Born on 13rd of March 1733
Died on 6th of February 1804
So wide was Joseph Priestley’s knowledge and range of interests that it is difficult to label him. He is best known for his discovery of oxygen but he also contributed as a philosopher, theologian, educationalist and political theorist.
Joseph Priestley was born on March 13 1733 at Fieldhead near Batley, Yorkshire. As a child he learned 10 languages. Educated at Daventry Dissenting Academy he became a minister in 1755 but his unorthodox ideas upset his first congregation. He moved to Nantwich in Cheshire where he set up a successful school. Here he wrote an innovative book on English grammar which gained him a teaching post at Warrington Academy where he continued to teach and write.
Science was a passion for Priestley, and he was able to pursue his own studies while at Warrington and to write a book on the history of electricity and even conduct his own experiments there. This work led to his election to the Royal Society in 1766. On a trip to London in the same year he met fellow polymath Benjamin Franklin and the two became friends.
Priestley moved to Leeds in 1767, where he focussed on studying chemistry. His discovery of oxygen in 1774 was to be the most noteworthy of many scientific breakthroughs.
A champion of political reform Priestley openly supported the French and American Revolutions and also denounced the slave trade and religious bigotry. Such radical views led to the burning down of his house by an angry mob in 1791. Priestley and his family escaped to London and in 1794 emigrated to America where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other luminaries were pleased to make him welcome. Joseph Priestley died in Northumberland, Pennsylvania on February 6, 1804.
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