Walter McCrone

Born: 9 June 1916, Wilmington, Delaware, United States

Died: 10 July 2002, Chicago, Illinois, United States

Nationality: American

Walter Cox McCrone (1916-2002) was an American chemist who was considered a leading expert in microscopy. To the general public, however, he was best known for his work on the Shroud of Turin, the Vinland Map, and Forensic science.


McCrone was born in the Delaware city of Wilmington. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry (1938) and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry (1942) from Cornell University, after which he worked for two years as a post-doctoral researcher there. He worked as a microscopist and materials scientist at the Illinois Institute of Technology from 1944 to 1956.

In 1956, he became an independent consultant and started McCrone Associates, a Westmont, Illinois-based analytical consulting firm. In 1960, he established the McCrone Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to microscopy and crystallographic education and research.

He edited and published The Microscope, an international quarterly journal of microscopy, for almost thirty years. In addition, he authored over 600 technical papers and sixteen books or chapters. He is credited with extending the microscope’s utility to chemists, who had previously thought of it as primarily a tool for biologists. He received the American Chemical Society’s National Award in Analytical Chemistry in 2000.

McCrone was a board member and president of the Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Inc., a Chicago-based nonprofit social services organization. McCrone died in his Chicago home of congestive heart failure.

Dr. Walter C. McCrone (1916–2002), known as the “Father of Modern Microscopy,” is credited for revolutionizing the use and understanding of the light microscope in materials investigation. From 1960 through 2002, Dr. McCrone was a founding member and director of the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago. Dr. McCrone developed numerous accessories, techniques, and methodologies to push the state-of-the-art in microscopy, wrote hundreds of articles and books, gave thousands of presentations and lectures on microscopy, and developed hundreds of articles and books to push the state-of-the-art in microscopy.


Walter C. McCrone, Jr. was born on June 9, 1916, in Wilmington, Delaware. He grew up primarily in New York State and attended Cornell University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1938 and a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1942. Dr. McCrone and his wife Lucy established a Chair of Chemical Microscopy in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences in the 1990s. It is named for Émile Monnin Chamot, a Cornell professor of chemical microscopy, and is known as the Émile M. Chamot Professorship in Chemistry. To this day, the McCrone Research Institute maintains a close relationship with Cornell University.

McCrone accepted a position as a chemist (microscopist and materials scientist) at Armour Research Foundation (now, IITRI) from 1944 to 1956, where he climbed to become Assistant Chairman of the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Department after two post-doc years at Cornell University. McCrone left the structured world of the University in 1956 to become an independent consultant, founding McCrone Associates, Inc., Chicago, on April 1, 1956. (now located in Westmont, IL). McCrone Research Institute is a non-profit organization that does research.

McCrone Research Institute

McCrone Research Institute was founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1960. Dr. McCrone established McCrone Research Institute as a non-profit organization dedicated to light and electron microscopy education and research. As director of the Chicago Institute, he expanded the organization’s activities to include McCrone Research Associates, a London-based sister organization. McCrone Research Institute has educated over 30,000 students in all aspects of microscopy since its inception. In the field of microscopy, the Institute continues to be a major teaching institution.

The Microscope Journal

Dr. McCrone was also the editor and publisher of The Microscope, an international publication dedicated to the advancement of all forms of microscopy for biologists, mineralogists, metallographers, forensic scientists, and chemists, which was founded by Arthur Barron in 1937. The Microscope is the proceedings of the annual Inter/Micro microscopy symposium in Chicago, and it publishes original, previously unpublished works from the microscopical world. It stresses new developments in microscope design, new accessories, new procedures, and unique applications to the study of particles, fibers, films, or surfaces of any inorganic, organic, or biological substance.

Dr. McCrone’s Life Work

McCrone wrote almost 600 technical publications and 16 books and chapters over his 60-year career as a chemical microscopist. His best-known publication, The Particle Atlas, was first published in 1970 as a single volume and then expanded into a six-volume second edition in 1973. It was accessible on CD-ROM and is still considered one of the best handbooks for dealing with materials analysis issues today.

