Hare, Robert, 1781-1858

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Philadelphia chemist and educator.

From the description of ALS : Boston, to Thomas P. Jones, 1843 July 12. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 86138969

From the description of ALS and enclosure : Boston, to Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, 1843 Aug. 28. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122633648

From the description of ALS : Boston, to Thomas P. Jones, 1843 Aug. 29. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 86156167

Chemist of Philadelphia.

From the description of Papers, 1825-1858, Philadelphia. (Duke University). WorldCat record id: 35090732

Epithet: of Caius College, Cambridge

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000132.0x00016a

Epithet: ob. 1611

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000132.0x000168

Charles Lucian Bonaparte was a naturalist and ornithologist.

From the guide to the Correspondence, 1824-1855, from American scientists, 1824-1855, (American Philosophical Society)

Hare was prof. of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, invented the oxyhydrogen blowpipe and built other apparatus for research. His own apparatus was displayed at the Franklin Institute before being given to the Smithsonian Institution. Author of over 100 articles and translator of works by Berzelius and others, he was a member of the American Philosophical Society.

From the description of Letters and papers from scientists and scientific organizations, 1793-1857. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 83872890

Robert Hare was a chemist and inventor and taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

From the description of Papers, 1764-1859. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122417077

Robert Hare (1781-1858, APS 1803) was a chemist best known as an experimentalist and an innovator in the production of chemical apparatus. His inventions include the calorimeter, the deflagrator, and, most significantly, the oxyhydrogen blowtorch. He was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania for nearly three decades. Toward the end of his life Hare was an outspoken supporter of Spiritualism.

Robert Hare recalled being dandled on the knee of George Washington, an event that seems to have remained in his mind as he grew older, tying him to the fate of his nation and to his position on the privileged end of the social hierarchy. Hare was born in Philadelphia in 1781, the son of Robert Hare, Sr., a major Philadelphia brewer, and Margaret Willing niece, of Thomas Willing, the political leader and president of the Bank of North America.

Hare evidently demonstrated an interest in chemistry from an early age. As a young man, he attended the Academy of the University of Pennsylvania. Possessed of an innate mechanical aptitude, Hare developed a passion for chemistry while attending the lectures of James Woodhouse (1770-1809, APS 1796), and in later years the pairing of instrumental and intellectual prowess made him one of the foremost chemical experimentalists and technical innovators in the nation. Hare was a junior member of the Philadelphia Chemical Society, where his associates and teachers, in addition to Woodhouse, were Joseph Priestley (1733-1804, APS 1785) and the mineralogist Adam Seybert (1773-1825, APS 1797).

Before he turned 20, Hare had begun to experiment toward a method of generating higher temperatures than possible in contemporary furnaces, adapting a keg from his father's brewery to develop an instrument he called the hydrostatic blow-pipe - the oxyhydrogen blowtorch. The blow-pipe proved invaluable in fusing previously infusable metals such as platinum, and, when used by Thomas Drummond to ignite calcium hydroxide, it was found to produce a remarkably bright light that became the preferred medium for lighthouses and the stage, called limelight. The small pamphlet that Hare wrote to describe his invention, Memoir on the Supply and Application of the Blow-Pipe... (1802), brought him international renown when it was republished in the prestigious English Philosophical Magazine and the French Annales de Chimie . He also described his findings in the annual address to the Chemical Society in 1801. Largely on the strength of this single invention, Hare was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1803 and was awarded an honorary medical degree by Yale in 1806. The discovery subsequently made him the first recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Rumford Medal in 1839.

Still barely in his majority, Hare continued to work for his father's brewery, devising new, tighter kegs and a modified stop cock. In 1802 he made the acquaintance Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864, APS 1805), Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy at Yale, who had come to Philadelphia to hear the lectures of Woodhouse, Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815, APS 1759), and Caspar Wistar (1761-1818, APS 1787). Hare and Silliman conducted scientific experiments during this and subsequent visits by Silliman; they remained lifelong friends and correspondents.

