John D. Clark


John D. Clark : biography

August 15, 1907 – July 6, 1988

In 1952 Clark provided the scenario for and edited the Twayne Science Fiction Triplet The Petrified Planet, which has been described as "the first ‘shared world’ anthology." The scenario postulated a star system inhabited by silicon-based life forms, and was used as the basis for the three novellas by Pratt, H. Beam Piper and Judith Merril forming the body of the work. An excerpt from Clark’s introduction ("The Silicone World") was reissued in the December, 1952 issue of Startling Stories, and the whole was reprinted in the 1983 Ace edition of Piper’s contribution to the book, Uller Uprising. However, the Startling Stories excerpt has also been credited to Pratt, who supposedly utilized Clark’s name as a pseudonym.

Isaac Asimov, whom Clark first met in 1942, wrote the foreword to his book Ignition!

Life and career

Clark was born in Fairbanks, Alaska. (obituary) in the New York Times, July 9, 1988, page 33. He attended the University of Alaska, and then the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, California from 1927-1930, graduating with a B.S. in Physical Chemistry. During his last two years at Cal Tech he was the college roommate of L. Sprague de Camp. He received an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and, in 1934, a PhD from Stanford University.

In 1933 Clark published a novel spiral chart of the periodic system of the chemical elements. This design was used by Life Magazine for a striking and influential illustration as part of a special number on the elements, 16 May 1949. It inspired the artist Edgar Longman, whose mural was a prominent exhibit in the Festival of Britain science exhibition, London, 1951. Clark came up with a new version in 1950, but this did not have the same success.

Clark moved to Schenectady in Upstate New York in the early 1930s, taking a job with General Electric. A few years later he moved to New York City. He was living in Philadelphia and working as a research chemist for John Wyeth & Brother of that city in 1943. On June 7 of that year he married operatic soprano singer Mildred Baldwin."Mildred Baldwin Bride: Opera Singer Wed to Dr. John D. Clark in Ceremony Here," in the New York Times, June 8, 1943, page 24. Their marriage later ended in divorce.

From 1949 to his retirement in 1970, Clark developed liquid propellants at the Naval Air Rocket Test Station at Dover, New Jersey (after 1960, this became the Army’s Liquid Rocket Propulsion Laboratory of Picatinny Arsenal). His title there was chief chemist.

In 1962 he married artist Inga Pratt, widow of Fletcher Pratt.

He was the author of Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants (Rutgers University Press, 1972), based on his experiences in the field., which he dedicated to his wife Inga. It chronicles the development of liquid rocket technology in the United States through both technical explanations of the work scientists performed and also anecdotes about the people involved and the often humorous incidents which took place. Now out of print, copies of this rare book sell for over $400.

During the Clarks’ married life they lived in an "unconventional" house in Newfoundland, in the Green Pond section of Rockaway Township, Morris County, New Jersey, where Clark continued to reside in his later years, until his own death. He died on July 6, 1988 after a long illness and series of strokes at St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville, New Jersey, near his home.

Clark’s papers, consisting of four cubic feet of correspondence, drafts of scientific and science fiction publications, notes, an unpublished typescript memoir, diaries (1923–1984), clippings, and photos, are preserved in the Special Collections at Virginia Tech as part of that repository’s Archives of American Aerospace Exploration.