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Benjamin Silliman

Benjamin Silliman

BornAugust 8, 1779
Trumbull, Connecticut, USA
DiedNovember 24, 1864
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Residence USA
Nationality USA
InstitutionsYale University
Alma materYale University
Known forDistillation of petroleum
Notable prizesNational Academy of Sciences

Benjamin Silliman (8 August 1779 – 24 November 1864) was an American chemist, one of the first American professors of science (at Yale University), and the first to distill petroleum.


Early Life

Silliman was born in North Stratford, now Trumbull, Connecticut, at a family friend's home a few months after his mother fled for her life from their Fairfield, Connecticut home ahead of 2,000 invading British troops that burned Fairfield center to the ground. The British forces had taken his father prisoner in May of 1779. His father was General Gold Selleck Silliman and his mother was Mary Fish, widow of John Noyes.


He was educated at Yale, receiving an A.B. degree in 1796 and an A.M. in 1799. He studied law with Simeon Baldwin from 1798 to 1799 and became a tutor at Yale from 1799 to 1802. He was admitted to the bar in 1802. President Timothy Dwight IV of Yale proposed that he equip himself to teach in chemistry and natural history and accept a new professorship at the university. Silliman studied chemistry with Professor James Woodhouse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and delivered his first lectures in chemistry at Yale in 1804. In 1805, he traveled to Edinburgh for further study.


Returning to New Haven, he studied its geology, and made a chemical analysis of the meteorite that fell near Weston, Connecticut, publishing the first scientific account of any American meteorite. He lectured publicly at New Haven in 1808 and came to discover many of the constituent elements of many minerals. The mineral sillimanite was named after him. Upon the founding of the Medical School, he also taught there as one of the founding faculty members. As professor emeritus, he delivered lectures at Yale on geology until 1855; in 1854, he became the first person to fractionate petroleum by distillation.


His first marriage was on 17 September 1809 to Harriet Trumbull, daughter of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., who was the son of Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. of Connecticut, a hero of the American Revolution. Silliman and his wife had four children: one daughter married Professor Oliver P. Hubbard, and another married Professor James Dwight Dana. His son Benjamin Silliman Jr., also a professor of chemistry at Yale, wrote a report that convinced investors to back George Bissell's seminal search for oil. His second marriage was in 1851 to Mrs Sarah Isabella (McClellan) Webb, daughter of John McClellan. Silliman died at New Haven and is buried in Grove Street Cemetery.


Silliman deemed slavery an "enormous evil" but also favored colonization of free African Americans in Liberia, serving as a board member of the Connecticut colonization society between 1828 and 1835. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He founded and edited the American Journal of Science, and was appointed one of the corporate members of the National Academy of Sciences by the United States Congress.

  Silliman College, one of Yale's residential colleges, is named for him, as is the mineral Sillimanite.


  • Yale University on Silliman
  • On his abolitionism
  • Sillimanite
NAME Silliman, Benjamin
SHORT DESCRIPTION American chemist
DATE OF BIRTH August 8, 1779
PLACE OF BIRTH North Stratford, Connecticut, USA
DATE OF DEATH November 24, 1864
PLACE OF DEATH New Haven, Connecticut, USA
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Benjamin_Silliman". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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