LeConte was born in Liberty County, Georgia, to Louis Le Conte, patriarch of the noted LeConte family. He attended Franklin College at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society and graduated in 1838. His younger brother Joseph LeConte also attended the University.
Like many of his immediate relatives, John LeConte next studied medicine at the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons and earned his M.D. in 1842. During this time, LeConte married Catherine Graham. He practiced medicine until 1846 when he returned to UGA as a professor of physics and chemistry and taught there until his resignation in 1855. His next academic position was at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, as professor of physics and chemistry from 1856 until 1869.
In March 1869, he moved to Oakland, California, to join the faculty of the newly established University of California as a professor of physics.  In June 1869, he was appointed acting president of the University, serving until Henry Durant became the president in 1870. In September 1869, his brother Joseph LeConte arrived in California to join the faculty of the University as a professor of geology.
Upon the resignation of President Gilman in March 1875, LeConte was appointed acting president a second time until June, 1876, when he was elected president. On June 7, 1881, LeConte tendered his resignation as president of the University, asking to be returned to his faculty position.
LeConte died at his home in Berkeley, on April 29, 1891, while still active as a professor of physics.
Contributions to physics
- Demonstrated that flames are sensitive to sound (1858)
- Measured the speed of sound (1864)
- Studied underwater vibrations (1882)
- Walter Le Conte Stevens (November 1889). "Sketch of Prof. John Le Conte". The Popular Science Monthly 36: 112–120.
- "On the Influence of Musical Sounds on the Flame of a Jet of Coal Gas," [American Journal of Science], 2nd series 23 (1858): 62-67
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- History of the University of Georgia by Thomas Walter Reed, Thomas Walter Reed, Imprint: Athens, Georgia : University of Georgia, ca. 1949, pp.398-400
- San Francisco Street Names
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
Daniel Coit Gilman
|President of the University of California