History of the Tulane Chemistry Department: Timeline



The original campus of Tulane University as the Medical College of Louisiana 1834-1894

Tulane University was founded as the Medical College of Louisiana, one of the oldest universities west of the Appalachians. Its original faculty included Thomas R. Ingalls as chair of Chemistry.


John L. Ridell, chair 1836-1862

john-ridell John L. Riddell, a native of Massachusetts, was hired as Chair of the Department of Chemistry. Riddell advanced the theory in 1836 that yellow fever was transmitted by a blood-borne pathogen, a revolutionary concept at the time. He served on the city of New Orleans’ sanitation commission frequently during his tenure and was one of the critical figures in the field of medicine to champion and affect the eradication of contagious diseases that plagued Louisiana and the tropics in the 19th century.



chemistry-courseThe first known university-level Chemistry course in the Mississippi Valley was held at the Medical College of Louisiana, with John Riddell as lecturer. The class consisted of 17 students, including Dr. Jack Shackleford (1791-1857), hero of the Texas Revolution, and Dr. George Colmer (1807-1878) a famed early Louisianan Physician.



John L. Riddell served the newly commissioned New Orleans Mint as melter and refiner, overseeing the mint’s first production of gold and silver coinage. During this period he invented the rotary ingot machine, which would make the New Orleans mint the most efficient in the US.


John Riddell served as chair of the Geological Committee of the State of Louisiana.


The Medical College of Louisiana was renamed University of Louisiana, and expands its faculty to include Arts and Law.


John Riddell carried out the earliest known study of cholera using a microscope, but does not find enough evidence to draw definitive conclusions. Reinvestigation in 1859 led to the first publication claiming a direct relationship between cholera and a microorganism.


lab-equipmentJohn Riddell invented the binocular microscope to provide stereoscopic visualization to help elucidate his theory that yellow fever was transmitted via a blood-borne pathogen.



John Riddell was appointed postmaster of New Orleans by President Buchannan, a position he managed to hold through Louisiana’s secession (despite his outspoken sympathy for the Union cause), the Confederate takeover of the office, and the eventual Union occupation.


Classes were suspended at University of Louisiana on the account of reduced enrollment because of the ongoing American Civil War.


New Orleans was occupied by Federal troops.


Prof. Riddell was elected Governor of Louisiana by a populist group that opposed the federally imposed military government under Reconstruction, but the election was deemed invalid by the Federal authorities.


Prof. John L. Riddell died immediately after his emotional, controversial, and unpopular speech at the Louisiana convention where he blamed the state’s problems on its secession from the Union.


The University of Louisiana reopened after the close of the Civil War.


Joseph Jones, chair 1869-1885

joseph-jones Joseph Jones was named chair of Department of Chemistry. He had served for the Confederacy as Surgeon Major during the Civil War and made some of the most extensive notes on the occurrence of disease amongst soldiers and prisoners of war, including the first known microscopic identification of typhoid bacillus. Professor Jones would continue the passionate tradition of Riddell in studying and fighting the numerous epidemics common in the tropics.



Jones publishes his seminal treatise on gangrene, from his notes and observations as a surgeon during the Civil War. It is widely recognized as the first modern scientific study on the subject, and the first to advance the theory that gangrene’s root cause was not a contagious pathogen but rather necrotic tissues.


Jones was one of the very first scientists in the world to advance the theory that malaria was spread by a pathogen. In addition, he used the microscopic observations of pathogens in blood as forensic evidence in the murder of Narcisse Arrieux, and even training his medical students to diagnose malarial infections by analysis of the blood at this early stage.


As president of the Louisiana State Health Board, Prof. Jones carried out a thorough overhaul of the quarantine stations throughout Southern Louisiana. Despite the prevalence of Yellow Fever through the Gulf of Mexico, the lower Mississippi Valley was free from the scourge under his tenure.


Thanks to a substantial donation in the will of Paul H. Tulane, the University of Louisiana was privatized as “The Tulane University of Lousiana.”


John M. Ordway, Dean of the School of Technology 1884 -1894

john-ordway Prof John M. Ordway resigned his position as dean of the faculty at MIT to join Tulane as head of Manual Training Department (Forerunner of the School of Science and Engineering) and chair of the Department of Industrial Chemistry, which will later become the department of Chemical Engineering (the third oldest in the country).



John W. Caldwell, Chair 1885-1905

john-caldwell John Williamson Caldwell, a native of Charleston, is appointed chair of the Chemistry department. After completing his undergraduate degree at College of Charleston, his medical schooling at the Medical College of South Carolina was interrupted by the bombardment of Fort Sumter. He eventually obtained a furlough and completed his degree from the Medical College of Virginia in 1864. After nine years and private practice, nine years serving on the faculty of Southwestern Presbeterian University in Clarksville, TN, and a year at Johns Hopkins University, he moved to Tulane University to accept joint appointments in Chemistry and Geology.



John W. Caldwell serves as curator for Tulane’s National History Museum, one of the largest collections in the US at the time.


Prof. Jones was elected President of the Louisiana State Medical Association.


John W. Caldwell publishes article in Science magazine drawing analogies between molecular structure and crystallography, two fields which had developed largely independently of each other (Vol. 20, 12 August 1892, pp 88-89).


After a stroke that caused partial paralysis, Jones retired as a professor at Tulane. He published more that 100 papers in the medical and scientific literature, in addition to 4 substantial volumes of his “Medical and Surgical Memoirs.”


Tulane University moves from the downtown New Orleans campus on Common Street to the 6800 block of St. Charles in uptown New Orleans. The Department of Chemistry moves into the Richardson Laboratory.

Tulane Uptown Campus





Richardson Laboratory, Tulane Department of Chemistry




Joseph Jones passed away shortly after his retirement.


Tulane's Sugar Chemistry Laoratory

sugar-chemistry-laboratory By 1900, Tulane University had a number of departments devoted to the study of the chemical sciences. In addition to the Department of Chemistry, Tulane had one of the first Departments of Industrial Chemistry in the nation (forerunner of Chemical Engineering Departments) and had a separate Department of Sugar Chemistry, devoted to this critical industry for the State of Louisiana.


Tulane’s Chemistry Laboratory


School of Science and Engineering, 201 Lindy Boggs Center, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5764