Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/September 1896/Sketch of Samuel Luther Dana

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SAMUEL LUTHER DANA, the second son of Lucy (Giddings) and Captain Luther Dana, was born July 11, 1795, in the town of Amherst, not far from Nashua, N. H. He was descended from Richard Dana, who came to this country and settled in Cambridge about 1640. His father was a native of Groton, Mass., and in the latter part of the Revolutionary War entered the navy of the United States as a midshipman, he being then seventeen years of age. Soon after his marriage in 1788 he took up his residence at Amherst and engaged in mercantile business. This not proving successful, he took to the sea again, becoming a shipmaster in the merchant service. He followed the sea until a few years before his death, in 1833, and made about seventy voyages to ports in Europe, Asia, and America. Captain Dana was fond of knowledge, and took pleasure in collecting objects of natural history, many valuable specimens being given by him to the Marine Museum at Salem, Mass. He had no faith in the superstitions with which seafaring men are haunted, and rather preferred to go out of port on Friday. On one of his most successful voyages he left Salem on a Friday, called at two European ports, reaching and leaving both on Fridays, and it was on a Friday that he finally reached home. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. James Freeman Dana, has described him as "tall and well formed, with a sensible, frank, cheerful countenance. He had clear blue eyes, dark-brown hair, which became silvery white at an early period of life, and a fair complexion, somewhat embrowned by exposure." She also speaks of him as ever ready to assist any who might require aid—one whom the weakest or lowliest might appeal to with the certainty of receiving a kind response. Lucy Giddings was married to him when she was sixteen years of age. She was very handsome and vivacious, and managed the affairs of her home and family during her husband's long absences at sea with rare judgment and tact.

As Captain Dana's residence was not confined by his calling to any particular place, he changed it twice for the benefit of his boys. In 1804 he removed to Exeter, N. H., in order to give them the educational advantages of Phillips Academy, and five years later, when the two oldest had been prepared to enter Harvard College, the family removed to Cambridge. Samuel passed through college in the same class with his older brother, graduating in 1813. From a pamphlet privately printed, containing memoirs of several members of the Dana family, it is learned that the two brothers were endowed with the same love for natural science, and entered upon the study of certain branches of it with great enthusiasm. They often made excursions together on foot through the country lying within thirty miles around Boston for the purpose of examining its geological structure and collecting mineralogical specimens. The result of these researches was a volume on the Mineralogy and Geology of Boston and its Vicinity, published by the brothers about the time they completed their medical studies.

The younger brother also employed himself upon these excursions in searching for entomological specimens, and formed quite a large collection of beautifully prepared insects. This was afterward given to the Linnæan Society of New England, of which the brothers, if not the founders, were among the earliest members. Another taste which formed a strong bond of union between them was their love of music. In college they belonged to the same musical societies.

On graduating from college Samuel began reading law with his uncle, Judge Samuel Dana, then residing in Charlestown, Mass. The War of 1812 was in progress, and young Dana caught the prevailing military spirit. He applied for a cadetship at West Point, but received instead a commission as first lieutenant in the First United States Artillery, with which corps he served in New York and Virginia until the close of the war. In June, 1815, the army was disbanded and Dana resigned his commission.

A younger brother, Nathaniel G. Dana, was a cadet at West Point during the War of 1812, graduating in 1814. He remained in military life until his death in 1833.

Samuel did not return to the law, but took up the study of medicine under Dr. Bancroft, of Groton. Receiving his medical degree in 1818, he began the practice of his profession in Gloucester, Mass. The next year he married Ann Theodora, daughter of Eev. Joseph Willard, D. D., who had been President of Harvard College from 1781 till his death in 1804.

Dr. Dana now took up his abode in Walthara, Mass., where he practiced medicine until 1826. Toward the close of this period he established a laboratory for the production of sulphuric acid and bleaching salts. This enterprise soon developed into the Newton Chemical Company, of which he was chemist till 1834. His friend Dr. A. A. Hayes, in the memorial pamphlet of the Dana family, has testified to his wide knowledge of the properties of substances and his great fertility in original devices for general and technological work. In his manufacture of acids and other chemicals improved plans and processes were early employed, and Dr. Hayes mentions especially Dana's device for deoxidizing manganic oxide by heating it with sulphur in order to form from it (with pyroligneous acid) a crude manganous acetate, then largely used in dyeing a fast brown.

