Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864

Alternative names
Birth 1779-08-08
Death 1864-11-24
English, French, German

Biographical notes:

Benjamin Silliman was a chemist and naturalist, and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1805.

From the description of Correspondence, 1808-1859. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 173466220

Physician and chemist of New Haven, Connecticut.

From the description of Note, 1853, Sept. 28 : New Haven, Connecticut, to Isaac Waldron. (Duke University). WorldCat record id: 35359361

Educator and scientist.

From the description of Papers of Benjamin Silliman, 1792-1885. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82428660

Parker Cleaveland worked as a mineralogist and geologist.

From the guide to the Parker Cleaveland papers, [ca. 1806]-1844, Circa 1806-1844, (American Philosophical Society)

American chemist and geologist.

From the description of Autograph letters signed (2) : Yale College, to Noah Webster, 1808 Apr. 11-1829 Nov. 13. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270664251

Charles Babbage was a mathematician and inventor.

From the guide to the Charles Babbage selected correspondence, 1827-1871, 1827-1871, (American Philosophical Society)

Professor of chemistry at Yale University.

From the description of Benjamin Silliman correspondence, 1854 September 30. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980463

American geologist and chemist.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Yale College, 1822 July 11. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270664115

From the description of Autograph letter signed : New Haven, to Prof. Wall, 1825 July 9. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270663531

Benjamin Silliman was a chemist and naturalist. He was the father of Benjamin Silliman, Jr. (1816-1885), who was a professor at Yale.

From the description of Miscellaneous manuscripts, 1834. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 191047213

Benjamin Silliman, scientist and educator, was born in Connecticut, the son of Brigadier General Gold Selleck Silliman, and educated at Yale. He studied to be a lawyer, but Yale's president asked him to introduce chemistry and natural history into the curriculum; he studied for two years at the University of Pennsylvania and another year in Europe, and became the school's first chemistry professor, teaching chemistry, geology, and mineralogy until his retirement in 1853. He founded Silliman's Journal, and became a national figure due to his teaching, writing, and lecturing. In addition to his pioneering teaching activities, he was one of the founding members of the National Academy of Sciences, and was instrumental in the metamorphosis of Yale College into Yale University.

From the description of Benjamin Silliman letters, 1824-1850. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 70247623

Epithet: senior, Professor of chemistry at Yale College, USA

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001034.0x000257

American scientist and educator.

From the description of ALS : New Haven, to Carey and Hart, Philadelphia, 1835 Oct. 24. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122617090

Benjamin Silliman was a U.S. geologist and chemist based in Connecticut.

Silliman was graduated from Yale College in 1796 and went on to study in Philadelphia, Great Britain and the Netherlands after being appointed a professor of chemistry and natural history at Yale. Following his return to the U.S., Silliman established Yale as the country's leading center for training in chemistry, geology and mineralogy. His research, performed during the early years of his career, focused on meteorites and on the fusion of refractory substances. Silliman founded the American Journal of Science (AJS) in 1818 and began popularizing science in a series of lectures throughout the Eastern States. By the time of his second trip to Europe, in 1851, Silliman had earned a repuation as an authority in his fields and was welcomed by other scientists as a colleague. He was a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences, established in 1863.

Benjamin Silliman, Jr., son of Benjamin Silliman, was also a geologist and chemist.

Silliman began his professional career assisting his father in editing what was by then (1838) called the American Journal of Science and Arts, work which brought him into contact with many scientists and kept him apprised of developments in research. Silliman excelled as a writer, editor and teacher. His two textbooks, in the fields of chemistry and physics, were models of clarity and exposition, and remained the classic college texts for many years; another important work was his 1874 biographical dictionary of American chemists, titled: American contributions to chemistry. Silliman supplemented the meager income of the academic world by serving as a private consultant in chemistry and geology. He is credited with launching the modern petroleum industry with a report issued in Apr. 1855, detailing methods and results of a chemical analysis of rock oil from Venango Co., Pa.

From the description of Correspondence, 1839-1861. (American Museum of Natural History). WorldCat record id: 57044757

Biographical Note: Benjamin Silliman was an American chemist, geologist, and professor at Yale.

