He was born in Ridgeville, Indiana, and earned a BS in Chemistry at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He then studied at the University of Illinois, gaining an MS in science in 1927 followed by a Ph.D. in chemistry two years later. His later accomplishments include writing the book "Chemistry: A Beautiful Thing" and achieving his high stature as a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
As a member of National Research Council he moved temporarily for academic work with Heinrich Wieland in Munich before he returned to the States in 1931. On return he was approved as an assistant at Rockefeller Institute, the post he held until 1948. He later became Professor of Biochemistry at University of California, Berkeley, and in 1958 Chairman of the Biochemistry Department.
Stanley's work contributed to on lepracidal compounds, diphenyl stereochemistry and the chemistry of the sterols. His researches on the virus causing the mosaic disease in tobacco plants led to the isolation of a nucleoprotein which displayed tobacco mosaic virus activity.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1946. His other notable awards included the Rosenburger Medal, Alder Prize, Scott Award, and the AMA Scientific Achievement Award. He was also awarded honorary degrees by many universities both American and foreign, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Paris. Most of the conclusions Stanley had presented in his Nobel-winning research were soon shown to be incorrect (in particular, that the crystals of mosaic virus he had isolated were pure protein, and assembled by autocatalysis).
Stanley married Marian Staples in 1929 and had three daughters (Marjorie, Dorothy and Janet), and a son, Wendell M. Junior. Stanley Hall at UC Berkeley (now Stanley Biosciences and Bioengineering Facility) and Stanley Hall at Earlham College are named in his honor.
1. ^  Kay, L.E. (1986). W. M. Stanley's Crystallization of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, 1930-1940. Isis 77: 450-472.