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John William Draper

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Title: John William Draper  
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Subject: Presidents of the American Chemical Society, Myth of the flat Earth, Antonia Maury, Relationship between religion and science, American Chemical Society
Collection: 1811 Births, 1882 Deaths, 19Th-Century Photographers, Alumni of University College London, American Agnostics, American Chemists, American Historians, American Photographers, Astrophotographers, Burials at Green-Wood Cemetery, English Agnostics, English Chemists, English Emigrants to the United States, English Historians, English Photographers, Hampden–sydney College Faculty, Historians of Science, Historians of the American Civil War, New York University Faculty, People Educated at Woodhouse Grove School, People from Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, People from St Helens, Merseyside, Photochemists, Presidents of the American Chemical Society, University of Pennsylvania Alumni
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John William Draper

John William Draper
John William Draper
Born (1811-05-05)May 5, 1811
St. Helens, Lancashire, England
Died January 4, 1882(1882-01-04) (aged 70)
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, US
Nationality American
Alma mater University College London
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Known for Photochemistry
Notable awards Rumford Medal (1875)

John William Draper (May 5, 1811 – January 4, 1882) was an English-American scientist, philosopher, physician, chemist, historian and photographer. He is credited with producing the first clear photograph of a female face (1839–40) and the first detailed photograph of the Moon (1840). He was also the first president of the American Chemical Society (1876–77) and a founder of the New York University School of Medicine. One of Draper's books, the anti-Catholic History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, was widely read and was translated into several languages.[1] His son, Henry Draper, and his granddaughter, Antonia Maury, were astronomers, her younger sister, Carlotta Maury was a paleontologist, and his eldest son, John Christopher Draper, was a chemist.[2]


  • Early life 1
  • Virginia 2
  • New York 3
  • Work 4
  • Children 5
  • Death 6
  • Legacy 7
  • Publications 8
  • References 9
  • Sources 10
  • External links 11

Early life

John William Draper was born May 5, 1811 in St. Helens, Lancashire, England to John Christopher Draper, a Wesleyan clergyman and Sarah (Ripley) Draper. He also had three sisters, Dorothy Catherine (August 6, 1807 – December 10, 1901),[3] Elizabeth Johnson, and Sarah Ripley. On June 23, he was baptized by the Wesleyan minister Jabez Bunting. His father often needed to move the family due to serving various congregations throughout England. John Wm. Draper was home tutored until 1822, when he entered Woodhouse Grove School. He returned to home instruction (1826) prior to entering University College London in 1829.[4] While at University College London, Draper studied chemistry under the direction of Edward Turner (chemist).[5]

On September 13, 1831, John William Draper married Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner (c. 1814–1870), the daughter of Daniel Gardner, a court physician to John VI of Portugal and Charlotte of Spain. Antonia was born 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, Antonia was sent with her brother Daniel to live with their aunt in London.[6]

Following his father's death in July, 1831, John William's mother was urged to move with her children to Virginia, US. John William hoped to acquire a teaching position at a local Methodist college.[7]


Portrait of John Draper engraved by John Sartain

In 1832, the family settled in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, 7 12 miles (12.1 km) east (on Virginia State Route 47) from Christiansville (now Chase City). Although he arrived too late to obtain the prospective teaching position, John William established a laboratory in Christiansville. Here he conducted experiments and published eight papers before entering medical school. His sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper provided finances through teaching drawing and painting for his medical education. In March 1836, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. That same year, he began teaching at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.[8]

New York

In 1837, Draper accepted an appointment to be head of chemistry in a proposed medical school at New York University; however, sufficient funds were not available at that time to go ahead with the project. In 1839, Draper was elected undergraduate professor of chemistry and botany at the university, and moved with his family to New York City .[9] Once there he helped to found the New York University Medical School, acting as a professor there from 1840 to 1850, president of the school from 1850 to 1873, and as a professor of chemistry until 1881.


Draper did important research in photochemistry, made portrait photography possible by his improvements (1839) on Louis 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.

Copy of a photograph of Dorothy Catherine Draper taken by John Draper c. 1840. Plate size: 8.3×10.2 cm (3 1/4×4 in).[3] See also another copy.

In 1839–1840, Draper produced clear photographs, which at that time were regarded as the first life photographs of a human face.[10][11] Draper took a series of pictures, with a 65-second exposure in sunlight. The first ones, of a female assistant whose face was covered with a thin layer of flour to increase contrast, were not preserved. Draper also photographed his sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper, and one of those pictures (see image) became known to the public via the letter which Draper sent to John Herschel in 1840. Several copies were made of this picture in the 19th century, and the photograph attached with Draper's letter was also likely a copy made by Draper himself.[3]

In March 1840 Draper became the first person to produce photographs of an astronomical object, the Moon, considered the first astrophotographs.[12] 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.

Draper developed the proposition in 1842 that only light rays that are absorbed can produce chemical change.[13] 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.