The second of Dr. Dana's published writings was issued in 1833, while he was on a visit to England. It was a clear exposition of the chemical changes occurring in the manufacture of sulphuric acid.

In the following year Dr. Dana became resident and consulting chemist to the Merrimac Manufacturing Company at Lowell, Mass., in which position he remained for the rest of his life—a period of thirty-four years. The improvements which he introduced into the processes carried on in the mills of this company were many and important. Dr. Hayes gives an outline of these. He undertook systematic researches on the action of the dung of beeves—then used for removing the excess of mordant in printing calicoes with madder—which resulted in the discovery that crude phosphates in a bath with bran are a complete substitute for the expensive and disgusting material before deemed indispensable. Arseniates, which are cheaper than phosphates, were afterward substituted for them on the suggestion of Mercer, and are the world-wide reliance of print manufacturers at the present day.

Of the same systematic character was his study of the chemical changes involved in the process of bleaching cotton fabrics preparatory to printing them. This inquiry resulted in his inventing a method which not only received high commendation as scientific work but was universally adopted in practice. As most of Dr. Dana's researches were made for the exclusive benefit of the company with which he was connected, their results were not always published promptly, and hence the abilities that might have won a high meed of fame remained known to only a small circle. His discoveries with respect to bleaching cotton, however, were published in the Bulletin de la Société Industrielle de Mulhouse in 1838. The principles therein established have led to the American method of bleaching, of which Persez, in his Traité de l'Impression des Tissus, says that "it realizes the perfection of chemical operations."

The Merrimac Mills were at first run by water power alone, but when the works were extended this was supplemented by the use of steam. Dr. Dana was now called to the new field of engineering, in addition to his other duties. His development of the whole subject of the evaporative power of coal and the economical disposition of the heat in steam and in water of condensation is a masterly effort, embracing every detail, and was in advance of any published results of the time.

For several years before he became a resident of Lowell, Dr. Dana was frequently called to that city as a consulting chemist. He was also one of the chemists consulted by the water commissioners of both Boston and New York prior to the introduction of the Cochituate and Croton water respectively.

"While these varied applications of science to most useful purposes were daily occupations," says Dr. Hayes, "he was pursuing in his laboratory the great study of his life—madder, its products and its application to dyeing—year after year. He deemed the subject exhaustless, and while following the published results of other laborers in the same field as test trials, I happen to know that the most important discoveries, from time to time, were made by him, and often applied, before their publication by others.

"The laboratory, in most busy moments, was exceptionally neat; the deft handling of the apparatus and order of experiments expressed the system of thought."

Soon after removing to Lowell, Dr. Dana became interested in the action of lead upon water, and made a report to the City Council of that city on the danger arising from the use of lead water pipes. His translation and systematic arrangement of the treatise of Tanquerel on Lead Diseases was considered an important contribution to medical knowledge. The discussion of the lead-pipe question gave rise to several pamphlets from Dr. Dana's pen.

Another division of chemistry in which Dr. Dana did valuable work was its application to agriculture. As the outcome of a comprehensive series of experiments and observations, he published, in 1842, The Farmer's Muck Manual of Manures, which was the sheet anchor of libraries in the rural districts of New England for many years. The next year an Essay on Manures submitted by him won the prize offered by the Massachusetts Agricultural Society. He carried into his agricultural investigations the same scientific methods that he had found so important to success in other technical inquiries, and added an overflowing love for the pursuit in all its varied bearings. The younger Silliman wrote of him: "In point of time, originality, and ability. Dr. Dana stood deservedly first among scientific writers on agriculture in the United States."

The fourth edition of the Muck Manual was published in 1855. Its preface states that "the author is not an agriculturist; he does not assume the name even of agricultural chemist," and mentions his position at the works of the Merrimac Company. "While pursuing there," it continues, "during the years 1835, 1836, and 1837, researches on the action of cow dung in calico dyeing, he pushed his inquiries, as a recreation, during his few leisure hours, into the nature and action of manures and of soil. Conversation on these matters with the geological surveyor, and with the agricultural commissioner of Massachusetts, led to a correspondence between the parties, which partly appeared in the published reports on the geology and agriculture of Massachusetts. This induced some zealous and active citizens of Lowell to ask me to deliver a course of lectures on agricultural chemistry."

