A longtime family friend to Leland Stanford, chemist and science historian John Maxson Stillman was the first faculty member hired into the Department of Chemistry at the inception of Stanford University in 1891. In addition to teaching and scholarship, Professor Stillman took an active part in department and university administration, including time as university Vice President and Acting President. During his tenure as Chemistry Department Executive Head, Professor Stillman played a key role in ensuring funding and construction of the original chemistry building (Old Chem), moving the department from its original home in the Inner Quadrangle. His most enduring academic work, the book The Story of Early Chemistry, was published posthumously in 1924.
Born the son of a physician in New York city in 1852, Professor Stillman spent most of his life in California. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley (1874), with further studies at the Universities of Strassburg and Wiirzburg. He returned to Cal to instruct organic and general chemistry until 1882, when he signed on as chemist with the Boston and American Sugar Refining Companies. In 1891, he was recruited to the Stanford faculty by founding university President David Starr Jordan. He served as Professor of Chemistry 1891–1917, and as Executive Head of the department, 1904–1914.