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The Science of James Smithson: Discoveries from the Smithsonian Founder

The Science of James Smithson: Discoveries from the Smithsonian Founder

by Steven Turner


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Accessible exploration of the noteworthy scientific career of James Smithson, who left his fortune to establish the Smithsonian Institution.

James Smithson is best known as the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, but few people know his full and fascinating story. He was a widely respected chemist and mineralogist and a member of the Royal Society, but in 1865, his letters, collection of 10,000 minerals, and more than 200 unpublished papers were lost to a fire in the Smithsonian Castle. His scientific legacy was further written off as insignificant in an 1879 essay published through the Smithsonian fifty years after his death—a claim that author Steven Turner demonstrates is far from the truth.

By providing scientific and intellectual context to his work, The Science of James Smithson is a comprehensive tribute to Smithson's contributions to his fields, including chemistry, mineralogy, and more. This detailed narrative illuminates Smithson and his quest for knowledge at a time when chemists still debated thing as basic as the nature of fire, and struggled to maintain their networks amid the ever-changing conditions of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588346902
Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
Publication date: 11/03/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,138,810
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

STEVEN TURNER is a historian of science and retired curator of physical sciences at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He has written broadly about the history of American science and scientific instruments. He also developed a deep interest in the Smithsonian's founder and has recreated most of his chemical experiments.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 The Long Road to Staffa 7

2 Edinburgh, London, and Paris 23

3 Tabasheer 33

4 Calamine 53

5 Minium 73

6 The Sulphuret from Huel Boys 81

7 On the Composition of Zeolite 91

8 Ulmin 101

9 A Saline Substance from Mount Vesuvius 111

10 The Colouring Matters of Some Vegetables 127

11 A Sulphuret of Lead and Arsenic, and "Plomb Gomme" 135

12 Fibrous Copper and Capillary Metallic Tin 143

13 Sulphate of Barium and Fluoride of Calcium 149

14 A New Test for Arsenic and "Smithson's Pile" 157

15 Smithson's Lamp and the "Sappare" 175

16 An 'Aristocratic Science Dabbler"? 183

17 Chloride of Potassium 191

18 Compounds of Fluorine 195

19 Egyptian Colors 203

20 Kirkdale Cave and Penn's Theory 211

21 The "Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge" 225

Epilogue: who was james smithson? 241

Notes 247

Index 289

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