Lloyd Ferguson, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, was born February 9, 1918 in Oakland, California. Growing up in Oakland, Ferguson was always passionate about school, particularly science. In the eighth grade, he brought a chemistry set which allowed him to do experiments and create substances such as gunpowder. Raised by his parents and grandparents, Ferguson was forced to get a job while in high school because his father lost his job during the Great Depression. At first Ferguson became a paper boy and then after high school he worked as a laborer for the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) to save money for college.
Ferguson attended the University of California, Berkeley earning a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1940 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1943. One of his main contributions at Berkeley was developing a compound that could lose and gain oxygen rapidly. This compound was a type of hemoglobin and was later used as a source of oxygen for submarines. He later went on to study the sense of taste through chemistry.
Ferguson joined the faculty of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1943. In 1945, he moved to Washington D.C. to join the faculty at Howard University, where he chaired the Chemistry Department during the early 1960s. While at Howard, Ferguson also created the first doctoral program in chemistry at an African American university. He left Howard University in 1965 to become the chair of the chemistry department at California State University at Los Angeles where he remained until retiring in 1986.
Ferguson is a member of the American Chemical Society and has done research for the National Institutes of Health. He lives in Southern California.