In 1809, the availability of the chair in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania vacated by the death of Joseph Woodward opened an opportunity for Hare to turn his full attention to the subject he loved. After he was denied the appointment for lack of a medical degree, Benjamin Rush (1745-1813, APS 1768) intervened to persuade the trustees to create a new position in the Medical School in Natural Philosophy. In 1810 Hare accepted the position, but since his course was listed only as an elective, he had few matriculants, and resigned two years later due to the lack of remuneration.

In 1811 Hare married Harriet Clark, daughter of the merchant John Innes Clark and his wife Lydia Bowen.

Hare returned to his father's brewery, where he entered into a bleak period. Assuming full managerial responsibilities for the brewery following his father's death, Hare ran into financial ruin during the economic chaos of the War of 1812. His efforts to make a living at selling gases and running a druggist's concern in Providence, Rhode Island (where his wife's family resided), were unavailing. His fortunes changed in 1818, when the College of William and Mary offered him a position as Professor of Natural Philosophy and later that same year, when the Medical School at University of Pennsylvania appointed him as Professor of Chemistry. He returned to Philadelphia and remained at the University of Pennsylvania for almost thirty years. Among the many students he worked with Hare during this period were Samuel H. Stout (1822-1903) and Joseph Leidy (1823-1891, APS 1849).

As an instructor, Hare was at his best with advanced students but was generally appreciated for his dramatic demonstrations of chemical principles, often employing apparatus he had developed himself. His Compendium of the Course of Chemical Instruction (1828) went through at least four editions before 1840, and is considered one of the most thorough chemical textbooks in antebellum America. Although he taught chemistry to a large number of medical students, his greatest contributions to his field were as an experimentalist and an innovator in the production of chemical apparatus. Among his most important inventions were the calorimeter (1819), the deflagrator (1821) for producing powerful electrical currents, the litrameter for measuring the specific gravity of fluids, a hydrostatic balance, a cryophorus, and a gas density balance. He was also responsible for isolating elemental boron and silicon, becoming the first American to produce metallic calcium, and was an active researcher in electrical theory and the devising of electrical apparatus. He donated his equipment to the fledgling Smithsonian Institution in 1849, only to have them destroyed by fire years later.

Hare, however, was never only a chemist. He wrote poetry and fiction, including Standish the Puritan (1850), and Overling; or, The Heir of Wycherly (1852), and was a diehard, politically conservative controversialist, describing himself as a "Washington Federalist" well into the 1850s. Beginning with his Defence of the American Character, or, An Essay on Wealth as an Object of Cupidity or the Means of Distinction in the United States (1819), a work that first appeared in the Federalist Port Folio, Hare wrote frequently on banking, finance, currency, tariff, and social order, almost always assailing those principles he identified as "Jeffersonian" or as leading to social-leveling.

Hare was not loath to participate in discussions of the major social issues of his day, including the abolition of slavery and the clash between capital and labor. A firm believer in social hierarchy, he considered himself an antislavery man, though advocating that freed slaves be relegated to a circumscribed subordinate status in American society and compensating slave owners for any losses they incurred. Importing freedmen to the north, he reasoned, would be beneficial to the former slaves - enabling them to be in closer contact with greater numbers of whites - but also financially beneficial to the northern community as a steady supply of cheap labor. A fear of servile insurrection - creating the grounds for another Haiti - led him to adopt an authoritarian stance toward his social inferiors.

Never backing away from scientific controversy, Hare waded into meteorology with an argument that tornadoes were the product of electrical currents in the atmosphere. Most famously, however, in 1854, he took on the task of testing Michael Faraday's theory that Spiritualist table-tilting was the product of involuntary muscular actions. Ever an ingenious mechanic, Hare developed an apparatus he called the Spiritoscope, designed to detect mediumistic fraud, and in the process of testing his machine, he became a Spiritualist convert. His undeniable scientific credentials made him a particularly fortunate believer for the movement, and with the publication of his book, Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations... (1855), Hare became one of the best known Spiritualists in the nation. Concomitantly, he drew the full wrath of the movement's adversaries. After a public lecture defending Spiritualist investigation before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he drew calls for his expulsion from the organization, which appear only to have caused Hare to become more retrenchant in his views. However, never an orthodox religionist, his apparent agnosticism or atheism proved as unpalatable to Spiritualists as it did to non-Spiritualists. Nevertheless, he went to his grave with a firm belief that his device could “facilitate intercourse between spirits and mortals.”

