willaman.

In addition to professional correspondence, the collection contains 26 folders of Dr. Gortner's manuscripts and a bibliography listing 249 of his scholarly publications (1908-1934).


  • 1908-1942


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of Ross A. Gortner (1885-1942)

Ross Aiken Gortner was born near O'Neill, Nebraska on March 20, 1885. He entered the preparatory school of Nebraska Wesleyan University at Lincoln, at the age of 17. Here he was educated and guided by chemistry Professor F. J. Alway. He received a B.S. degree from Wesleyan University in 1907, an M.A. degree from the University of Toronto in 1908, and a Ph.D. degree in 1909 from Columbia University.

Dr. Gortner came to the University of Minnesota in 1914 as Associate Professor of Soil Chemistry to work with his former mentor, Professor F. J. Alway, who had recently been appointed Professor of Soil Chemistry at the University. After two years, Dr. Gortner transferred to the Division of Biochemistry, and in 1917 was appointed full professor and chief, a position that he held until his death.

Dr. Gortner's scientific interests were very broad; his influence was felt in almost every field of agricultural science. He researched such fields as formation and chemistry of animals pigments, melanin, chemistry of embryonic growth, physicochemical properties of vegetables sap, soil analysis, organic constituents of the soil, colloids and proteins. His writings were published over 300 times in scientific journals. His first publications, in 1905 and 1906 as an undergraduate student, were chiefly in the area of organic chemistry, as was his doctoral dissertation. He then became interested in the field of colloid chemistry and began publishing papers in the field of plant and animal biochemistry as early as 1908. Among Dr. Gortner's major contributions to science were his textbook Outline of Biochemistry (1929, 1938) and lecture series at Cornell University titled Selected Topics in Colloid Chemistry(1935-1936). These lectures were later published as a book under the same title (1937). He was an associate editor of The Journal of the American Chemical Society and Journal of Physical Chemistry, and contributed chapters to several monographs.

Dr. Gortner's influence went far beyond the classroom as noted by his association with many scientific societies. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society, and the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. He served as both secretary and chair of the American Chemical Society and was a member of its editorial board for two terms. He was national president of the honorary chemical society, Phi Lambda Upsilon (1921-1926), president of the American Society of Naturalists (1932), and president of the prestigious national scientific society, Sigma Xi (1942).

Considered to be an inspiring teacher, he was the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation Lecturer (1930), Priestly Lecturer at Pennsylvania State College (1934) and George Fisher Baker Lecturer at Cornell University (1935-36). In 1932 the honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred on him by Lawrence College [Appleton, Wisconsin]. Dr. Gortner felt that his chief contribution to science was through his students. During his tenure at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Gortner personally directed 87 graduate students in residence, and counseled many others.

On May 19, 1942, Dr. Gortner was awarded the Osborne Medal of the American Association of Cereal Chemists, one of the outstanding chemical prizes in the country for having rendered distinguished service in research and student training in cereal chemistry. 1942 marked 25 years as chief of the Division of Biochemistry for Dr. Gortner.

Dr. Gortner was diagnosed with coronary thrombosis in 1938, but was able to pursue his interests nearly unabated until he died of heart failure on September 30, 1942, at the age of 57. In 1966, the Gortner Laboratory of Biochemistry was dedicated in his honor on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.


3.7 Cubic Feet (8 boxes (2 record carton; 6 hollinger))


This collection contains the papers of Dr. Ross A. Gortner, chief of the Division of Agricultural Biochemistry at the University of Minnesota.


Collection is arranged in alphabetical order by subject.

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University of Minnesota. Division of Forestry papers

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Inventory of the Ross Aiken Gortner Papers, 1908-1942
Under Revision
Archives Staff; updated by Karen Spilman
Updated 2004
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Finding aid written in English

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