Berzelius, Jöns Jakob, friherre, 1779-1848

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Humphry Davy (1778–1829, APS 1810) was a British chemist and pioneer in the field of electrochemistry. He was a major figure in the reformed chemistry movement initiated by the French scientist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794, APS 1775).

Davy was the son of an impoverished Cornish woodcarver. As a youth, he was apprenticed to an apothecary-surgeon with whom he pursued a regimen of self-study that included theology, philosophy, poetics, several languages, as well as, botany, chemistry, anatomy, mechanics and physics. In subsequent years, when most of his time was occupied by scientific endeavors, Davy exhibited a particular fondness for philosophical writings and poetry. In 1799 he published his first poems.

However, it was Davy’s aptitude for scientific matters that soon attracted attention. One of the people who recognized his abilities was Davies Giddy (1767-1839), a Member of Parliament with scientific interests. Giddy eventually became Davy’s patron. He allowed his protégé access to his library; furthermore, he persuaded Davy’s master to release him from his indenture so that he could become the assistant to Thomas Beddoes, Giddy’s former teacher at Oxford.

In 1798 Davy joined Beddoes's Pneumatic Institution in Bristol which was established for the purpose of investigating the medical powers of newly discovered airs and gases. There, he made the acquaintance of fellow scientists as well as individuals with literary interests, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Joseph Cottle (1770-1853), and Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849). In 1797 Davy read Lavoisier’s Traité élémentaire de chimie in French, a study that made a deep impression on him. Two years later he published an essay in which he refuted Lavoisier’s caloric; that same year he established his reputation as a chemist with his book Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, chiefly concerning Nitrous Oxide . . . and its Respiration in which he suggested that nitrous oxide (laughing gas) be used as an anesthetic in minor surgical operations. Davy had arrived at his conclusions after a series of risky experiments with different gases on himself. He described his “emotions” after awakening from the effects of laughing gas as “enthusiastic and sublime.”

Davy engaged in electrochemical experiments that led to several discoveries, including the recognition that the production of electricity was linked to a chemical reaction. He also isolated and analyzed the chemical elements potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, strontium, and barium. One of his best-known contributions to the field was his conclusion that, contrary to Lavoisier’s claims, there was no material basis for acidity. In 1810 he announced that the green gas contained in sea salt was an element. He named it chlorine.

As a strong promoter of applied science, Davy also engaged in various practical projects. He researched the chemistry of tanning, promoted improvements to agricultural practices, and developed a miner’s lamp that inhibited the ignition of the methane gas commonly found in mines. Furthermore, Davy was known as an effective lecturer. He made scientific topics accessible to an audience that extended beyond a small circle of fellow scientists.

Davy’s accomplishments were recognized with numerous awards and honors. In 1801 he joined the faculty of the Royal Institution in London. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1803, was awarded the Copley medal in 1805, and served as the Society’s president from 1820 to 1827. He was knighted in 1812 and created a baronet in 1818. He was also a founder of the Geological Society of London, the London Zoo and the Athenaeum.

Davy was married to Jane Apreece Kerr, a wealthy and well-connected widow. They did not have children. In 1829, he suffered a stroke while vacationing in Italy. He died a few days later.

From the guide to the Sir Humphry Davy correspondence, 1803-1822, 1803-1822, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Autograph File, B, ca.1500-1976. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1668-1983, Bulk, 1750-1850, 1668-1983 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Berzelius, Jöns Jakob, friherre, 1779-1848. Papers. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf [Jöns Jakob Berzelius, biographical materials] University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
referencedIn Gibbs family. Papers, 1763-1918. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Albert Stephens Borgman autograph collection, 1600-1950. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Scientific manuscripts and correspondence, 1755-1902. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Benjamin Silliman correspondence, 1808-1859, 1808-1859 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Letters of scientists, 1655-1973. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Herter, Christian Archibald, 1895-1966,. Christian Archibald Herter letters, 1646-1904. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1668-1983, Bulk, 1750-1850, 1668-1983 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Berzelius, Jöns Jakob, friherre, 1779-1848. Letter, 1815-1846. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Davy, Humphry, Sir, 1778-1829. Correspondence, 1803-1822. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Barchas, Cecile M.,. Portrait prints of scientists, 1473-1898. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Eugster, Hans P. Hans-Peter Eugster papers, 1944-1988. Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library
referencedIn Henry William Ellsworth Papers, 1796-1886, (bulk 1845-1849) Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
referencedIn Benjamin Silliman correspondence, 1808-1859, 1808-1859 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Scientists Collection, 1563-1973 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864. Correspondence, 1808-1859. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Jšns Jacob friherre Berzelius letter to Professor G. J. Ursen, 1844 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Ellsworth, Henry William, 1814-1864. Henry William Ellsworth papers, 1796-1886 (bulk 1845-1849). Library of Congress
creatorOf Sir Humphry Davy correspondence, 1803-1822, 1803-1822 American Philosophical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873 person
associatedWith Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820 person
associatedWith Berger, Jean Francois, 1779-1833 person
associatedWith Biot, Jean-Baptiste, 1774-1862 person
associatedWith Borgman, Albert Stephens, 1890-1954 person
associatedWith Bostock, John, 1773-1846 person
associatedWith Cooper, Thomas, 1759-1839 person
associatedWith Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899 person
associatedWith Croker, John Wilson, 1780-1857 person
associatedWith Cuvier, Georges, Baron, 1769-1832 person
associatedWith Darlington, William, 1782-1863 person
associatedWith Davy, Humphry, Sir, 1778-1829. person
associatedWith Davy, Jane Kerr, Lady, 1780-1855 person
associatedWith Dibner, Bern, person
associatedWith Edison, Thomas A., (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
correspondedWith Ellsworth, Henry William, 1814-1864. person
associatedWith Eugster, Hans P. person
associatedWith Everett, Edward, 1794-1865 person
associatedWith Fabbroni, Giovanni Valentino Mattia, 1752-1822 person
associatedWith Fitch, John person
associatedWith Genth, F. A., (Frederick Augustus), 1820-1893 person
associatedWith Gibbs family. family
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872 person
associatedWith Harding, Warren G. person
associatedWith Herter, Christian Archibald, 1895-1966, person
associatedWith Marcet, Alexander, 1770-1822 person
associatedWith Newcomb, Simon person
associatedWith Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727 person
associatedWith Penneck, Henry person
associatedWith Poinsett, Joel Roberts, 1779-1851 person
associatedWith Rittenhouse, David, 1732-1796 person
associatedWith Royal Society (Great Britain). corporateBody
associatedWith Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813 person
associatedWith Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864 person
associatedWith Seybert, Adam, 1773-1825 person
associatedWith Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864. person
associatedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry person
associatedWith Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872 person
associatedWith Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824 person
associatedWith Waterton, Charles, 1782-1865 person
associatedWith Wayne, Anthony person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Mineralogy
Beyond Early America
Medicine
Chemistry
Natural history
Anatomy
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1779-08-20

Death 1848-08-07

Swedes

Swedish,

English,

French,

German

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6911q58

Ark ID: w6911q58

SNAC ID: 3799466