Joseph Priestley


A woodcut portrait of Joseph Priestly
Popular Science Monthly Volume 5 / Public Domain

As a clergyman, Joseph Priestley was considered an unorthodox philosopher, he supported the French Revolution and his unpopular views caused his home and chapel in Leeds, England, being burned in 1791. Priestley moved to Pennsylvania in 1794.

Joseph Priestley was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, who like Franklin was experimenting with electricity before turning his full attention to chemistry in the 1770s.

Joseph Priestley - Co-Discovery of Oxygen

Priestley was the first chemist to prove that oxygen was essential to combustion and along with Swede Carl Scheele is credited with the discovery of oxygen by isolating oxygen in its gaseous state. Priestley named the gas "dephlogisticated air", later renamed oxygen by Antoine Lavoisier. Joseph Priestley also discovered hydrochloric acid, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide.

Soda Water

In 1767, the first drinkable man-made glass of carbonated water (soda water) was invented by Joseph Priestley.

Joseph Priestley published a paper called Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (1772), which explained how to make soda water. However, Priestley did not exploit the business potential of any soda water products.

The Eraser

April 15, 1770, Joseph Priestley recorded his discovery of Indian gum's ability to rub out or erase lead pencil marks.

He wrote, "I have seen a substance excellently adapted to the purpose of wiping from paper the mark of black lead pencil." These were the first erasers which Priestley called a "rubber".