Giants of the Past:

George S. Jamieson (1879–1959)

George Jamieson was born June 7, 1879 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and graduated from Yale University in 1901. He received his PhD in organic chemistry in 1904 from the same school. From 1904 to 1909 he served as an analytical instructor at the Sheffield Science School, Yale University. In 1909, he was promoted to Assistant Professor.

Jamieson's early research interests involved development of volumetric iodate methods for a number of inorganic compounds including copper, mercury, polythionic acids, tin, antimony, hydrogen peroxide and molybdenum. Eleven such methods were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry, American Journal of Science, and Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering over the period 1908 to 1919. Since iodate methods were considered one of the best methods for determination of these compounds, Jamieson's first book, Volumetric Iodate Methods, appeared in 1926.

Despite his successes in research and teaching, he apparently was not happy in academia and left Yale in 1918 to take a position as analytical chemist for the Bureau of Chemistry, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The following year he was promoted to chemist in charge of the fat and wax laboratory and served in that capacity until 1927, when he apparently moved into administration for the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils remaining there until 1943. From 1943 until his retirement in 1947 he served as a consultant to the USDA product and marketing administrator. It is interesting to note that, in 1927, the oils, fats, and waxes laboratory was staffed with four chemists and a technician.

Jamieson's salary was $4800 per year (U.S. dollars) as a senior chemist with the other chemists ranging from $2000 to 3300. Technicians earned $1200 per year. The entire budget of the Bureau of Chemistry was $1,466,200, of which $354,453 was spent on salaries.

Jamieson must have made quite an impression on his fellow fats and oils chemists since he was known as the “Dean of AOCS chemists” and was made an honorary member of the society in 1920. A number of his publications on fats and oils appeared in the chemists' section of the Cotton Oil Press during the period 1917 to 1924. These include determination of unsaponifiable matter in greases and oils, characterization of rare and unusual fats and oils, analysis of corn oil, analysis of crude vegetable oils and the composition and free fatty acid content of cottonseed oil, the latter of which was the prime commodity oil of his time. Jamieson published eight papers on cottonseed including the composition of oils from different seeds, influence of geographic sources on cottonseed oil, minor constituents and keeping properties.

By the mid 1920's, Jamieson's research interests expanded and he began characterizing vegetable oils outside the commodity area. These include rice, olive, rubberseed, grapeseed, wheat germ, avocado, grapefruit, walnut, palm, passion fruit, mammy apple, poppyseed, garcia nutars and benseed (sesame seed). It is interesting to note that, during the zenith of Jamieson's career, very little had been published on soybean oil. The few references in the journal include characteristics, determination of color, composition, adulteration, pressed oils, refining losses, spectral transmission, titer of soy/stearine mixtures and saturated acid content. No references can be found in the JAOCS 35-year index (1917-1952), relative to edible applications of soybean oil.

In addition to his considerable skills as a fats and oils chemist, Jamieson distinguished himself as an author. By the early 1930's, the need for a textbook on fats and oils was apparent. Julius Lewkowitsch's Chemical Technology of Oils, Fats and Waxes, first published in 1895 and revised some five times thereafter, was out-of-date and served primarily as a reference source for analytical chemists. At the Interallied Conference on Pure and Applied Chemistry meeting in London and Brussels, July 1919, the American Chemical Society agreed to undertake the publication of a series of monographs on various topics including fats and oils. Jamieson was selected to cover vegetable fats and oils. In 1932, Vegetable Fats and Oils: The Chemistry, Production and Utilization of Vegetable Fats and Oils for Edible, Medicinal and Technical Purposes (Monograph 58) was published; it was revised in 1943. These books served as the standard reference book until A. E. Bailey's Industrial Oil and Fat Products appeared in 1945.

Jamieson's approach involved classifying fats and oils into three groups: non-drying (Iodine Value [IV] below 100), semi-drying (IV 100-130), and drying (IV above 130). He, of course, recognized this as an arbitrary approach and grouped fats/oils from plants of the same family together. The same approach was used in the second edition, but partial or complete rewrites of some sections were made.

The method section was expanded to include determination of diene and thiocyanogen values absent from the first edition. The indexes of botanical and common names remain an excellent resource for the fats and oils chemist. George Jamieson passed away on January 26, 1959 at the age of nearly 80.

His colleagues regarded him as the grand old man in the industry and he was most cooperative with AOCS members. His many committee assignments included oil, characteristics, olive oil, and scientific literature review. He also served as the assistant editor, Chemists' Section, Cotton Oil Press (1921) and served on the editorial board until 1948, when it was discontinued.


Acknowledgement: This document was first published in Inform, October 2004, Volume 15 (10), p. 684.

Updated: Feb. 8th, 2010