James Robinson Bailey, chemist and professor, son of Frank H. and Mary Ella (Perkins) Bailey, was born in Houston, Texas, on December 11, 1868. He attended Dean Academy in Massachusetts and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before entering the University of Texas, where he took his B.A. degree in 1891. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Munich in 1897 and did postgraduate work in Leipzig and London. In 1897 he became instructor of chemistry at the University of Texas. He became professor in 1911 and was research lecturer in 1932–33. He was associate editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society from 1930 to 1941, a member of the American Chemical Society and the American Petroleum Institute, and a fellow in the Texas Academy of Science.
He wrote more than fifty scientific articles, secured many patents dealing with nitrogen compounds in petroleum and cottonseed meal, and discovered more than twenty drugs. On leave of absence from the university during World War I he worked with Alcan Hirsch in New York and "cracked" the German formulas for novocaine and synthetic adrenalin. Among his discoveries were adaline, salaphene, novasperin, and a number of analine dyes. His work in developing compounds for pharmaceuticals helped eliminate America's need for foreign medicines. In 1940 he announced the discovery of two new benzoquinolines (white crystals similar to sugar) in petroleum. His laboratory pioneered in research on petroleum bases and derived thirty-two nitrogen compounds from the by-products of petroleum. The laboratory received a grant from the American Petroleum Institute (1926) and a fellowship from the Union Oil Company of California (1931).
On December 18, 1907, Bailey married Mrs. Rosine Mailliot Meyer, who died in 1915. They had one daughter. On January 1, 1924, he married Mrs. Ann Throckmorton Shirley. He died in Austin on March 25, 1941.