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Josiah Parsons Cooke


Josiah Parsons Cooke (October 12 1827 – September 3 1894) was an American scientist who worked at Harvard University and was instrumental in the measurement of atomic weights, inspiring America's first Nobel laureate in chemistry, Theodore Richards, to pursue similar research. Cooke's 1854 paper on atomic weights has been said to foreshadow the periodic law developed later by Mendeleev and others.[1] Historian I. Bernard Cohen described Cooke "as the first university chemist to do truly distinguished work in the field of chemistry" in the United States.[2]


Life and work

Josiah Parsons Cooke was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1827. He attended Boston Latin School and as a teenager set up his own chemical laboratory, partly due to an interest sparked by lectures of Yale's Benjamin Silliman. The teaching of chemistry at Harvard was in poor shape at this time,[3] so after Cooke entered the university in 1843 he continued to be largely self-taught in the subject. Cooke graduated from Harvard in 1848 with an A.B., and became a mathematics tutor there the following year. In 1850 he was elected the Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy at Harvard, although he had had little formal education in chemistry.

Reversing the modern order, after Cooke obtained his professorship he embarked on a plan of advanced study, spending eight months in Europe attending the lectures of Dumas and Regnault.[4] On returning to the United States, Cooke began in earnest to raise the standard of chemical education at Harvard, introducing required courses in chemistry, accompanied by laboratory instruction. He was one of the first, if not the very first, in the United States to use laboratory work to teach chemistry.

Cooke's first publication was in 1852, a study of an arsenic crystal.[5] This was followed by investigations of the atomic weights of arsenic and other elements. By 1862 Cooke also was publishing in the new field of spectroscopy.[6] He studied crystals throughout his career, and the mineral "cookeite", an aluminosilicate quartz, is named after him.[4] In addition to his research efforts, Cooke taught a course in introductory chemistry for over forty years and was, by all accounts, quite successful at it. According to Jackson, Cooke published forty-one scientific papers based on his research and thirty-two on other subjects,[7] along with at least eight books.

Among the areas in which Cooke took an interest and published in was the relationship between religion and science.

Cooke married Mary H. Huntington in 1860; the couple had no children. He died in 1894 in Newport, Rhode Island, and was buried at the Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Selected writings


  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1857). Problems and Reactions, to Accompany Stockhardt's Elements of Chemistry. E. H. Butler. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1860). Elements of Chemical Physics. Little, Brown and Company. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1864). Religion and Chemistry; or, Proofs of God's Plan in the Atmosphere and its Elements. C. Scribner's Sons. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1876). Scientific Culture. Henry S. King and Company. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1881). Chemical and Physical Researches. Cambridge. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1885). Principles of Chemical Philosophy. J. Allyn. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1888). The New Chemistry. Appleton. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1888). The Credentials of Science the Warrant of Faith. Robert Carter and Brothers. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1890). A Plea for Liberal Culture. J. Wilson and Son, University Press. 
  • Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1896). Laboratory Practice: A Series of Experiments on the Fundamental Principles. D. Appleton and Company. 

Activities and honors

  • National Academy of Sciences, elected a member in 1872
  • Associate Editor, American Journal of Science, 1877
  • Doctor of Laws, honorary degree, University of Cambridge, 1882
  • President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1892–1894


  1. ^ Jackson, Charles L. (1902). "Memoir of Josiah Parsons Cooke". Biographical Memoirs 4: 175–183.
  2. ^ Cohen, I. Bernard (1959). "Some Reflections on the State of Science in America During the Nineteenth Century". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 45: 666–677. Retrieved on 2007-12-22.
  3. ^ Rosen, Sidney (1982). "Josiah Parsons Cooke of Harvard". Journal of Chemical Education 59: 525.
  4. ^ a b Josiah Parsons Cooke (1827–1894): Links to Atmospheric Chemistry. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. - See linked extended abstract (pdf file).
  5. ^ Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1852). "Description of a Crystal of Rhombic Arsenic". Proceedings of the American Academy 3: 86.
  6. ^ Cooke, Josiah Parsons (1862). "On the Spectroscope". American Journal of Science 34: 299.
  7. ^ Jackson, Charles L. (1902). "Memoir of Josiah Parsons Cooke". Biographical Memoirs 4: 179.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Josiah_Parsons_Cooke". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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