Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute) and served the organization as president for 25 years. He received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.