Charles August Kraus (1875-1967), professor of chemistry, was born in Knightsville, Indiana, on August 15, 1875. His father took the family to Kansas, where he had staked out a homestead and built a sod house. Some of his early schooling took place in his home, and he had an interest in scientific experiments from an early age. In 1893 he went to the University of Kansas, where he studied electrical engineering and took his only formal chemistry course in his freshman year. He did, however, visit lectures given by chemistry professor Edward C. Franklin, with whom he became friends. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1898, a year late in graduating because of a course he had declined to take. In his final year he and Franklin began to collaborate on their work on solutions in liquid ammonia. He did work in physics at John Hopkins in 1899-1900 and at the University of Kansas in 1900-01, and became instructor in physics at the University of California in 1901, remaining until 1904. From 1904 to 1908 he was a research assistant in physical chemistry at M.I.T., where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1908, after which he was a research associate until 1912, and associate professor of physical chemical research from 1912 to 1914. He became professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratory at Clark University in 1914.
During the World War he directed research at Clark for the Chemical Warfare Service. In 1923-24 he was a lecturer at Brown and the following year became professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratories. Kraus made an important contribution to the development of the ultra-violet lamp with his method of making vacuum-tight seals between ordinary glass and fused quartz. He was better known for his researches which led to the development of “pyrex” and the production of ethyl gasoline. With his graduate students he did considerable research on liquid ammonia solutions. During World War II he traveled more than 50,000 miles in his work as consultant to the Manhattan project which developed the atomic bomb. He published more than 225 research papers on such subjects as liquid ammonia, non-aqueous solutions, electrolytic solutions, metals and their solutions, metallo-organic compounds, and conduction in glasses. He was a consulting chemist for the Chemical Warfare Service, U.S.A. and the U.S. Bureau of Mines and Fixed Nitrogen Laboratory. He was awarded the William H. Nichols Medal of the New York section of the American Chemical Society in 1924, the Theodore William Richards Medal of the Chicago section in 1935 and the Northeastern section in 1936, the Willard Gibbs Medal of the Chicago section in 1935, the Franklin Medal in 1938 and the Priestly Medal in 1950. In 1948 he was awarded the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest honor which the Navy can confer upon a civilian. A portrait of Kraus by William Dacey was dedicated in 1950 and hangs in the auditorium of the Metcalf Research Laboratory. While sitting for the portrait, Kraus ensured the future welfare of the painting by advising the artist about the special varnishes and the aluminum backing which protect it from the chemical fumes to which it might be exposed.
His retirement in 1946 made very little difference in his life style, on which he commented, “you do your work, but you don’t get paid for it.” Professor Leallyn Clapp reminisced about Kraus, “When he celebrated his nintieth birthday, he stopped by the office and everyone sat around with him and tried to reminisce. Charlie wouldn’t have any part of that. At age ninety, he was sitting there telling us all about a new chemical problem he had – he called it H-90 – a problem he was planning to tackle in the laboratory.” His last research paper was published in 1967. Kraus died on June 27, 1967 in East Providence at the age of 91.