Mathew Carey Lea

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Mathew Carey Lea (August 16, 1823 – March 15, 1897) was a Philadelphia-born American chemist and lawyer.

Early and family life[edit]

His father, Isaac Lea (1792–1886) was a distinguished naturalist member of the American Philosophical Society, and publisher. Isaac Lea was descended from a Philadelphia Quaker family, and had been born in Wilmington, Delaware. On March 8, 1821, Isaac married Frances Anne Carey (1799–1873), a botanist as well as daughter of Mathew Carey, the Philadelphia publisher whose business he ultimately took over with his brother-in-law and which turn their sons and grandsons worked in. Henry Carey and Isaac Lea's highly successful publishing house printed the works of Thomas Jefferson, Parson Weems, Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and the first quarto Bible of American manufacture (both the Douay version and the Authorized version).


Eminent Irish American mathematician Eugenius Nulty tutored both Carey (as the family called him to distinguish him from his grandfather) and his younger brother Henry Charles Lea at their Philadelphia home (a third brother Mathew died in his infancy, and their syster Frances cared for their mother).[1][2] The erudite Nulty gave the Lea brothers a classical education and singlehandedly taught the pair the entirety of the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and celestial navigation) as well as classical languages and history. Nulty immersed the boys in a single subject for long periods to encourage its complete mastery. During their years under Nulty's tutelage, Henry and Carey also worked in the Booth & Boy chemical laboratory.


In 1852, Matthew Carey Lea married Elizabeth Jaudon (1827-1881), sister of Henry Charles Lea's wife. Elizabeth had earlier married merchant William Bakewell, but Blakewell had died in Cincinnati in 1850, leaving her with a young daughter.[3] The couple had a son, George Henry Lea (1853 - 1915), who helped in the family publishing business. After Elizabeth's death, Carey Lea married Eva Lovering, daughter of Harvard Professor Joseph Lovering, but they had no children.


Carey Lea read the law under the tutelage of prominent attorney William M. Meredith, and in 1847 was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.[4][5] The highly successful family publishing firm published some legal books.[6] However, Carey Lea was always sickly, and traveled to Europe and other places for his health, as well as to pursue his scientific avocation.[7]

Carey Lea worked in the laboratory of Professor James C. Booth, and constructed a laboratory in his home in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill neighborhood. In 1841, the American Journal of Science and Arts published his first paper, On the First or Southern Coal Field of Pennsylvania (concerning coal samples from the Lehigh Valley) and that publisher would ultimately publish approximately 100 more.[8] In July 1864, he published two papers concerning aspects of platinum.

In his later years, Carey Lea devoted himself chiefly to the chemistry of photography, to which he made a number of important contributions.[9] He published approximately 300 articles in the British Journal of Photography, as well as a book on photography.[10] His publications include numerous papers on the chemical action of light. He is also known for his development of Carey Lea Silver, a photochemical, still in use today.[citation needed]

In 1895, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Death and legacy[edit]

Lea died on March 15, 1897 at his Chestnut Hill home from complications of a prostate cancer operation. He was interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.[11] He ordered his notebooks destroyed, and they were, which has complicated research into his work. Along with other charitable bequests, Lea bequeathed his books and scientific apparatus to the Franklin Institute, plus funds to allow the institution to continue to purchase books and periodicals.

At least one researcher believes that his long-term contributions to mechanical chemistry exceed the contributions to photography for which he received acclaim in his lifetime.[12]


  1. ^ The Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company (1874)
  2. ^ at p. 2
  3. ^ Edwin Jaquett Seller, The Jaubon family of Pennsylvania, (Allen, Lane & Scott, Philadelphia, 1924) p. 19 available at from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, also available at Hathi Trust
  4. ^ [1] Edward Peters “Henry Charles Lea and the Libraries within a Library” 2 from the Penn Library Collections at 250, page 35
  5. ^ The Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company (1874) “LEA, HENRY CHARLES”
  6. ^ M. H. Hoeflich, Legal Publishing in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 46 at n.74
  7. ^ at p. 158
  8. ^ at p. 159
  9. ^ "Henry Charles Lea Papers - Biographical Sketch". Penn Special Collections. University of Pennsylvania:Rare Book & Manuscripts. 2003-01-31. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  10. ^ Manual of Photography (second edition revised and enlarged, 1871)
  11. ^
  12. ^ at p. 3

External links[edit]