James Bryant Conant (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Conant helped unravel the mysteries of the components of chlorophyll and hemoglobin. He served as an innovative president of Harvard University, United States high commissioner to Germany after World War II, and ambassador to the newly created German Federal Republic.
James Bryant Conant was born March 26, 1893, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His father, James Scott Conant, was a photoengraver who had served in both the Union army and navy during the Civil War and had witnessed the famed battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. His mother, née Jennet Orr Bryant, was the daughter of a shoe and leather salesman. Both of Conant’s parents were greatly influenced by Swedenborgianism, which Conant claimed made him suspicious of the standard defenses of Christianity. His father’s interest in applied chemistry in his photoengraving work sparked an interest in science for the young Conant. He was the only youngster in his neighborhood who had his own laboratory. At an early age, he began developing formulas for almost everything, including the family’s grocery buying, which his mother claimed saved the household money.
When Conant was ten, he applied for admission to Roxbury Latin School, a college preparatory school with a good reputation in chemistry and physics. He failed the spelling part of his admissions test, but his strong-willed mother managed to get...
(The entire section is 2722 words.)
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