In 1847 he published the observation that all solids glow red at about the same temperature, about 977 °F (798 K), which has come to be known as the Draper point.[14][15]

On Saturday 30 May the adaptation and environment to social and political studies, but was thought to be long and boring. The hall was crowded to hear Bishop Samuel Wilberforce's views on Charles Darwin's recent publication of On the Origin of Species, and the occasion was a historically significant part of the reaction to Darwin's theory due to reports of Thomas Henry Huxley's response to Wilberforce.[16][17]

Contributions to the discipline of history: Draper 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 in 1876.[18]

Draper was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1877.[19]


  • John Christopher Draper (1835–1885)
  • Henry Draper (1837–1882)
  • Virginia Draper Maury (1839–1885)
  • Daniel Draper (1841–1931)
  • William Draper (1845–1853)
  • Antonia Draper Dixon (1849–1923)


The Draper House.

He died on January 4, 1882 at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York at the age of 70.[20] 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.[21]


In 1975, Draper's house in Hastings was designated a National Historic Landmark.

In 1976, New York University founded the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Humanities and Social Thought (Draper Program)[22] in honor of his lifelong commitment to interdisciplinary study.

In 2001, Draper and the founding of the American Chemical Society were designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark at New York University.[23]


  • Elements of Chemistry, Including the Most Recent Discoveries and Applications of the Science to Medicine and Pharmacy, and to the Arts. by Robert Kane 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, 1900 edition, v.1,v.2
  • 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, D.C.: Library of Congress: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977.
  • Draper, John William. (1875). History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. Henry S. King & Co (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00069-7)
  • Science in America: Inaugural address of Dr. John W. Draper, as president of the American Chemical Society New York: J.F. Trow & Son, Printers, 1876.
  • 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., 1861 edition
  • 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.

Draper also wrote many articles for the various magazines of his time.


  1. ^ Reuben, Julie A. (1996). The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality. University of Chicago Press. p. 34.  
  2. ^ John William Draper. The Notable Names Database
  3. ^ a b c Howard R. McManus, "The Most Famous Daguerreian Portrait: Exploring the History of the Dorothy Catherine Draper Daguerreotype," The Daguerreian Annual 1995, pp. 148–171.
  4. ^ Fleming
  5. ^ Wickliff, Gregory A. "John William Draper's Experiments in Light, Photography, and Photolithography". Daguerreian Annual 2011: 145. 
  6. ^ Fleming, pp. 7–8.
  7. ^ Fleming, p. 8.
  8. ^ Fleming, pp. 9–13
  9. ^ Barker, George F. (April 21, 1886). Memoir of John William Draper. 1811-1882 (PDF). Read before the Natural Academy. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Lienhard, John H. "No. 2604 John Draper's Sister". Engines of Our Ingenuity. University of Houston. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  11. ^ For early male photographs, see self-portraits by Henry Fitz and Robert Cornelius, both taken in 1839.
  12. ^ Kalfus, Skye. "Across the Spectrum". Chemical Heritage Magazine. Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  13. ^ On the idiosyncratic interpretation of the action of what Draper called "Tithonic rays" see Hentschel (2002).
  14. ^ "Science: Draper's Memoirs". The Academy (London: Robert Scott Walker) XIV (338): 408. October 26, 1878. 
  15. ^ J. R. Mahan (2002). Radiation heat transfer: a statistical approach (3rd ed.). Wiley-IEEE. p. 58.  
  16. ^ Keith Thomson (May–June 2000). "Huxley, Wilberforce and the Oxford Museum".  
  17. ^ "Letter 2852 — Hooker, J. D. to Darwin, C. R., 2 July 1860".  
  18. ^ "ACS President: John W. Draper (1811-1882)".  
  19. ^ "National Academy of Sciences".  
  20. ^ New York Times, January 5, 1882.
  21. ^ New York Times, January 11, 1882.
  22. ^ John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Humanities and Social Thought | New York University | Draper Program | NYU. Retrieved on 2011-09-05.
  23. ^ "John W. Draper and the Founding of the American Chemical Society, 1876".  


  • Barker, George Frederick. Memoir of John William Draper: 1811–1882. Washington, D.C., 1886.
  • Fleming, Donald. John William Draper and the Religion of Science. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950.
  • Hentschel, Klaus. Why not one more Imponderable?: John William Draper and his `Tithonic rays', "Foundations of Chemistry" 4,1 (2002): 5-59.
  • Miller, Lillian B., Frederick Voss, and Jeannette M. Hussey. The Lazzaroni: Science and Scientists in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.

External links

  • McManus, Howard R. "The Most Famous Daguerreian Portrait: Exploring the History of the Dorothy Catherine Draper Daguerreotype," The Daguerreian Annual, 1995, 148-71.
  • THE DAGUERREOTYPE PORTRAIT OF DOROTHY DRAPER. The Photographic Journal (Royal Photographic Society), December 1970, vol. 110, pp. 478–482
  • John William Draper family papers, 1777-1951 at the Library of Congress
  • Draper Family Collection, ca. 1826–1936 at the National Museum of American History
  • Draper Family Collection, 1836–1982 at the New York University Archives
  • Works by John William Draper at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about John William Draper at Internet Archive
  • Harper's Magazine articles by John William Draper
  • John W. Draper and the Founding of the American Chemical Society, 1876 at National Historic Chemical Landmarks
  • Dorothy Catherine Draper, taken by John W. Draper
  • NYU First Medical Faculty, 1841 J.W. Draper lower right corner
  • New York University John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Humanities and Social Thought (Draper Program)
  • Draper Society (NYU Club)
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
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