April 7, 2000

Contact: Lynn Bretz, University Relations, (785) 864-3256

KU celebrates centennial of Bailey Hall

LAWRENCE--Few buildings on the Lawrence campus are as entwined with University of Kansas tradition and state history as Bailey Hall.

The building's namesake is Edgar Henry Summerfield Bailey, KU chemistry professor credited not only with establishing a chemistry department with a national reputation but also with inventing the famous Rock Chalk chant. John G. Haskell, one of the state's early great architects, designed Bailey Hall.

Although Bailey's roofline is missing its original forest of ventilation chimneys--a sacrifice to renovation in the 1950s--the limestone building has been placed on the state register of historic places.

This history and more will be saluted at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 15, in Bricker Auditorium, Budig Hall, in a commemoration of the first 100 years of Bailey Hall.

Research conducted over the years in Bailey Hall has won national and worldwide acclaim. Professor Bailey, instrumental in getting the Kansas Pure Food and Drug law passed in 1907, published a landmark textbook on the chemistry of food. Pharmacy dean Lucius Sayre's work in a Bailey drug lab led to the development of corn oil as a cooking product. A music education professor, E. Thayer Gaston, explored his new concept of music therapy in Bailey Hall during the 1950s and early 1960s.

But the most prominent scientific project occurred in 1905, when two KU professors discovered that helium, an element scientists believed existed mainly on the sun and only in trace amounts on Earth, could be found in natural gas.

That discovery, by professors Hamilton P. Cady and David Ford McFarland, will earn special recognition during the Bailey centennial program. Representatives from the American Chemical Society, including Daryl Busch, ACS president and KU distinguished professor of chemistry, will present the university with a plaque designating the discovery of helium in natural gas as a National Historic Chemical Landmark event.

Other speakers will include Lawrence architect Craig Patterson, on the architectural history of Bailey; James Bohning, member of the National Historic Chemical Landmarks Committee, on "The Gas That Wouldn't Burn"; and KU professor emeritus of chemistry, Grover Everett, who will demonstrate the properties of helium.

At 7:30 p.m. April 15, Donald Worster, KU Hall Family Foundation distinguished professor of history, will give the Bailey Hall Centennial Lecture, "Society's Servant: Bailey Hall and the Idea of the Useful University," at the Spencer Museum of Art auditorium.

An exhibit in Spencer Research Library, "Bailey Hall's First 100 Years," will be on display April 10 to 21. Artifacts and photographs representing the academic programs housed over the years in Bailey will be displayed. Bailey's occupants have included chemistry and the School of Pharmacy, a short stay by the Department of Chemical Engineering, and, since the 1950s, the School of Education. During the summer, when education moves to newly renovated Joseph R. Pearson Hall, the Western civilization and the humanities programs will claim Bailey Hall.

Sidebar: Dexter's Disappointment Fuels Scientific Breakthrough

In Cowley County, 70 miles southeast of Wichita, a highway plaque outside the town of Dexter tells how helium was discovered in natural gas.

"A howling gasser" of a natural gas well was first drilled near the town in 1903. Nine million cubic feet of gas escaped daily until the well could be capped.

Envisioning a prosperous future as a natural gas hub, city leaders advertised the well's discovery. Crowds gathered to see the well fired. Revelers lit a hay bale, swinging it over the gas well. A promotional flier had promised "a great pillar of flame from the burning well will light up the entire countryside for a day and a night." But the roaring gas well snuffed out the bale. For two years the gasser was scornfully called "wind" gas, according to the highway plaque.

Word of Dexter's disappointment intrigued Erasmus Haworth, KU geology faculty member and official state geologist. He had a large cylinder of Dexter gas sent to KU for analysis. KU chemistry professors Hamilton Cady and David McFarland analyzed the Dexter gas and found it contained 1.84 percent of helium-- an astonishing discovery, since scientists considered helium one of the rarest of elements.

For their experiment, Cady and McFarland had used an air compressor and liquefier--the first west of the Mississippi--that E.H.S. Bailey had requested in his drive for "a thoroughly modern teaching and research facility."

E.H.S. Bailey read a paper describing the discovery at an American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 1906. Later that year, Cady and Hamilton reported that, based on an analysis of gas wells in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, helium existed in goodly amounts, although "uses are yet to be found for it," Cady wrote.

But practical applications emerged quickly. By World War I, helium-filled balloons were under development because helium was far preferable to flammable hydrogen. In the late 1920s, a commercial plant began supplying helium for Navy dirigibles. By the 1950s, helium's industrial uses soared. By the 1990s, helium had a firm role in low-temperature research, arc welding, lasers, nuclear reactors and magnetic resonance imaging. Helium is still considered a national strategic reserve material.

"Though Dexter's well no longer produces," the highway sign concludes, "the torch that wouldn't burn lighted the way to a multimillion-dollar industry."

Editors note: Historic photos are available by email of Bailey Hall and E.H.S. Bailey


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