Benjamin Silliman

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This article is about the American chemist and science educator who experimentally refined petroleum. For his son, an American chemist who helped commercialize petroleum refinement, see Benjamin Silliman, Jr..
Benjamin Silliman
Benjamin Silliman2.jpg
Silliman around 1850
Born August 8, 1779 (1779-08-08)
Trumbull, Connecticut, USA
Died November 24, 1864(1864-11-24) (aged 85)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Residence Flag of the United States.svg USA
Nationality Flag of the United States.svg USA
Fields chemist
Institutions Yale University
Alma mater Yale University
Known for Distillation of petroleum
Notable awards National Academy of Sciences
Silliman c. 1860
Silliman as he appears at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Yale professor and famed chemist Benjamin Silliman with his extended family.

Benjamin Silliman (8 August 1779 – 24 November 1864) was an early American chemist and science educator. He was one of first American professors of science, at Yale College, the first person to distill petroleum, and a founder of the American Journal of Science, the oldest scientific journal in the United States.

Early life[edit]

Silliman was born in a tavern in North Stratford, now Trumbull, Connecticut, a few months after his mother, Mary (Fish) Silliman (widow of John Noyes), fled for her life from their Fairfield, Connecticut, home to escape two thousand invading British troops that burned Fairfield center to the ground. The British forces had taken his father, General Gold Selleck Silliman, prisoner in May 1779.

Education[edit]

Silliman was educated at Yale, receiving a B.A. degree in 1796 and a M.A. in 1799. He studied law with Simeon Baldwin from 1798 to 1799 and became a tutor at Yale from 1799 to 1802. He was admitted to the bar in 1802. President Timothy Dwight IV of Yale proposed that he equip himself to teach in chemistry and natural history and accept a new professorship at the university. Silliman studied chemistry with Professor James Woodhouse at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and delivered his first lectures in chemistry at Yale in 1804. These lectures were the first science lectures ever given at Yale.[1] In 1805, he traveled to Edinburgh for further study.

Career[edit]

Title page, inaugural edition of the American Journal of Science, founded by Benjamin Silliman, 1818

Returning to New Haven, he studied its geology, and made a chemical analysis of the meteorite that fell near Weston, Connecticut, publishing the first scientific account of any American meteorite. He lectured publicly at New Haven in 1808 and came to discover many of the constituent elements of many minerals. Some time around 1818, Ephraim Lane took some samples of rocks he found at an area called Saganawamps, now a part of the Old Mine Park Archeological Site in Trumbull, Connecticut, to Silliman for identification. Silliman reported in his new American Journal of Science, a publication covering all the natural sciences but with an emphasis on geology, that he had identified tungsten, tellurium, topaz and fluorite in the rocks.[2] In 1837, the first (and at the time only) prismatic barite ore of tungsten in the United States was discovered at the mine. The mineral sillimanite was named after Silliman in 1850. Upon the founding of the Medical School, he also taught there as one of the founding faculty members. As professor emeritus, he delivered lectures at Yale on geology until 1855; in 1854, he became the first person to fractionate petroleum by distillation.[3]

Like his son-in-law James Dana, Silliman was a Christian.[4] In an address delivered before the Association of American Geologists he spoke in favor of old-earth creationism, stating:

It is already admitted by multitudes, that the chronology of the Scriptures is, in strictness, applied only to the history of our race, the sole moral beings whom God has placed in this World; while all that precedes man in the creation, is limited, in duration backwards, only by that beginning, whose is known to no being but the infinite Creator, and which certainly precedes, by many ages, the creation of man.

—Silliman, (1842)[5]

In the same line of thought, he posed arguments against atheism and materialism.[6]

1807 meteor[edit]

Main article: Weston meteorite

At 6:30 in the morning of December 14, 1807, a blazing fireball about two-thirds the size of the moon, was seen traveling southwards by early risers in Vermont and Massachusetts. Three loud explosions were heard over the town of Weston in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Stone fragments fell in at least 6 places. The largest and only unbroken stone of the Weston fall, which weighed 36.5 pounds (16.5 kilograms), was found some days after Silliman and Kingsley had spent several fruitless hours hunting for it. The owner, a Trumbull farmer named Elijah Seeley, was urged to present it to Yale by local people who had met the professors during their investigation, but he insisted on putting it up for sale. It was purchased by Colonel George Gibbs for his large and famous collection of minerals; when the collection became the property of Yale in 1825, Silliman finally acquired this stone; the only specimen of the Weston meteorite that remains in the Yale Peabody Museum collection today.[7][8]

Family[edit]

His first marriage was on September 17, 1809, to Harriet Trumbull, daughter of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., who was the son of Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. of Connecticut, a hero of the American Revolution. Silliman and his wife had four children: one daughter married Professor Oliver P. Hubbard, another married Professor James Dwight Dana; and youngest daughter Julia married Edward Whiting Gilman, brother of Yale graduate and educator Daniel Coit Gilman. His son Benjamin Silliman Jr., also a professor of chemistry at Yale, wrote a report that convinced investors to back George Bissell's seminal search for oil. His second marriage was in 1851 to Mrs. Sarah Isabella (McClellan) Webb, daughter of John McClellan. Silliman died at New Haven and is buried in Grove Street Cemetery.

Legacy[edit]

Silliman deemed slavery an "enormous evil". He favored colonization of free African Americans in Liberia, serving as a board member of the Connecticut Colonization Society between 1828 and 1835. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He founded and edited the American Journal of Science, and was appointed one of the corporate members of the National Academy of Sciences by the United States Congress.

Ebenezer Hawley house c. 1765 birthplace Benjamin Silliman
A statue of Silliman in front of Yale's Sterling Chemistry Laboratory

Silliman College, one of Yale's residential colleges, is named for him, as is the mineral Sillimanite.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Silliman History". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  2. ^ History and Minerals of Old Mine Park (Saganawamps), Earle Sullivan, Trumbull Historical Society, 1985, p. 8
  3. ^ "Benjamin Silliman Jr.". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  4. ^ Buckingham Mouheb, Roberta (2012). Yale Under God, p. 110. Xulon Press, ISBN 9781619968844
  5. ^ Silliman, Benjamin. Address Delivered Before the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists: At Their Meeting Held in Boston, April 25-30, 1842. B.L. Hamlen., p. XXXII
  6. ^ Silliman, Benjamin (1839). Suggestions Relative to the Philosophy of Geology, as Deduced from the Facts and to the Consistency of Both the Facts and Theory of this Science with Sacred History. pp. 79-80
  7. ^ Yale Peabody Museum website retrieved 2011 March 10
  8. ^ Seeley, Tales of Trumbull's Past, Trumbull Historical Society, 1984
  9. ^ "Author Query for 'Silliman'". International Plant Names Index. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]