Joseph Priestley:


Born On The: 13th March 1733.
Died On The: 6th February 1804.
Occupation(s): Theologian, dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator and political theorist.

Zodiac: Born under the Star Sign PiscesPiscesWhat Star Sign are You?

Achievement(s): The Discovery of Oxygen and author.


Joseph Priestley, FRS was an 18th-century theologian, dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator and political theorist who published over 150 works.

During his lifetime, Priestley's considerable scientific reputation rested on his invention of soda water, his writings on electricity and his discovery of several "airs" (gases), the most famous being what Priestley dubbed "dephlogisticated air" (oxygen); however, Priestley's determination to defend phlogiston theory and to reject what would become the chemical revolution eventually left him isolated within the scientific community.

In August 1774 he isolated an "air" that appeared to be completely new and in January 1775 continuing his experiments he discovered "vitriolic acid air" (sulfur dioxide, SO2); in March he wrote to several people regarding the new "air" that he had discovered in August; one of these letters was read aloud to the Royal Society and a paper outlining the discovery, titled "An Account of further Discoveries in Air", was published in the Society's journal Philosophical Transactions; Priestley called the new substance "dephlogisticated air" which he made in the famous experiment by focusing the sun's rays on a sample of mercuric oxide; he first tested it on mice, who surprised him by surviving quite a while entrapped with the air and then on himself, writing that it was "five or six times better than common air for the purpose of respiration, inflammation and I believe, every other use of common atmospherical air"; he had discovered oxygen gas (O2).

Priestley, who strongly believed in the free and open exchange of ideas, advocated toleration and equal rights for religious Dissenters, which led him to help found Unitarianism in England; a scholar and teacher throughout his life, Priestley also made significant contributions to pedagogy, including the publication of a seminal work on English grammar, books on history and he prepared some of the most influential early timelines; these educational writings were some of Priestley's most popular works; it was his metaphysical works, however, that had the most lasting influence: leading philosophers including Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer credit them among the primary sources for utilitarianism.

Priestley has been remembered by the towns in which he served as a reforming educator and minister and by the scientific organizations he influenced; two educational institutions have been named in his honour, Priestley College in Warrington and Joseph Priestley College in Leeds, now part of Leeds City College, and an asteroid, 5577 Priestley, discovered in 1986 by Duncan Waldron.

In Birstall, the Leeds City Square, and in Birmingham, he is memorialized through statues, and plaques commemorating him have been posted in Birmingham and Warrington; also, since 1952 Dickinson College has presented the Priestley Award to a scientist who makes "discoveries which contribute to the welfare of mankind"; the main undergraduate chemistry laboratories at the University of Leeds were refurbished as part of a £4m refurbishment plan in 2006 and renamed as the Priestley Laboratories in his honour as a prominent chemist from Leeds.

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