Pioneers of Science in America

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Pioneers of Science in America by William Jay Youmans
Preface & Contents
Sketches of their Lives and Scientific Work
William Jay Youmans, M. D.
Copyright, 1896



The development of science during the last hundred years, with its multiplied and ever-increasing contributions to the welfare of man, is justly looked upon as the beginning of one of the most marvellous periods of progress in the history of the race.   Though we are still in the early stages of this advance, its effects are already abundantly apparent.  It has revolutionized the industries of the civilized world, has given us new and more intimate commercial relations, has swept away traditional educational standards, and by its stimulating influence is redirecting and extending the movement of human thought.

In this country the men who took a prominent part in the initiation of these wonderful changes were comparatively few, while the disadvantages they had to contend with were many and serious.   Scattered over a large extent of undeveloped territory, unable to secure the benefits of co-operation, poor in pocket, and generally lacking the sympathy when they did not meet the active opposition of their fellow-men, the work they did as teachers and original investigators forms one of the most creditable chapters of our early history, and unquestionably paved the way for those later scientific achievements of which as a nation we may well be proud.  Surely the careers of these men are quite as worthy the contemplation of both young and old as are the doings of heroes of carnage and political strife.

The purpose of the present volume is to point out, though without any pretensions to completeness, the character and scope of the work of these interesting scientific worthies, and to give the reader, briefly in each instance, such accounts of the men as will enable him to appreciate something of their personal characteristics, and to know and admire their enthusiastic love of Nature, which carried them over every obstacle in the pursuit of their chosen study.

Nearly all of the biographies appeared originally in the Popular Science Monthly, in which magazine such accounts have long been considered by many of its readers one of its most interesting features.   The accompanying portraits, as will be seen, are in every instance well authenticated.  In collecting the materials for the Monthly no effort was spared to reach the most trustworthy sources of information.  Surviving relatives when accessible, the records of educational institutions, public documents, and published biographies in the few cases where these existed, were freely consulted, especial care being taken to verify names, dates, and other important facts.  The accuracy thus secured in the first instance has been made more perfect by a thorough revision of the matter for this volume.

The number of biographies included in the book is limited to fifty.   Of course it is not claimed that these comprise all the names in American science that are entitled to a like distinction; but beginning with the time of Franklin, prior to which we have found no record of the systematic pursuit of science by anyone in this country, the plan has been to present the various personages in the order of their birth, making the list as complete as possible as far as it went.  This brings it down to about the year 1810, the working period of many of those included thus falling within the present century.  Should the book be found of sufficient interest to warrant the venture, a second volume on a similar plan may follow.

I am indebted to Mr. W. H. Larrabee for the preparation of the sketch which opens the volume.   This involved a long and painstaking search through a very considerable literature, and so far as I know it is the first systematic account of what Franklin did in science that has appeared.  My acknowledgments are also due to Mr. F. A. Fernald for valuable aid in the work of revision and in seeing the book through the press.

W. J. Y.  
New York, January 12, 1896.


Benjamin Franklin
Portrait after the picture in pastel by Joseph S. Duplessis, 1783.
John and William Bartram
Portrait of William Bartram after an engraving in The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports, Philadelphia, 1832.
John Winthrop
Portrait after a painting by Copley belonging to his family.
David Rittenhouse
Portrait after a painting by C. W. Peale.
Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg
Portrait after a painting belonging to his family.
Samuel Latham Mitchell
Portrait after an engraving loaned by Dr. Henry Carrington Bolton, a kinsman.
Benjamin Smith Barton
Portrait after an engraving in the Biography of him by W. P. C. Barton.
Alexander Wilson
Portrait after a steel engraving by W. J. Alais in Wilson's Poems and Literary Prose.
David Hosack
Portrait after a painting belonging to Columbia College.
Amos Eaton
Portrait after a a steel engraving by A. H. Ritchie.