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O. Ivan Lee

Stark Olan Ivan Lee was born in Madison, Ohio on April 17, 1888, the son of Allis Stark and Ferdinand Lee, a proofreader and carpenter. His family moved east to Brooklyn, New York several years later, and his early youth was spent largely in New York City, where he first became interested in minerals. As a boy he would take his bicycle on the train out of New York City, and pedal over the mountains of North Carolina in search of radioactive and rare-earth minerals.

He attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute from 1907-1910, and graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1911 with a B. S. degree in Chemistry, then did postgraduate work at Columbia University in 1926, and took special courses in microscopy at the Rochester plant of Bausch and Lomb in 1929. His mastery of spectroscopy facilitated numerous studies of the minor components of minerals and ores. Following his graduation from college he married a woman named Ruth and they had a daughter, Virginia, in 1919. In 1929 he remarried, to Mary Stewart, who remained with him for the rest of his life, though they had no children together.

Professionally Ivan Lee began as a chemist for an oil company in Jersey City, New Jersey in the teens through 1930, and later served as principal spectrographer for the Crocker Cancer Institute of Columbia University. At the time of his death he was Chief of the Spectrographic and Microchemical sections of the United States Testing Company in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Herman Yagoda, in his memorial to Lee, remarked that "his home was a veritable museum of fine mineral specimens, largely collected during field trips while on brief vacations from the laboratory, and formed an enchanting environment for the entertainment of his friends." His primary interest was in minerals of the rarer metals, his collection of which was said to be among the finest in the country. He also collected radioactive and rare-earth minerals; Franklin, New Jersey minerals; Långban, Sweden minerals; cabinet specimens from worldwide localities; fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals; precious and semi-precious gem minerals; and over 1,000 micromounts. He had an infectious enthusiasm for mineralogy, collected rare books on the physical sciences and on the history of gemology, was an ardent stamp collector, an excellent amateur photographer, and a student of egyptology.

Lee was an active member of the mineralogical societies in the New York Metropolitan area and gave many lectures on his field trips and on recent advances in mineralogy. He was a member of the Newark Mineral Society, was one of the founders of the New Jersey Mineralogical Society, and served as president of the New York Mineralogical Club from 1945 to 1947. He was one of the early members of the Mineralogical Society of America and was elected a Fellow in 1923. During his professional career he published some 34 papers in chemistry, engineering, mineralogy and spectrography. Of particular interest to mineralogists was his discovery of the reversible photosensitivity of hackmanite, and a review article on the mineralogy of hafnium which he prepared just three years after the discovery of that element.

O. Ivan Lee died at Christ Hospital, Jersey City, New Jersey, on November 26, 1952. His extensive mineral collection of well over 10,000 specimens was sold by his widow in 1953 to California mineral dealer George Burnham (q.v.); it carried only handwritten, unprinted labels, many of them glued to the specimens. Burnham had a rubber stamp made saying "O. Ivan Lee Collection," and when he typed up his own Burminco labels for the specimens he imprinted them along the right edge to identify the provenance. He also had a substantial collection of micromounts which was purchased by Neal Yedlin, who advertised the duplicates for sale in January 1955.

COSMINSKY, P.R. (1954) O. Ivan Lee. Rocks & Minerals, 29 (1-2), 46-47.
YAGODA, H. (1954) Memorial of Olan Ivan Lee. American Mineralogist, 38, p. 277-279.
JONES, T. (2007) Personal communication.
U.S. Federal Census, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - O. Ivan Lee O. Ivan Lee
The Mineralogical Record - O. Ivan Lee 34 x 84 mm,
A typed and dated label (October 9, 1929), signed by O. Ivan Lee.
The Mineralogical Record - O. Ivan Lee 42 x 77 mm
The Mineralogical Record - O. Ivan Lee 41 x 76 mm
The Mineralogical Record - O. Ivan Lee 42 x 77 mm
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