Traveling with the Atom

Allegheny College

(compiled by Dr.Glen E. Rodgers)

Revised April 2009


Priestley calling for the head of King George III on a platter.  His house and laboratory in Birmingham were destroyed by a "Church and King" mob in 1791.
Joseph Priestley
English chemist
(1733 - 1804)
"Doctor Phlogiston" explaining away the Bible and expounding other incendiary views

Contribution to the Development of the Atomic Concept
A "Dissenter" or nonconformist in 18th century England, he discovered oxygen ("dephlogisticated air") as well as ammonia, hydrogen chloride, sulfur dioxide, (all water-soluble gases).  His discovery of oxygen involved heating red mercuric oxide by directing the rays of the sun at the powder using a giant lens.  He also found a way to add carbon dioxide ("fixed air") to water and is considered the father of the modern soft-drink industry.  An ardent phlogistonist all his life, he called oxygen dephlogisticated air.  After his house and laboratory in Leeds were burned to the ground in 1791, he moved to London and then emigrated to the United States in 1794 and lived in Northumberland, PA until his death in 1804. 

Web Sources of Biographical Information
BBC Biography
American Chemical Society Biography
Spartacus SchoolNet Biography
Woodrow Wilson Biography Page

Selected Biographical Books, Sections of Books, and Articles
Full biographical information on Sacks' book Uncle Tungsten 109-111
Full biographical information on Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 2nd Ed. 204-206
The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley : A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773
by Robert E. Schofield
The Cautionary Scientists, Kenneth S. Davis, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York (out of print)

Some Scientific/Historical Traveling Sites
Bowood House* (where Priestley discovered dephlogisticated air) Calne, England (near Chippenham, Wiltshire and also Stonehenge).  Near the MY but off the A4, midway between Calne and Chippenham (1,2)
Priestley's house in Calne and the nearby Doctor's Pond Calne, England. The house is at 19 The Green
Birmingham City Museum: Lunar Society (A panel describes the 1791 riots and mob swarming over Priestley's house on Fair Hill) Birmingham (West Midlands) City Museum (1)
Site of the Mill Hill Chapel (now presently occupied by a Unitarian Chapel -- it has a Priestley Hall inside); "Priestley House" office building built on the site of Priestley's house; brewery used to exist here where Priestley discoverd artificially carbonated water Leeds (West Yorkshire) City Square: there's a plaque and statue honoring Priestley (1)
Joseph Priestley House  in Northumberland, PA.  Federal-style house, once the home and laboratory of Priestley, sits on a lhill overlooking the Susquehanna River(4) 472 Priestley Avenue, Northumberland, PA 17857
Tues-Sat, 9AM - 5PM, Sun noon-5PM; closed Mondays 
Northumberland, PA Burial Site(4) Riverview Cemetery in Northumberland, PA, along with his wife, Mary and youngest son, Henry. The cemetery is about 1/2 mile from the historic site and within the town limits.
* see following Rodgers link to scientific/historical sites for further information.
(1) Taken from The Scientific Traveler, Charles Tanford and Jacqueline, John Wiley & Sons, NY (1992).
(2) Taken from A Travel Guide to Scientific Sites of the British Isles, Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, John Wiley & Sons, NY (1995).
(3) Taken from Guide of Eurpoean Museums with collections on History of Chemistry, compiled by Jan W. van Spronsen, Federation of European Societies, Antwerp (1996)
(4) Taken from  America's Scientific Treasures, A Travel Companion, Paul S. Cohen and Brenda H. Cohen, American Chemical Society, Washington (1998).

Link to Dr. Rodgers' Scientific/Historical Site on Joseph Priestley.
Return Buttons (Click to return)
 Scientific Historical Traveling Rodgers Home Page