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William Nicholson (chemist)

William Nicholson (1753—May 21, 1815) was a renowned English chemist who was also a writer on natural philosophy and chemistry as well as a translator, journalist, publisher, scientist, and inventor.

The year of Nicholson's birth in London has been recorded but, as was common in the 18th century, the day and month remained undocumented. After leaving school, he made two voyages as a midshipman in the service of the British East India Company. Subsequently, he briefly embarked upon a law practice but, having become acquainted, in 1775, with Josiah Wedgwood, he moved to Amsterdam, where he made a living for a few years as agent for the sale of pottery.

On his return to England he was persuaded by Thomas Holcroft to apply his writing talents to the composition of light literature for periodicals, while also assisting Holcroft with some of his plays and novels. Meanwhile he devoted himself to the preparation of An Introduction to Natural Philosophy, which was published in 1781 and was at once successful. A translation of Voltaire's Elements of the Newtonian Philosophy soon followed, and he now entirely devoted himself to scientific pursuits and philosophical journalism. In 1784 he was appointed secretary to the General Chamber of Manufacturers of Great Britain, and he was also connected with the Society for the Encouragement of Naval Architecture, established in 1791. He bestowed much attention upon the construction of various machines for comb-cutting, file-making, cylinder printing another uses—he also invented an areometer.

In 1797 he began to publish and contribute to the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, generally known as Nicholson's Journal, the earliest work of its kind in Great Britain—the publication continued until 1814. In 1799 he established a school in London's Soho Square, where he taught natural philosophy and chemistry.

In 1800 he discovered with Anthony Carlisle the electrolysis leading to the decomposition of water by the voltaic current. During the later years of his life, Nicholson's attention was chiefly directed to waterworks engineering at Portsmouth, at Gosport and in Southwark.

Besides considerable contributions to the Philosophical Transactions, Nicholson wrote translations of Fourcroy's Chemistry (1787) and Chaptal's Chemistry (1788), First Principles of Chemistry (1788) and a Chemical Dictionary (1795); he also edited the British Encyclopaedia, or Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (6 vols., London, 1809). He also wrote an autobiography which was extant in manuscript at the end of the 19th century, but has been subsequently presumed lost.

William Nicholson died in Bloomsbury, London at the age of 61 or 62.

See also

  • Anthony Carlisle

Largely based on the public domain Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition and Mike Chrimes, article "Nicholson, William", in Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers, vol. 1 1500-1830, 2002 ISBN 0-7277-2939-X

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William_Nicholson_(chemist)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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