Donald James Cram, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987

Is your surname Cram?

Research the Cram family

Donald James Cram, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Donald James Cram, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987

Birthdate: (82)
Birthplace: Chester, Windsor County, Vermont, United States
Death: June 17, 2001 (82)
Palm Desert, Riverside County, California, United States (Cancer)
Immediate Family:

Son of William Moffatt Cram and Joanna Cram
Husband of <private> Cram
Ex-husband of Jean Cram
Brother of Elizabeth Mary Cram; Kathleen J McLean; Margareth Ellen Fitzgibbon; Constance Edith Cram and Joanna Miriam Cram

Occupation: Chemist, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About Donald James Cram, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987

Donald James Cram (April 22, 1919 – June 17, 2001) was an American chemist who shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Jean-Marie Lehn and Charles J. Pedersen "for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity." They were the founders of the field of host-guest chemistry.

Early life

Cram was born and raised in Chester, Vermont, to a Scottish immigrant father, and a German immigrant mother. His father died before Cram turned four, leaving him the only male in a family of five. He grew up on Aid to Dependent Children, and learned to work at an early age, doing jobs such as picking fruit, tossing newspapers, and painting houses, while bartering for piano lessons. By the time he turned eighteen, he had worked at least eighteen different jobs.

Cram attended the Winwood High School in Long Island, N.Y.[4] From 1938 to 1941, he attended Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida on a national honorary scholarship, where he worked as an assistant in the chemistry department, and was active in theater, chapel choir, Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Society, and Zeta Alpha Epsilon. It was at Rollins that he became known for building his own chemistry equipment. In 1941, he graduated from Rollins College with a B.S. in Chemistry.

In 1942, he graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a M.S. in Organic Chemistry, with Norman O. Cromwell serving as his thesis adviser. He subject was "Amino ketones, mechanism studies of the reactions of heterocyclic secondary amines with -bromo-, -unsaturated ketones."

In 1947, Cram graduated from Harvard University with a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, with Louis Fieser, serving as the adviser on his dissertation on "Syntheses and reactions of 2-(ketoalkyl)-3-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinones"


From 1942-1945, Cram worked in chemical research at Merck & Co laboratories, doing penicillin research with mentor Max Tishler. Postdoctoral work was as an American Chemical Society postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with John D. Roberts. Cram was the originator of Cram's rule, which provides a model for predicting the outcome of nucleophilic attack of carbonyl compounds. He published over 350 research papers and eight books on organic chemistry, and taught graduate and post-doctoral students from 21 different countries.


Cram expanded upon Charles Pedersen's ground-breaking synthesis of crown ethers, two-dimensional organic compounds that are able to recognize and selectively combine with the ions of certain metal elements. He synthesized molecules that took this chemistry into three dimensions, creating an array of differently shaped molecules that could interact selectively with other chemicals because of their complementary three-dimensional structures. Cram's work represented a large step toward the synthesis of functional laboratory-made mimics of enzymes and other natural molecules whose special chemical behavior is due to their characteristic structure. He also did work in stereochemistry and Cram's rule of asymmetric induction is named after him.


Cram was named an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1947, and a professor in 1955. He served there until 1987. He was a popular teacher, having instructed some 8,000 undergraduates in his career and guided the academic output of 200 graduate students. He entertained his classes by strumming his guitar and singing folk songs. He showed a self-deprecating style, saying at one time:

   "An investigator starts research in a new field with faith, a foggy idea, and a few wild experiments. Eventually the interplay of negative and positive results guides the work. By the time the research is completed, he or she knows how it should have been started and conducted." 


