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Digital Projects, The Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry, Portrait Collection, Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804

The Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry, Portrait Collection, University of Cincinnati
Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804

Joseph Priestley was born in 1733 in the city of Leeds, England, the son of a cloth dresser. Educated at a nonconformist seminary, he earned his living as an adult as a minister and teacher at various dissenting academies. His work in chemistry was done in his spare time and largely during the period when he served as private librarian to Lord Shelburne. It dealt almost exclusively with the use of the pneumatic trough to discover a large number of new "airs" or gasses, including nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, dinitrogen oxide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, sulfur dioxide and, most famously of all, oxygen (1774). He also investigated the processes of brewing, photosynthesis, respiration, and invented soda water. Priestley was a prolific writer, not only on chemistry, but also on the subjects of theology, history, geography, natural philosophy, and electricity. Due to his liberal political and religious opinions, his home and laboratory were destroyed by a Birmingham mob in 1791, and he spent his final years in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he wrote several pamphlets defending the outdated phlogiston theory against Lavoisier's newer oxygen theory of combustion, and where he died in 1804.

  • Works about Priestley in the Oesper Collections
  • Works by Priestley in the Oesper Collections
portrait by Rembrandt Peale.  c1802.  Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.
Portrait 4
Priestley Portrait
Portrait 5
Priestley Portrait
Portrait 6

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