Chemical Laboratory


Chemical Laboratory


The Chemical Laboratory for Professor Douglas was first set up in The University Building (Mason Hall), probably in 1844. In 1848 it was moved to South College, where it remained until the completion in 1850 of the first “Laboratory Building," which eventually became known as the Medical Building. The Chemical Laboratory Building was opened in 1856. Dr. Douglas drew the plans for both the Medical Building and the Chemical Laboratory. He also superintended both constructions. (U of M Enclyclopedic Survey, p. 1622)

Mason Hall and South University
Laboratory Building - Medical Building

Silas Douglas

The University Main Building
First Chemical Laboratory

The first Chemical Laboratory was a one-story structure and was equipped with 26 laboratory tables. It was probably the first structure on the North American continent that was designed and equipped solely for instruction in chemistry. There were other chemical laboratories for instruction of students but they were adapted from structures already existing.

Within a year after its completion realizing the need of gas in chemical work, Dr. Douglas organized the Ann Arbor Gas Company. He was permitted in June 1858, to lay gas pipes from the street to the laboratory at his own expense and to charge students for the use of gas. Six months later permission to use gas in the Medical Building was granted under like conditions. The title to all gas pipes laid upon the University grounds and in its buildings was acquired by the University in 1860 by the payment of $350 to Dr. Douglas.

President Tappan, in his report for 1856-57, referred to the new analytical laboratory as “the most complete and efficient in our country.”

The natural growth of the University, and particularly the development of professional training in dentistry, engineering, medicine, and pharmacy, together with enhanced interest in chemistry for teacher training and as a profession distinct from engineering, necessitated additions to the original structure.

Seven additions were made—in 1861, 1866, 1868, 1874, 1880, 1888, and 1901.

Medical Building (left), Chemical Laboratory with first addition (right)

The third addition in 1868 with 135 tables was coincident with the establishment of curriculums in pharmacy.

The fourth addition of 1874 adding a wing 95x30 feet, barely preceeded the establishment of the School of Pharmacy in 1876.

In 1880 a Laboratory of General Chemistry was set up and a fifth addition in the form of a second story was made to the building.

The 1888 an addition on the west end provided tables for 80 students, three lecture rooms, and a pharmaceutical and chemical museum. In 1901 a seventh and final addition was made. The building in 1901 housed 361 laboratory tables.


The Chemical Building changed its shape over the years.
The numbers are a key to the photos and are not the order
in which the additions were made to the building.

Birdseye view of the Chemical Laboratory

The building, because of its additions was very irregular in plan, with a main section, Pharmacology on the north, which included the first laboratory of 1856, and an L-shaped wing on the south.

Although the principal purpose for which the building was constructed was to provide laboratory space for work in analytical chemistry, its was later used for organic chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, and chemical technology as well and until 1890 for electrotherapeutics.

The number of laboratory tables had increased from the original 26 in 1856 to 190 in 1874, and to 362 in 1901. It had not been possible to adhere to a definite structural plan in adding units to the building; hence as a whole, the laboratory was unhandy and it was not fireproof. It lacked adequate ventilation and was almost completely lacking sanitary facilities.

The continued increase in the number of students called for the construction of a new building. The new Chemical Building with 634 tables was occupied in 1909.

In 1909 with the completion of the new Chemistry Building the chemical laboratories were moved, and the South L-shaped wing of the old Chemical Laboratory, which was in effect a separate building, was taken over by the Department of Economics, while the Department of Pharmacology occupied the northern wing.

Pharmacalogy (left) Economics (right)