Henry Gilman was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 9, 1893. He received his B. S. (1915), an M. S. (1916), and a Ph.D. (1918) in Chemistry from Harvard University. For his pre-doctoral work he studied in Europe at Zurich Polytechnikum, the Sorbonne in Paris, and at Oxford in London.
Dr. Gilman began his career at the University of Illinois as an Instructor of Chemistry in 1919. Later that year, he accepted the position of Assistant Professor (1919 - 1920) at Iowa State College (University). He became an Associate Professor in 1920 and by 1923 Dr. Gilman had been promoted to full Professor where he taught all the Organic Chemistry courses at Iowa State College. While at Iowa State, Dr. Gilman developed the modest Chemistry Department into one of the finest in the United States, with visionary research into Organometallic Chemistry.
His main area of research was in the Organometallic Chemistry area of Grignard reagents where he developed numerous Organometallic reagents, building a reputation for Iowa State as pioneering in the field.
His research interests also included heterocycles, polynuclear hydrocarbons, antimalarials, as well as long-chain aliphatic compounds. During World War II, Dr. Gilman was a consultant on the Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb. He set the groundwork for the growing interests of organometallics among chemical industries after the war, setting the stage for further development in the areas of plastics and Organosilicon. He has written over 750 research publications and authored a four volume text entitled; Organic Chemistry, along with co editing the text Organic Synthesis.
In addition to his work, Dr. Gilman was an Associate Editor of Chemical Reviews and the Journal of American Chemical Society. He was on the advisory or editorial boards for the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, the Advances on Organometallic Chemistry, Science Citation Index, Chimica Inorganica Acta, and the Organometallic Reactions.
He gave numerous lectures including the First International Symposium on Organometallic Chemistry in 1963. Since then, he spoke at International Symposiums on Organosilicon Chemistry in Prague, Heidelberg, Rome and Paris. He lectured in the countries of West Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia The Netherlands, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Romania.
Despite glaucoma and retinal detachment in 1947 that left him blind in one eye and with limited vision in the other, Dr. Gilman went on to receive countless awards and distinctions. In 1945 he was elected into the National Academy of Sciences being the first Iowa State man to do so. During 1951 he received the Midwest Gold Medal from the American Chemical Society from both the St. Louis and Iowa sections. He was elected as an honorary fellow of the British Chemical Society in 1961, and in 1962 he was the first recipient of the American Chemical Society's Kipping Award. During that same year he was named distinguished professor at Iowa State University.
Dr. Gilman received one of the first Distinguished Fellow Awards from the Iowa Academy of Sciences (1975) and was an elected foreign member of the Royal Society of London (1975). In 1977 he received the highest honor in Chemistry when he was awarded the Priestly Medal from the American Chemical Society, along with being named an honorary life member of the New York Academy of Sciences. Iowa Governor Robert Ray presented him with one of the first Governor's Science Medals in 1982.
Dr. Gilman with the help of hired graduate students or his wife Ruth gained a reputation as the father of Organometallic Chemistry and his work is the most often cited among scientists.
Through out his life Dr. Gilman continued his research until he died November 7, 1986 at the age of 93. He was interred at the Iowa State Cemetery on November 15, 1986.