Henry Winston Harper, chemist and pharmacy professor, son of James William and Virginia (Crenshaw) Harper, was born in Boonville, Missouri, on September 20, 1859. He attended Mound City College there and worked for five years in a local pharmacy. He received a degree in pharmacy from Philadelphia College in 1881. From 1881 to 1884 he was a manufacturing chemist, druggist, and perfumer at Clarksville, Red River County, Texas, and Fort Worth, and from 1884 to 1886 was chemist and metallurgist for mining companies in Mexico. He received his M.D. degree from the University of Virginia in 1892, after which he did graduate work in London, Paris, and Wiesbaden.
Harper became adjunct professor of chemistry at the University of Texas in 1894. He became full professor in 1903 and served as dean of the graduate school from 1913 to 1936. His fifty-year career in chemistry and pharmacy covered handling of raw materials through manufacture into finished products. He probably manufactured the first perfumes ever made from Texas flowers. He bought Virginia snakeroot from the Choctaw Indians and shipped it to pharmaceutical manufacturers in northern and eastern states. He analyzed artesian water supplies; worked on the distillation of bituminous coal and the hydrolysis of sawdust bromides and iodides from Texas wells; and studied the chemistry of cedar pollen, the use of barium extracted from barite, and the candelilla plant. He expanded and perfected a patent covering dyes extracted from pecan shells and the utilization of pecan meats. His chemical investigations for the Texas legislature were used in solving crimes.
Harper was a member of the Chemical Society of London, the Texas Academy of Science, the American Chemical Society, Phi Beta Kappa, and the American Association of University Professors. He was a Methodist and a Democrat. In 1940 he was elected life member emeritus of the Association for the Advancement of Science. He married Susan Randolph West of Westland, Virginia, on July 9, 1895; they had two children. He died in Austin on August 28, 1943, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
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Austin American, August 29, 1943. Carl John Eckhardt, One Hundred Faithful to the University of Texas at Austin (197-?). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Harper, Henry Winston,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
February 24, 2020
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