The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Rogers, William Barton

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ROGERS, William Barton, American geologist and physicist: b. Philadelphia, 7 Dec. 1804: d. Boston, 30 May 1882. He was educated at William and Mary College, gave scientific lectures before the Maryland Institute in 1827 and in 1828 became professor of natural philosophy and chemistry in his alma mater. From 1835 until his resignation in 1853 he was professor of natural philosophy in the University of Virginia. He added to the course mineralogy and geology; and organized and directed the Virginia geological survey until its discontinuance in 1842. During his occupancy of this chair he devoted much of his time to original researches in geology, chemistry and physics. He was also a leading member of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists (organized 1840), and to its Transactions contributed important memoirs, including observations on the temperature of coal mines in eastern Virginia. In 1853 he removed to Boston, where he continued his researches and voluminous contributions to scientific journals of the United States and Europe, and in 1861 lectured before the Lowell Institute on “The Application of Science to the Arts.” At the request of several citizens of Boston, he drew up in 1859 a scheme entitled “Object and Plan of an Institute of Technology,” to include a society of arts, a museum of arts and a school of industrial science. He then memorialized the State legislature and at length obtained from the State a charter (1862), and the grant of a tract in the Back Bay district upon which to place the buildings of the institution. Chosen the first president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was made also professor of physics and geology and in 1864 visited Europe for the purchase of scientific instruments and appliances. He organized the system of teaching which still in general obtains in the Institute and whose leading feature was laboratory instruction not only in chemistry, but in physics, mechanics and mining. He resigned his post as president in 1870, but resumed his duties from 1878 to 1881, when he was succeeded by Francis A. Walker (q.v.). In 1847 he presided at the meeting by which the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists was enlarged into the American Association for the Advancement of Science; was made president of the latter in 1875; was a corporate member of the National Academy of Sciences; became its president in 1878; and was a founder and the first president of the American Social Science Association. He has been characterized as one who had in a high degree “the faculty of presenting the claims of science on popular interest and respect with force and lucidity.” His gifts of expression as speaker and writer were excellent. Many of his researches added materially to scientific knowledge. Among his books were ‘The Strength of Materials’ (1838); ‘The elements of Mechanical Philosophy’ (1852); and ‘Papers on the Geology of Virginia’ (1884), comprising his yearly reports in 1836-40. Consult the ‘Life and Letters,’ published in 1897.