Hare was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Philosophical Society. He was also an honorary member of the Smithsonian Institution. He died unexpectedly in Philadelphia in May, 1858, leaving behind his wife, Harriet Clark, and six children.

From the guide to the Robert Hare papers, 1764-1858, 1764-1858, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Bonaparte, Charles Lucian, 1803-1857. Correspondence, 1824-1855, from American scientists. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Joseph Henry letters, 1836-1878, 1836-1878 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf [Robert Hare, biographical materials] University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
referencedIn Jacob Stauffer Papers, 1844-1879, 1844-1879 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Correspondence, 1824-1855, from American scientists, 1824-1855 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Beck, Charles Frederick, b. 1806. Charles Frederick Beck papers, 1819-1845, Philadelphia. Duke University, Medical Center Library & Archives
creatorOf Audubon, John James, 1785-1851. Robert B. Haines III collection, 1793-1834. Haverford College Library
referencedIn LeMoyne, Francis Julius, 1798-1879. Matriculation and lecture admission tickets from the University of Pennsylvania, 1820-1822. College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn Marian S. Carson collection of manuscripts, 1656-1995 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Biddle, Nicholas, 1786-1844. Nicholas Biddle letters, 1817-1840, and undated. Duke University, Medical Center Library & Archives
referencedIn Hare-Willing family. Papers, [ca. 1744-1905]. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIc, 1826-1836 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Suplee, Nathan. Map of part of West Philadelphia, 1833 / Nathan Suplee. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Torrey, John,. Autograph letters, 1744-1894, of naturalists. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. Papers, 1764-1859. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. Letter, 1827 March 29, to Mathew Carey. Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. ALS and enclosure : Boston, to Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, 1843 Aug. 28. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Hoar, George Frisbie. 1826-1904. Autograph collection, 1598-1945 Houghton Library
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. Papers, 1825-1858, Philadelphia. Duke University, Medical Center Library & Archives
referencedIn Wallace, H. B. (Horace Binney), 1817-1852. Papers of H.B. Wallace, 1826-1845. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Smith, Edgar Fahs, 1854-1928. Papers and addresses, together with biographical notices and memorial services [Collected and bound together by Dr. B.F. Fackenthal]. Franklin & Marshall College, F&M
referencedIn Cooper, Thomas, 1759-1839. Letters, 1800-1816, to Alexander James Dallas. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Hill, Walter Nickerson, 1846-1884. Papers, 1860-1905. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. ALS : Boston, to Thomas P. Jones, 1843 July 12. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Hare-Willing Family Papers, 1724-1965 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Letter to Robert Hare [manuscript], 1824 March 12. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIe. 1845-1865. American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IId, 1837-1844 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Walter Nickerson Hill Papers, Hill (Walter Nickerson) Papers, (bulk 1870-1884), 1860-1905 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn Codex, partim membranaceus, partim chartaceus, ff. 88, sec. xv., quondam conventus fratrum Minorum in Dordraco, postea Roberti Hare, an. 1565. Thom. Cantimpratensis, Episcopi Lusentini, de Apibus libri duo, ex opere ipsius de rerum natura desumpti, q... British Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives, 1743-1984 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Letters of scientists, 1655-1973. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878. Letters, 1836-1878. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Meredith family. Meredith family papers, 1756-1964, bulk 1772-1873. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. ALS : Boston, to Thomas P. Jones, 1843 Aug. 29. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Washington Irving's Life of George Washington Volume XII, Miscellany, 1769-1838 Cornell University Library
