Link to Legacies Home Page Link to National Museum of American History About Legacies Tour the Exhibit Most Intriguing Objects Most Popular Objects Take the Collector Quiz A Treasure House A Shrine to the Famous A Palace of Progress A Mirror of America From Artifacts to America Exhibit Search Buy the Book Smithsonian Press--Legacies--2Shrine to the Famous--Chemical flask used by Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, about 1800

Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian, by Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick
You are here: Shrine to the Famous > Scientists and Inventors

Chemical flask used by Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, about 1800Chemical flask used by Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, about 1800

This flask arrived at the Smithsonian in 1883, part of a shipment of material salvaged from Priestley's abandoned laboratory in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he lived from 1794 to 1804. Secretary Spencer Baird had collected the material on behalf of American chemists, who believed Priestley's "philosophical apparatus . . . should be held as one of the sacred relics in the history of American science." But the value of these relics had diminished by 1900, when W. W. Holmes, head curator, surveying the crates of mostly broken and unidentifiable material, pronounced them "in the main, worthless." After World War II, as advancements in chemistry increasingly improved life for Americans, Priestley was resurrected as a scientific hero. His relics appeared in several exhibitions during the 1970s and 1980s, including one at the Center for the History of Chemistry in Philadelphia that commemorated Priestley as an "Enlightened Chemist."

See also: Glassware

Return to the Legacies Home Page

Privacy  |  Terms of Use