Friday, July 10, 2009

Getting Started

This is the start of my blog. I have thought for years that I would like to put down somewhere some of the things that I have researched and had an interest in over the years.  

This is an excellent time to do this since everything was packed up for the big move out West from Connecticut.  Now it is time to unpack all these trinkets and tell the story that each one deserves.

I'm sure that the blog will grow as I start getting into it.  For right now I want to start documenting a few areas that have captivated my interest for the longest period of time.
Let me list some of the themes here.

Antique computing devices, particularly devices before the electronic age.  This includes devices from about the time of the Antikythera Mechanism, c. 87 B.C. up to and including the death of the slide rule in the early 1970's.  I do not include in this list electronic or electro-mechanical devices that started appearing before the mid 20th century, and definitely do not include what we would call modern electronic computers.

Slide rules, in particular, have been of intense interest to me. I never did use one as a student. I was just young enough to have used computers almost from the first day I went to college (1962).

The Industrial Revolution, in general. More particularly in the Birmingham, England area during the second half of the 18th century.

The Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of distinguished thinkers, including, Joseph Priestley, Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, and Samuel Galton to mention a few. Benjamin Franklin visited the group on a number of occasions.

Joseph Priestley, the 18th century scientist (natural philosopher), theologian, political activist, educator and all around great guy born in Leeds, England in 1733.

Most commonly known as the scientist who first isolated what we now call oxygen, Priestley actually isolated nine gases, including: nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and carbon monoxide. He also developed the first artificial method of impregnating water to make soda water by infusing carbon dioxide into water and discovered the interesting relationship between plants and animals wherein each supplies essential gases to the other to survive. Priestley wrote the definitive History of Electricity, which was considered the standard text on the subject for about 100 years.

As a theologian he was a dissenting minister in England and played an important role in bringing Unitarianism to the United States.  He was a scholar, having published numerous books on Christianity.  While he believed that Jesus was a great prophet, he did not believe that he was the son of God.  He wrote a seminal volume on the "Corruptions of Christianity".

Priestley was an educator and wrote many books on various subjects including grammar, history, etc.  He developed pedagogical tools that are still used today.

As a political activist he was an abolitionist, an early supporter of the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and critical of the British discrimination against dissenters like himself.  He was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and communicated frequently with them.  He met with, and was consulted on, by many other of the founding fathers of the United States. Some have said that he was the "high priest" of our founding fathers and have credited him with providing Jefferson with the views on liberty and freedom that Jefferson expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

In 1791 his house and laboratory were razed by rioters during the Birmingham Riots, primarily for his support of the American and French Revolutions.  He fled to London and eventually France, where he was made an honorary French citizen.  In 1794 he emigrated to the United States and built a home in Northumberland PA from 1795 to 1797. In his era, Priestley was recognized as one of the greatest scientific figures of the world - up there with the likes of Isaac Newton. He received practically every major scientific honor that could have been bestowed upon an individual at that time. He died in Northumberland PA in 1804.  Yet, today, his name is hardly known, but to the few who have stumbled upon him or from a fleeting mention in a high school textbook as the discoverer of oxygen.

No comments:

Post a Comment