Dr. Ralph Edward Oesper was born on June 14, 1886, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Entering the University of Cincinnati in 1904 he took his B.A. (1908), his M.A. (1909) and his Ph.D. (1914) degrees from the Chemistry Department under Lauder William Jones. After brief periods at New York University and Smith College, Oesper returned to the University of Cincinnati as a member of the chemistry faculty in 1918, where he remained until his retirement in 1951. However, this did not end his service to the University, as he continued to remain active as Professor Emeritus almost to the day of his death, 26 years later, at the age of 91.
Oesper was a prolific writer, publishing more than 300 papers in the fields of analytical, organic, and colloid chemistry and especially in the history of chemistry. He also used his mastery of the German language to translate nearly two dozen books in these fields, as well as countless articles. He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Chemical Education, Chymica, Mikrochemie, Mikrochimica Acta. In recognition of his activities, he received the Eminent Chemist Award of the Cincinnati Section of the ACS, the Dexter Award in the History of Chemistry, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati.
Oesper's many interests and activities, as well as his dedication to the University of Cincinnati, are reflected in his bequest to the Department of Chemistry, which was made in both his name and that of his wife, Helen Wilson Oesper. The bequest has been used not only to establish the annual Oesper Symposium, but to establish a faculty position in Chemical Education and the History of Chemistry, to support a yearly departmental colloquium on the History of Chemistry, to establish a scholarships for outstanding high school chemistry students, and to purchase new additions of the Oesper Collection of Books and Prints in History of Chemistry, which currently houses nearly 3,200 books and journals and about 1,800 photographs and prints relating to the history of chemistry.