From the notes of these lectures the Muck Manual was prepared. "The work," Dr. Dana states further, "was favorably received at home and abroad, where a considerable portion was reprinted. It has passed through several editions, each being enlarged by the addition of new matter, to keep pace with the times. To the present edition is added an entire new chapter on bones and superphosphates of lime and alkalies. . . .

"One word respecting the title of my book. It is my own. I have neither begged, borrowed, nor stolen it. That last has been done by an English author, who seems to be ashamed, not of the act, but of the name he has filched from me, and so eases his conscience by apologizing for his 'homely title.' I shall not discredit my child by being ashamed of his name. It was good at the christening, and I trust will be thought respectable in manhood."

This edition of the Manual consists of nine chapters. In the first three the author tells the origin and nature of the inorganic ingredients of soil, and in the fourth he describes similarly the organic constituents. Dr. Dana vigorously combats the idea that the kind of rock underlying a district has anything to do with the character of the soil in that district, showing that the soil at any place is a mixture of materials, most of which have been brought from a distance. His full explanations of the several topics that he takes up are summarized in brief statements in a conspicuous type, which he puts forth as the first, second, third, etc., principles of agricultural chemistry. Among these are, "Rocks do not affect the vegetation which covers them."; "Soils contain enough of all the mineral elements to grow any crop" (but it is otherwise with organic constituents); "One base may be substituted for another in an equivalent proportion."

After describing the mutual action of these two classes of substances, he takes up the subject of manure. His chapter opens characteristically:

"The true farmer, no less a sage than the ancient orator who gave to action the first, second, and third place in eloquence, will answer, if it is asked him what is his first requisite. Manure. What second? Manure. What third? Manure. These answers are to be united. Action and manure are the first and last requisites in agriculture; and in the attempt to show what is the last, and how it acts, will be offered every inducement to action."

In the seventy-five pages of this chapter he describes the action of the manures of all domestic animals, also poudrette and certain waste materials valuable as fertilizers—wool washings, soot, bones, and spent lye from soapworks—and gives the chemical composition of nearly all.

In a chapter on artificial manures and irrigation, he deals with the use of swamp muck or peat, and tells how to make it a first-class fertilizer by the addition of soda ash or potash. There are a few pages on the physical properties of soils, and then the use of bones as a fertilizer is discussed. An appendix contains the results obtained by Dr. Andrew Nichols and others with the methods suggested by Dr. Dana.

Dr. Dana's geological knowledge was kept bright and increased by constant additions from the best and latest authorities. It aided him greatly in his agricultural researches. One of his courteous attentions to scientific visitors was an excursion to a traveling sand, in an outlying part of the city of Lowell, which was slowly and steadily advancing over arable land, converting it into a desert place. His long-sustained and minute observations threw strong light on the formation of sedimentary rock deposits, where currents of air rather than currents of water were the active agent, and made this field his own.

Dr. Dana died at his residence in Lowell, March 11, 1868, in consequence of a fall upon the ice at his own doorstep. In person he was tall and slender, with blue eyes, dark-brown hair, and a fair complexion. The expression of his countenance was intellectual and sympathetic. He was extremely witty, and, in his hours of relaxation from study, he entered with great zest into the pleasures of society, contributing his full share to the enjoyment of others. Even in his scientific writings his humor had some scope, and added a charm and zest to his descriptions that made them highly enjoyable and utterly inimitable.

Dr. Dana's first wife died in 1828 and he afterward married her sister. Miss Augusta Willard. James Jackson, the only son of Dr. Dana who survived childhood, when arrived at a suitable age received a commission in the United States army, and was afterward promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Dr. Dana also left three daughters.

The question of the Asiatic origin or derivation of the Mexican and Central American monuments was recently presented to the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland by Mr. Osbert H. Howarth. The speaker bad become strongly of the opinion, after several years' observations of the works, that they were traceable to an Asiatic source, and he suggested that no subject in the whole range of antiquity is better worth careful study than the possible tracing of this splendid decorative art of Central America through the various countries of Asia with a view of determining whether or not any features of it could be positively identified with those which were known to exist in the earliest dynasties of Egypt. The probabilities that this was the fact were much stronger to his mind than any probability that the work arose from an independent source.