He was born in Connecticut, Aug. 8, 1779. Silliman graduated from Yale in 1796 and was professor of chemistry and natural history, 1804-1853. In 1818, he founded and edited the "American Journal of Science and Arts" often called "Silliman's Journal". Silliman's son, Benjamin Silliman, Jr. (1816-1885) was also a chemist and served as his father's teaching assistant at Yale. He edited the "American Journal of Science," and along with John P. Norton, established at Yale a school of applied chemistry which later became the Sheffield Scientific School. Both father and son were original members of the National Academy of Sciences. Benjamin Silliman died in 1864. Benjamin Silliman, Jr. died in 1885.

From the description of Benjamin Silliman autograph collection, 1816-1871. (Johns Hopkins University). WorldCat record id: 48369102

Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864, APS 1805) was a scientist and educator. As a professor of chemistry at Yale University from 1802 to 1853, and pioneering teacher of chemistry, mineralogy and geology, Silliman was largely responsible for the conversion of Yale College to Yale University, with strong medical and scientific departments.

Benjamin Silliman was born in 1779 in North Stratford (now Trumbull), Connecticut. His parents were Gold Selleck Silliman, a lawyer and brigadier general in the Continental army, and Mary Fish Noyes. Silliman was educated at Yale University. After graduating in 1796, he taught private school for two years and then studied law. From 1799 to 1802, the year of his admission to the bar, Silliman also worked as a tutor at Yale. It was during this period that his interest in the natural world began. In part because of the encouragement of Yale’s president Timothy Dwight, Silliman soon abandoned the law and instead turned his attention to the study of chemistry and natural philosophy.

In 1802 Silliman was appointed to Yale’s new professorship in chemistry and natural history; however, realizing that chemistry could not be self-taught he decided to study the subject at the University of Pennsylvania. He remained in Philadelphia for two years, during which he heard the lectures of eminent scientists such as James Woodhouse (1770-1809, APS 1796), Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815, APS 1759), and Caspar Wistar (1761-1818, APS 1787). Silliman also made the acquaintance of Benjamin Rush (1745-1813, APS 1768), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804, APS 1785), and John Maclean (1771-1814, APS 1806), and he e also formed a lasting friendship with the chemist Robert Hare (1781-1858, APS 1803). The two young men conducted scientific experiments in a laboratory they set up in the basement of their boarding house.

Silliman’s appointment at Yale also included natural history, a field that included geology, mineralogy, botany and zoology. In order to fill this gap in his formal education, Silliman spent 1805 and 1806 in England and Scotland, including the University of Edinburgh. During this period he met such leading figures as Humphrey Davy, W. H. Wollaston, Joseph Banks, and Benjamin West. His geological studies were primarily influenced by John Murray and Thomas Hope, both of Edinburgh, who were investigating the origin of the earth's surface and the formation of rocks and minerals. Hope was an ardent supporter of the ideas of Abraham Gottlob Werner, who identified water as the principal agent of geological change and believed that rocks crystallized out of ocean waters or were formed by the pressure of water acting on sediments. In his teaching of geology Silliman eventually utilized Werner’s practical system of geology, which favored the characterization of minerals by color, hardness, texture, taste, and smell rather than by chemical composition, crystalline structure, and other properties that required instrumentation for measurement. In 1810 Silliman published the popular Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland in 1805-06 .

Silliman returned to Yale in 1806 to lecture in chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. Shortly after his arrival, he conducted a geological survey of New Haven. At Yale, he was instrumental in building up the university’s collections in mineralogy and geology, and he actively promoted the founding of Yale’s Medical School (1813). His ability to translate complex scientific concepts into accessible language made him a popular public lecturer. After 1808 he regularly offered public lectures that applied science to mining, agriculture, and industry. Silliman eventually gave public lectures in many locations, including Hartford, Boston, St. Louis, New York, and Philadelphia. In 1839-1840 he gave the inaugural lectures at the Lowell Institute in Lowell, Massachusetts, speaking on geology.

A deeply religious man, Silliman frequently defended science against charges of atheism in his lectures. He insisted that science and religion were compatible, and that geological theory did not contradicted the biblical version of genesis. He discussed some of these ideas in the appendix to the third American edition of Robert Bakewell's Introduction to Geology, published in 1839.