The Vinland Map

Dr. Walter C. McCrone pronounced the Vinland Map to be a forgery in 1973. The map was made with a yellow ink line to represent migration and the time-developed (over centuries) yellowing character of all related materials. The yellow inked lines were then followed with a black ink line that was expertly centered down the whole length of the yellow inked lines; this was a purposefully deceptive creation. Yellow ink is made out of a gelatin base and two yellow pigments: yellow ochre and a yellow titanium white pigment that was first available after 1920. “There is no chance the Vinland Map could be legitimate,” McCrone concludes.

The Shroud of Turin

In 1978, McCrone’s work on the Shroud of Turin Research Project garnered him international notice and acclaim. Carbon-14 dating in 1988 confirmed McCrone’s controversial claim that the Turin Shroud is a medieval painting. For his studies on the Turin Shroud and his nearly 20-year patience in defending his work, he received the American Chemical Society National Award in Analytical Chemistry in 2000. “The “Shroud” is a wonderful painting made around 1355 for a new church in need of a pilgrim-attracting relic,” McCrone concludes.

Humanitarian Work

At the same time, Dr. McCrone was a humanitarian legend. Since 1951, he has been a member of the Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Inc. Board of Directors, serving as President from 1964 to 1995. The Agency, a non-profit human services agency with 40 program locations, 560 employees, and a $40 million annual budget, serves more than 15,000 clients annually throughout Chicago. In 1997, they opened their new facility, the Walter C. McCrone Industries facility, in honor of Dr. McCrone’s many years of loyal service to the Agency.

In its sheltered workshop program, the institution beds 120 clients and annually serves over 1,000 program participants with admission, evaluation, and job placement. He also served on the boards of directors of Chicago’s VanderCook College of Music and Mt. Carroll, Illinois’ Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies.

Awards and Honors

McCrone got numerous honors and prizes throughout his exceptional career as a pioneer in microscopy and microscopical techniques.

  • The American Microchemical Society awarded him the Benedetti-Pichler award in microchemistry in 1970.
  • The New York Microscopical Society awarded him the Ernst Abbe Award in 1977
  • The Association of Analytical Chemists awarded him the Anachem Award in 1981
  • The Forensic Science Foundation awarded him the Certificate of Merit in 1982.
  • The American Academy of Forensic Sciences awarded him the Distinguished Service Award (Paul Kirk Award) in 1984.
  • In 1990, he received the National Asbestos Council’s Irving Selikoff Award
  • In 1990, the California Association of Criminalists’ Founder’s Day Award.
  • In 1991, the Roger Green Award
  • In 1991, the Fortissimo Award, VanderCook College of Music
  • In 1993, the Public Affairs Award of the Chicago Section, American Chemical Society
  • In 1999, the Émile Chamot Award from the State Microscopical Society of Illinois.
  • In June of 2002, he received the August Köhler Award from the State Microscopical Society of Illinois and is the only person to have received both of the Society’s awards.

For more than 50 years, Dr. Walter McCrone has been a pioneer in the fields of optical microscopy, crystallography, ultramicroanalysis, and particle identification. The contributions of Dr. Walter C. McCrone to the field of forensic microscopy and the analysis of micro and ultra micro-transfer (trace) evidence. Dr. McCrone was well-known for his tireless efforts to promote the use of the Polarized Light Microscope (PLM) in problem-solving throughout his life. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Dr. McCrone would apply his analytical and logical skills to environmental analysis problems using the PLM.

In the real world of forensic scientists, microscopy is essential. Physical evidence is essential to the criminal justice system in today’s society for the detection, investigation, and conviction of crimes. Microscopically examined paint flecks on a hit-and-run victim can be matched to paint on a suspect vehicle to exclude or link it to the crime. To connect a bullet to the gun it was shot from, a forensic weapons examiner checks the minute striations on it. Microscopes are utilized extensively in today’s forensic laboratories. They are necessary when looking for evidence. They make it easier for the examiner to locate and compare trace evidence. Microscopes represent the trace evidence examiner, just as the scales of justice represent forensic science. Forensic scientists utilize a variety of microscopes in their investigations due to the variety of physical evidence.

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