  • 1. Cram, Donald J.; Jane M. Cram (1994). Container Molecules and their Guests. Great Britain: Royal Society of Chemistry. pp. 223 pp.. ISBN 0854045074.
  • 2. Cram, Donald J. (1990). From Design to Discovery. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. pp. 146pp.
  • 3. Cram, Jane M.; Donald J. Cram (1978). The Essence of Organic Chemistry. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley. pp. 456pp.
  • 4. Hendrickson, James B.; Donald J. Cram, George S. Hammond (1970). Organic Chemistry. Reading, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill. pp. 1279pp. 3rd ed..
  • 5. Richards, John; Don Cram, George S. Hammond (1967). Elements of organic chemistry. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 444pp.
  • 6. Cram, Donald J. (1965). Fundamentals of Carbanion Chemistry. New York: Academic Press. pp. 289pp.
  • 7. Cram, Donald J.; George S. Hammond (1964). Organic Chemistry. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 846pp. 2nd ed..
  • 8. Cram, Donald J.; George S. Hammond (1959). Organic Chemistry. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 712pp. 1st ed..

Awards and honors

  • National Academy of Science Award in the Chemical Sciences
  • Saul Winstein Endowed Chair in Organic Chemistry
  • National Medal of Science, 1993[9]
  • International Academy of Science, member
  • ACS Southern California Tolman Award, 1984
  • ACS Chicago Section Willard Gibbs Medal, 1985
  • ACS Cope Award for Distinguished Achievement in Organic Chemistry, 1974
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member, 1967
  • American Chemical Society Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, 1965
  • National Academy of Sciences, member, 1961
  • 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Personal life

Cram once admitted that his career wasn't without sacrifice. His first wife was Rollins classmate, Jean Turner, who also graduated in 1941, and went on to receive a master's degree in social work from Columbia University. His second wife, Jane, is a former chemistry professor at Mt. Holyoke College. Cram chose not to have any children, "because I would either be a bad father or a bad scientist."

In 2001, Cram died of cancer at the age of 82.

Donald J. Cram: Vermont native who won Nobel Prize dies: - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

LOS ANGELES - Donald J. Cram, who shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on making molecules that mimic important biological processes, has died. He was 82.

Cram died Sunday of melanoma at his Palm Desert home, Harlan Lebo, a spokesman for the University of California, Los Angeles, said Tuesday.

An avid surfer, Cram spent more than 50 years teaching and conducting research at UCLA, where he often entertained undergraduate students with his singing and guitar playing.

He was best known for his role in the development of what is now known as host-guest chemistry. The work involves creating synthetic host molecules that mimic some of the actions that enzymes perform in cells. Over the last 30 years, Cram and his colleagues designed and prepared more than 1,000 hosts, each with its own chemical and physical properties that would attract and bind specific guest molecules.

That work earned Cram the 1987 Nobel in chemistry, which he shared with Charles J. Pedersen and Jean-Marie Lehn. He work also won him the National Medal of Science in 1993.

M. Frederick Hawthorne, a professor of chemistry at UCLA and a former student of Cram's, called his colleague a giant in his field.

"Don's brilliant creativity, integrity and enthusiasm for life and science have forever changed teaching in organic chemistry and altered the shape and substance of the chemical research frontier," Hawthorne said in a statement.

Cram was born in Chester, Vt., in 1919 and earned degrees at Rollins College, the University of Nebraska and Harvard University, where he received his doctorate.

It was while working a summer job at the National Biscuit Co. in New York analyzing the moisture and fat content of various cheeses, that Cram said chemistry took control of his life.

"Chemical research became my god, and the conducting of it, my act of prayer," Cram wrote in a brief autobiography published in 1987 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He joined the UCLA faculty in 1947, after working on the penicillin program at Merck & Co. during World War II. During his career, he taught more than 12,000 students, published some 400 research papers and seven books on organic chemistry.

Cram is survived by his wife, Caroline, and sisters Margaret Fitzgibbon and Kathleen McLean.

Funeral arrangements were pending Tuesday. The UCLA department of chemistry plans to hold a memorial service for Cram this fall.

view all

Donald James Cram, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987's Timeline

April 22, 1919
Windsor County, Vermont, United States
June 17, 2001
Age 82
Palm Desert, Riverside County, California, United States