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John William Draper

  John William Draper (May 5, 1811, – January 4, 1882) was an American (English-born) scientist, philosopher, physician, chemist, historian, and photographer.


Early life

John William Draper was born May 5, 1811 in St. Helens, Merseyside, England to John Christopher Draper, a Wesleyan clergyman and Sarah (Ripley) Draper. On June 23, he was baptized by the Wesleyan minister Jabez Bunting. He had three sisters, Dorothy Catherine, Elizabeth Johnson, and Sarah Ripley. The family moved often to different churches throughout England. John William was home tutored until 1822, when he entered Woodhouse Grove. He returned to home instruction (1826) prior to entering University College London in 1829.[1]

On September 13, 1831, John William married Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner, the daughter of Daniel Gardner, a court physician to John VI of Portugal and Charlotte of Spain. Antonia was born (c. 1814) in Brazil after the royal family fled Portugal with Napoleon's invasion. There is dispute as to the identity of Antonia's mother. Around 1830, she was sent with her brother Daniel to live with their aunt in London.[2]

Relatives of John William's mother urged her, now a widow, to move with her children to Virginia. Additionally, this came with the prospect of a teaching position for John William at a local Methodist college.[3]


In 1832, the family settled in Mecklenburg County, Virginia six miles (10 km) from Christiansville (now Chase City). John William established a laboratory in Christiansville, where he conducted experiments and published eight papers before entering medical school. His sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper provided finances for his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in March 1836. That same year, he began teaching at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.[4]

New York

In 1837, he took an appointment at New York University; he was elected professor of chemistry and botany the next year. He was a professor in its school of medicine from 1840 to 1850, president of that school from 1850 to 1873, and professor of chemistry until 1881. He was a founder of the New York University Medical School.


He did important research in photochemistry, made portrait photography possible by his improvements (1839) on Daguerre's process, and published a textbook on Chemistry (1846), textbook on Natural Philosophy (1847), textbook on Physiology (1866), and Scientific Memoirs (1878) on radiant energy. He was also the first person to take an astrophotograph; he took the first photo of the Moon which showed any lunar features in 1840. Then in 1843 he made daguerreotypes which showed new features on the moon in the visible spectrum. In 1850 he was making photo-micrographs and engaged his then teenage son, Henry, into their production.

He developed the proposition in 1842 that only light rays that are absorbed can produce chemical change. It came to be known as the Grotthuss-Draper law when his name was teamed with a prior but apparently unknown promulgator Theodor Grotthuss of the same idea in 1817.

Contributions to the discipline of history: He is well known also as the author of The History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (1862), applying the methods of physical science to history, a History of the American Civil War (3 vols., 1867-1870), and a History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). The last book listed is among the most influential works on the conflict thesis, which takes its name from Draper's title.

He served as the first president of the American Chemical Society between 1876 and 1877.[5]


  • John Christopher Draper, 1835-1885
  • Henry Draper, 1837-1882
  • Virginia Draper Maury, 1839-?
  • Daniel Draper, 1841-1931
  • William Draper, 1845-1853
  • Antonia Draper Dixon, 1849-1923


He died on January 4, 1882 at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York at the age of 70.[6] The funeral was held at St Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in New York City. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.[7]


In 1976, New York University founded the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Humanities and Social Thought (Draper Program) [1] in honour of his life-long commitment to interdisciplinary study.

In 2001, Draper was designated an ACS National Historical Chemical Landmark in recognition of his role as the first president of American Chemical Society.[2]


  1. ^ Fleming, Donald. John William Draper and the Religion of Science. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950.
  2. ^ Ibid., p. 7-8.
  3. ^ Ibid., p. 8.
  4. ^ Ibid., p.9-13
  5. ^ ACS Presidents, accessed October 22, 2006
  6. ^ New York Times, January 5, 1882.
  7. ^ New York Times, January 11, 1882.


  • Elements of Chemistry, Including the Most Recent Discoveries and Applications of the Science to Medicine and Pharmacy, and to the Arts. by Robert Kane (chemist) and John William Draper. New York, Harper and Brothers, 1842.
  • History of the American Civil War. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1867-70.
  • History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. New York, D. Appleton, 1874.
  • History of the Intellectual Development of Europe. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1863.
  • Human Physiology, Statistical and Dynamical; or, the Conditions and Course of the Life of Man. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1856.
  • Life of Franklin, Edited by Ronald S. Wilkinson. Washington: Library of Congress: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977.
  • Scientific Memoirs; Being Experimental Contributions to a Knowledge of Radiant Energy. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1878.
  • Text-Book on Chemistry. For the Use of Schools and Colleges. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1851.
  • Text-Book on Natural Philosophy. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1847.
  • Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America. 3rd ed. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1867.
  • Treatise on the Forces Which Produce the Organization of Plants. With an Appendix Containing Several Memoirs on Capillary Attraction, Electricity, and the Chemical Action of Light. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1844.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "John_William_Draper". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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