Joseph Priestley (1733-1804)
Joseph Priestley, English chemist and Nonconformist minister, was born in Birstall on March 13th 1733, the son of a cloth-dresser.
After four years at a Dissenting academy in Daventry, he became a minister at Needham Market in Suffolk in 1755. In 1758 he moved Nantwich, where he opened a school at which the elementary lessons were varied with experiments in natural philosophy. Three years later he removed to Warrington as classical tutor in a new academy, and there he attended lectures on chemistry and pursued those studies in electricity which gained him the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1766 and supplied him with material for his History of Electricity.
In 1767 he was appointed to the charge of Mill Hill Chapel at Leeds, where he wrote many political tracts hostile to the attitude of the government towards the American colonies. He also began his researches into "different kinds of airs," getting a plentiful supply of "fixed air" from a brewery next door to his house. These scientific experiments were to lead to the discovery of oxygen.
By the end of 1771 Priestley's scientific reputation was so great that he was suggested for the post of "astronomer" to Captain Cook's second expedition to the South Seas, but his unorthodox opinions were objectionable to certain officials and the appointment was not ratified.
In 1774, as literary companion, he accompanied Lord Shelburne on a continental tour and published Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever.
He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1772 and to the St Petersburg Academy in 1780.
He later resided in Birmingham and in London, and in 1794 emigrated to America where he died in 1804.