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Safety Elevator Patent, Elisha Otis, 1861

Current Skyline of Chicago, Illinois

The invention of the safety elevator by Elisha Otis in 1861 (1), in conjunction with a number of other technological advances of that time, transformed the skylines of our nation’s cities. Prior to the invention of a practical elevator, architects were limited to building designs with a maximum of about six floors. Much less so today!


A similar Renaissance occurred in chemistry. Though organometallic compounds already had been around for many decades (e.g. Grignard reagents), a flurry of research in 1951-1952 led to the discovery and structure elucidation of ferrocene (2) and this Nobel Prize-garnering accomplishment is often pointed to as the birth of modern “organometallic chemistry.”


Just like the elevator transformed the skylines of today’s cities, the advent of organometallic chemistry has transformed the way synthetic chemists solve problems. Transition metal-mediated catalytic chemistry has given the synthetic chemist many new tools with which to design and carry out exciting new chemistry!

To the left is a calculated electrostatic potential map of the sandwich compound ferrocene, the molecule that kick-started the field of organometallic chemistry. An iron atom is the meat between two cyclopentadienyl (C5H5–) ligands in this sandwich. Using computational methods is a great way to answer difficult questions and can be a powerful teaching tool.

1. (a) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisha_Otis (b) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevator

2. For an interesting recount of the discovery of ferrocene, see: Laszlo, P.; Hoffmann, R. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2000, 39, 123-124.