Eugene Garfield, 1925–2017

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Eugene Garfield in 2007. Photo courtesy of the
Chemical Heritage Foundation (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Dr. Eugene Garfield: A Visionary Information Pioneer Dies at Age 91

Dr. Eugene Garfield, the founder of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) (now Clarivate Analytics), and the intrepid entrepreneur who created ground-breaking products such as Current Contents, the Science Citation Index, Index Chemicus, and Current Chemical Reactions, died unexpectedly on February 26, 2017

Most members of the Division of Chemical Information (CINF) know at least of Dr. Garfield, with many of us having developed personal and professional relationships with him over the years. He was very active in CINF, serving as Alternate Councilor from 1970-1972, as a Committee Chair, and as a frequent presenter at symposia. He was also the Herman Skolnik Awardee in 1977 and the Patterson-Crane Awardee in 1983. Eugene Garfield was a larger-than-life figure in the evolution of the chemical information industry from print through digital formats, but his was an unplanned career.

It began as a laboratory bench chemist under the tutelage of Professor Louis P. Hammett, the father of the Hammett equation, after graduating in 1949 from Columbia University with a B.S. in chemistry. By his own admission, Garfield was not successful in the lab and his career path took an unexpected turn when he attended a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in New York City and heard a presentation on the use of punch cards to handle large volumes of chemical information. He was intrigued, and ultimately took a position at Johns Hopkins University as research assistant on the Welch Medical Indexing Project: one of the first large-scale investigations into the potential of machine- based information systems. During the two years that Garfield spent on the project he learned a lot and the seeds of three concepts were planted - those of citation indexing, chemical indexing, and contents-page alerts. He ultimately left the project to study for a Master’s degree in Library Sciences, which he obtained in 1954 from Columbia University. Armed with his two degrees and the concepts that he developed while at Johns Hopkins (a PhD in structural linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania was added in 1961), Garfield went on to found the Institute for Scientific Information in 1960. From that point on, until the company was sold to the Thomson Corporation in 1992, Garfield nurtured the seeds that were planted during the Welch Project, ultimately developing unique and innovative information products and services, not only in the sciences, but also in the arts and humanities and social sciences.

Yes, he was a successful entrepreneur and businessman. And while the Garfield legend is well known (he did create the early versions of Current Contents while working out of a chicken coop converted into a log cabin!) not everyone has been blessed to know Eugene Garfield as an employer, mentor, and friend. I, and many ISI employees, especially those of us from ISI’s early days, have been so blessed. He was a creative force and was in many ways the nurturer of our careers. Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, he supported you if you had good ideas and worked hard. It was not a bureaucratic company, but rather it had the look and feel of a family-run operation. He regarded his employees as his extended family and, to this day, we former early-day employees remain a family, although now without our fearless and tenacious leader.

With the passing of Eugene Garfield an era has ended. But his legacy lives on. Today, thousands of scientists around the globe use his products and services to advance their research, and hundreds of people owe their jobs to the result of his labor as Clarivate Analytics continues to build on his amazing foundation

Goodbye, dear friend, and thank you for all that you gave to us through your example and teaching. You may no longer be with us in person, but you live in the hearts of the entire ISI family and in the hearts of others whom you impacted along the way. Rest well until we all meet again.

Bonnie Lawlor


For more information on Dr. Eugene Garfield, see the following:

Eugene Garfield web site: http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/

Future of the History of Chemical Information (ACS Symposium Series) American Chemical Society, Leah Rae McEwen (Editor), Robert E. Buntrock (Editor) 2014, ISBN 9780841229457. DOI: 10.1021/bk-2014-1164

Baykoucheva, S., “Interview with Eugene Garfield,” Chemical Information Bulletin, Vol. 58, No. 2, pp. 7-9, 2006. http://www.acscinf.org/content/interview-eugene-garfield