Centennial of Chemistry

By the kindness of our colleague, the editor of the American Chemist, we received the following communication:


 Dear Sirs: The year 1774 was rendered memorable by great chemical activity. It is not possible to assign to chemistry any definite birth-year, but so many remarkable discoveries were made in 1774 that we may, with good reason, date the foundation of modern chemical science from that period.

 It would be quite foreign to the object we have in view to give here any detailed account of the state of the science at the period referred to. We may mention, however, a few of the most important discoveries which made the year 1774 noted in the annals of chemistry.

 The eminent Swedish chemist, Scheele, first isolated chlorine, calling it, in accordance with the accepted theories of the day, ‘dephlogisticated muriatic acid.’ He also recognized baryta as a peculiar earth, and it henceforce took a place among the elementary substances. Scheele also published in this same year his masterly essay on manganese.

 Lavoisier was engaged in an investigation of the cause of the increase in weight of tin when calcined in close vessels—a research which led him to subsequent discoveries of immense importance.

Wieglieb proved alkalies to be true natural constituents of plants. Cadet described an improved method of preparing sulphuric ether. Bergman showed the presence of carbonic acid in lead white. On the 27th of September in this year Cymus reduced the ‘calces’ of the six metals by means of the electric spark, before an astonished and delighted audience of savants. On the first of August 1774, Priestley discovered oxygen, the immediate results of which were the overthrow of the time-honored phlogistic theory and the foundation of chemistry on its present basis.

 It sorely requires no lengthy argument to prove that the year 1774 may well be considered as the starting-point of modern chemistry.

Now, Messrs. Editors, I propose that some public recognition of this fact should be made this coming summer. Would it not be an agreeable event if American chemists should meet on the first day of August, 1874, at some pleasant watering-place, to discuss chemical questions, especially the wonderfully rapid progress of chemical science in the past hundred years?

Centennial celebrations are now in order. The Bostonians have renewed the memories of the Boston Tea-Party. Already the country resounds with preparations for a national centennial in 1776. Why should not chemists meet to enjoy a social reunion in commemoration of events important alike to science and civilization? Should this proposed meeting receive your approbation, have the kindness to offer suggestions as to the proper method of bringing it before the scientific portion of the community. Details as to the place, etc., will naturally be deferred for the present.

 Yours very truly,
School of Mines, Columbia College.

On this proposition the editors of the American Chemist make the following remarks:
This suggestion meets our hearty approval, and we hope that chemists who take an interest in the suggestion will send us their views at once, that the project can be put into a practical form in time for the season of summer vacations.
The Editor of the MANUFACTURER AND BUILDER adds:
In consideration of the interest shown in the progress of science in the town of Salem, Mass., as evident in the cordial reception by its citizens of the members of The American Association for the Advancement of  Science, in the year 1869, also in consideration of the unusual attractions to the scientist of establishments like the Peabody Institute, the museum, etc., and the immediate neighborhood of Boston with its seats of learning, we propose the town of Salem, Mass., as the place of meeting on August 1, 1874, for those who realize the importance of the chemical discoveries of the year 1774, and the leading influence which chemistry exerts at the present day of the welfare of mankind.
From: The Manufacturer and Builder, Jun 1874, Vol 6, No. 6, p. 134

Centennial of Chemistry

 The proposition of Mr. Bolton to celebrate the centennial of the birth of modern chemistry has met with a hearty response from the men of science, as witness the following circular, from which it will be seen that a locality and time has been selected, namely, Northumberland, Pa., on July 31. We indorse the choice as very judicous, and have no doubt that the celebration, which will take place while this number is being issued, will answer the highest expectations, and leave on both the inhabitants of the town and the scientists to be gathered there the most favorable and lasting impressions:

To the Chemists of America:

The year 1774 was rendered memorable by the discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestley, by researches on chlorine by Scheele, and by important investigations undertaken by Lavoisier, which eventually led to the overthrow of the phlogistic hypothesis; the most important link in the chain having been contributed on the 1st of August, 1774, by Dr. Priestley.

The one hundredth anniversary of Priestley’s brilliant discovery, now drawing rapidly near, is worthy of a commemorative ceremonial, and the fact that this illustrious man spent the last years of his fruitful life in this country, renders the recognition of his work by American chemists peculiarly appropriate.

A reunion of American chemists for mutual exchange of ideas and observations would, it is believed, foster a feeling of fraternity among us, and is considered by the undersigned eminently desirable. The approaching centennial affords a fitting occasion for such a gathering. We therefore invite the chemists of America to meet at Northumberland, Pa., where Priestley lies entombed, on the 31st of July, 1874, to celebrate by appropriate exercises this memorable epoch in the history of chemistry.

Signed, George F. Barker, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.; Frederick A. P. Barnard, Columbia College, New York; Charles F. Chandler, School of Mines, Columbia College, New York; John W. Draper, University of the City of New York; Joseph Henry, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.; Henry Morton, Stevens Institute, Hoboken, N. J.; Benjamin Silliman, Yale College, New Haven, Conn.; and thirty others.

The General Committee have issued the following circular:

Northumberland is situated at the junction of the north and west branches of the Susquehanna River, about sixty miles north of Harrisburg. The scenery in this region, always picturesque, is at this point exceedingly beautiful, and those visiting Northumberland will be fully repaid by the beauties of nature alone. A short distance from the town, in a hillside cemetery, charmingly located, lie the remains of Joseph Priestley. The house he built, and in which he died, is in perfect preservation; many relics of him are found in the town; here too dwell his descendants, who honor and revere his name. These and other considerations influenced a majority of the
committee to call the meeting at Northumberland; here then let those gather who are willing to pay a tribute to the memory of the great and good man who laid the corner-stone of chemical science.

The memorial exercises have not been definitely arranged, but it is expected that they will include, 1. An address by Prof. Joseph Henry. 2. A sketch of the life and labors of Joseph Priestley, by Prof. Henry H. Croft. 3. A review of the century’s progress in theoretical chemistry, by Prof. T. Sterry Hunt. 4. A review of the century’s progress in industrial chemistry, by Prof. J. Lawrence Smith. 5. An essay on American contributions to chemistry, by Prof. Benjamin Silliman. Detailed programmes of the exercises will be in readiness for distribution at the meeting.

In order to add to the interest of the occasion, a Loan Exhibition will take place during the meeting for displaying apparatus, books, manuscripts, etc., belonging to Dr. Priestley, or other objects illustrating the history of chemistry. Gentlemen receiving this circular are earnestly requested to contribute anything in their possession appropriate to this Loan Exhibition.

In order to assist the Local Committee in arranging accommodations, those planning to attend the meeting are requested to send their names to Dr. Robert B. McCay, Secretary of the Local Committee, Northumberland, Pa.

From: Manufacturer and Builder, Aug 1874, Vol 6, No. 9, pp. 177-178