Over the course of his five decades as a professor at Yale, Silliman conducted a variety of research, the results of which he published in about sixty scientific papers. One of his earliest projects involved an analysis of meteoric material that had been found in Connecticut. With the help of Hare’s blowpipe, Silliman was able to observe the melting of lime, magnesia, beryl, corundum, rock crystal, and other substances. Similarly, he used Hare’s Galvanic deflagrator to study both the fusion and the volatilization of carbon with its transfer from the positive to the negative pole. In his publications about this work, Silliman gave full credit to Hare and his inventions that had made this work possible.

In 1809 Silliman married Harriet Trumbull. The couple had nine children. Harriet died in 1850, and Silliman married Sarah Webb one year later.

In 1818 Silliman founded the American Journal of Science (and Arts), better known as Silliman's Journal. Within a decade the journal, which was based on European models, Silliman turned it into America's premier scientific journal, publishing papers of both theoretical and practical interest from the United States and Europe. Silliman also edited and adapted texts on chemistry and geology, and he wrote a widely used Elements of Chemistry in the Order of the Lectures Given in Yale College (1831), which one reviewer called “one of the best productions on the Chemistry, that we have ever examined.” In addition, Silliman published accounts of some of his travels, including A Short Tour between Hartford and Quebec (1820) and Narrative of a Visit to Europe (1853).

During the first decades of the nineteenth century, Silliman became increasingly active on behalf of the abolitionist cause. In the late 1790s is mother Mary had been the largest slave holder in Fairfield County, Connecticut. The sale of two slaves in 1795 had financed Silliman’s education at Yale, and during his return to his family home after graduation he was in charge of Holland Hill, the family farm, which included a "negro house" and six adult slaves. However, by the late 1790s Silliman, who was still profiting from the labor of slaves who had been born after Connecticut passed its gradual emancipation statute in 1784, was openly speaking out against slavery. By the 1830s Silliman no longer owned slaves. He was an active member of the American Colonization Society, and in 1832 gave an impassioned sermon in which he promoted the colonization scheme. In 1856 he publicly opposed the admission of Kansas as a slave state; around the same time he forced President Buchanan in a series of letters to admit his pro-slavery views.

Silliman was a member of many American and European learned societies. For example, in 1805 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society, and three years later he became a corresponding member of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1853 Silliman retired from Yale, but he nevertheless continued to lecture on geology. In 1863 he was one of the founding members of the National Academy of Sciences. He died the following year in New Haven.

From the guide to the Benjamin Silliman correspondence, 1808-1859, 1808-1859, (American Philosophical Society)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Dinosaur tracks
  • Reptiles, Fossil
  • Meteorites
  • Indians of North America
  • Geology--History--19th century--Sources
  • Extinct birds
  • Chemistry--Research
  • Minerals--Collection and preservation
  • Science--Experiments
  • Paleontology--History--19th century--Sources
  • Calculators
  • Blowpipe
  • Newspaper and periodical wholesalers
  • Laboratories
  • College teachers--Archives
  • Home economics--Accounting
  • Chemistry
  • Geology
  • Manuscripts, American
  • Footprints, Fossil
  • Frontier and pioneer life
  • Birds, Fossil
  • Chemistry--Study and teaching
  • Scientists--Great Britain
  • Autographs
  • Geologists--Correspondence
  • Education
  • Chemists--Correspondence
  • Natural history
  • Charitable contributions
  • Science and technology
  • Geologists--Archives
  • Chemists--Archives
  • Science--Periodicals
  • Universities and colleges--Administration
  • Mineralogists--Correspondence
  • Gray heron--Anatomy
  • Moas
  • Paleontologists--Correspondence
  • Pioneers--Diaries
  • Universities and colleges--Finance
  • Slavery--Speeches in Congress--1848
  • Scientists--Correspondence


  • Educators
  • Editors
  • Chemists--19th century.--United States
  • Geologists--19th century.--United States
  • Chemists
  • Scientists


  • Texas (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • New Zealand (as recorded)
  • Red River (Tex.-La.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Clifton-on-Teme, Worcestershire (as recorded)
  • Connecticut River Valley (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)