Randolph T. Major was born in Columbus, Ohio on December 23, 1901. He attended the University of Nebraska where he earned his A.B. in 1922 and M.S. in 1924. He received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Princeton University in 1927. He stayed on as an instructor and research associate at Princeton until 1930, when he joined Merck and Company, Inc., as Director of Pure Research.
For thirty-seven years Randolph Major played a significant role in the development of research programs at Merck. He held the positions of Director of Pure Research (1930-56), Vice President and Scientific Director (1947-53), Scientific Vice President (1953-56), and Scientific Advisor (1956-67, retired). He made important contributions to the establishment of commercial production of penicillin, hydrocortisone and various vitamins, and he was noted for both scientific vision and warm personable leadership. Randolph Major was a Research Professor at the University of Connecticut from 1970 until his death on November 1, 1976. He had previously served as Professor and Research Professor at the University of Virginia. At UConn he continued an active research program, directed undergraduate research projects, and shared ideas and interests with faculty and students alike.
Following his death in 1976, Merck and Company, Inc., presented the University of Connecticut Foundation a grant to endow an annual Lectureship in Chemistry in his memory. The renowned chemists who have participated in this Memorial Lecture Series honor the name and ideals of Randolph T. Major.