Dr. Harold M. Faigenbaum

October 29, 1996

By Dr. S. Wiberly


Dr. Harold M. Faigenbaum, Emeritus Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, died Tuesday September 24 at his residence at age 94.  He was educated in Troy Public Schools and graduate in the RPI Class of 1923 where he received his bachelor’s degree with honors in Chemical Engineering.  He was awarded a Russell Sage Fellowship for graduate work, receiving the PhD in chemistry in 1926.  That year he became an instructor in the chemistry department and soon after lecturer in charge of the entire general chemistry course.  “Mr. Freshman Chemistry”, as Harold Faigenbaum came to be known, was well remembered for his ability to give life to every lecture with is great stories and anecdotes.  This keen sense of humor tempered the strict disciplinarian and made him human to his students.  One of his memorable experiments was the demonstration of a hydrogen-oxygen explosion which always ended his lecture on the properties of hydrogen.  Almost immediately after a great boom, there would be a rush of freshmen out of lecture room 303 in the old Walker Laboratory.


He also taught the basic graduate course in inorganic chemistry and supervised the graduate research of a progression of graduate students.  In addition, he served as associate chairman of the Department of Chemistry for 19 years.  He retired as emeritus professor of inorganic chemistry in July 1967.


He was active in the American Chemical Society and served as section councilor and Chairman of the Eastern New York Section.  He was chief chemist of the New York State Biological Survey during summers and was a pioneer in the Development of Advanced Placement Programs for the College Entrance Examination Board.


Faigenbaum served as president of Congregation Berith Sholom, Third Street, and was active on the national level in the Reformed Jewish Movement and was one of a select group of Jewish leaders that had the opportunity to meet with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.


I knew Harold as a teacher, colleague and close friend.  His son, Mark, completed his PhD degree under my supervision.  Harold was a stimulating teacher and was very highly thought of by his students, alumni and fellow associates.  He was awarded Rensselaer’s Distinguished Service Award, the most prestigious award given by the college.


This highly esteemed Rensselaer teacher has been honored through the generosity of Betty and Howard Isermann ’42 who challenged the many alumni touched by Dr. Faigenbaum’s teaching to create the Harold M. Faigenbaum ’23 Chemical Science and Technology Suite in the newly renovated Walker Laboratory.  At the recent rededication of Walker Laboratory and this suite, the program lists the names of some 2,100 individuals who made gifts in memory of “Mr. Freshman Chemistry”, Dr. Faigenbaum.  Truly this was a fitting memorial to a wonderful professor,