creatorOf Hare, Robert, 1781-1858. Letters and papers from scientists and scientific organizations, 1793-1857. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Torrey, John, 1796-1873. Papers, 1818-1859. Duke University, Medical Center Library & Archives
referencedIn COLLECTION Of tracts, etc., made apparently by Dr. Zachary Grey, Rector of Houghton Conquest (ob. 1766), in whose hand the first 92 leaves are written. From a note by Rev. William Cole, the Cambridge antiquary, in Add. MS. 5822, f. 123, it would seem... British Library
creatorOf Robert Hare papers, 1764-1858, 1764-1858 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Dix, Dorothea Lynde, 1802-1887. Papers, 1798-1893 (bulk 1827-1887) Houghton Library
creatorOf Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Correspondence, 1814-1826 University of Virginia. Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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associatedWith Cooper, William, 1798? -1864 person
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correspondedWith Dix, Dorothea Lynde, 1802-1887 person
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associatedWith Ellsworth, Henry Leavitt, 1791-1858, person
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associatedWith Faraday, Michael, 1791-1867. person
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associatedWith Keating, William Hypolitus, 1799-1840 person
associatedWith Kirkbride, Thomas Story, 1809-1883. person
associatedWith Lea, Isaac, 1792-1886 person
associatedWith LeMoyne, Francis Julius, 1798-1879. person
associatedWith Maury, Matthew Fontaine, 1806-1873. person
associatedWith Meredith family. family
associatedWith Meredith, William M. (William Morris), 1799-1873 person
associatedWith Meriam, Ebenezer, 1794-1864 person
associatedWith Morris, Margaretta Hare, 1797-1867 person
associatedWith Morris, Stephen P. (Stephen Paschall), 1800-1865 person
associatedWith Partridge, Charles person
associatedWith Partridge, Charles. person
associatedWith Pepper, William, 1810-1864 person
associatedWith Powel, Samuel, 1738-1793 person
associatedWith Powel, Samuel, Jr. person
associatedWith Powel, Samuel, Jr. person
associatedWith Rafinesque, C. S., (Constantine Samuel ), 1783-1840 person
associatedWith Reid, D. B. (David Boswell), 1805-1863 person
associatedWith Robert Hare person
associatedWith Rogers, R. E., (Robert Empie), 1813-1884 person
associatedWith Rush, William, 1801-1864 person
associatedWith Say, Thomas, 1787-1834 person
associatedWith Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864. person
associatedWith Silliman, Benjamin, Jr., 1816-1885 person
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associatedWith Smithsonian Institution. corporateBody
associatedWith Stauffer, Jacob, b. 1808 person
associatedWith Stevenson, Alan, 1807-1865 person
associatedWith Sullivan, William, 1774-1839 person
associatedWith Suplee, Nathan. person
associatedWith Sykes, Colonel, (William Henry), 1790-1872 person
associatedWith Torrey, John, person
associatedWith Torrey, John, 1796-1873. person
associatedWith University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of Medicine. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Pennsylvania. Medical School corporateBody
associatedWith University of Pennsylvania. Trustees person
associatedWith Ure, Andrew, 1778-1857. person
associatedWith Uylenbroek, Petrus Johannes person
associatedWith Van Rensselaer, Jeremiah, 1740-1810 person
associatedWith Vaughan, Petty. person
associatedWith Vaughan, William, 1752-1850. person
associatedWith Wallace, H. B. (Horace Binney), 1817-1852. person
associatedWith Waln, Robert, 1794-1825. person
associatedWith Wightman, Joseph M. (Joseph Milner), 1812-1885 person
associatedWith Wilson, James P. (James Patriot), 1769-1830 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Rome (Italy)
Ely, Cambridgeshire
United States
Abolition, emancipation, freedom
African Americans
American Philosophical Society
Antebellum Politics
Antislavery movements
Banks and banking
Banks and banking
Blasting, Submarine
Business and Skilled Trades
Capital punishment
Chemical apparatus
Early National Politics
Federalist Party
Fire extinction
Literature, Arts, and Culture
Paper money
Paper money
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Race, race relations, racism
Rome (Italy)
Science and technology
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Slaughtering and slaughter-houses
Slaughtering and slaughter-houses
Slaves, slavery, slave trade
Smithsonian Institution
Zoological specimens


Birth 1781-01-17

Death 1858-05-15





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