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Template:Other people3 Template:Infobox Scientist 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. He also had three sisters, Dorothy Catherine, 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 William 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.[1]

On September 13, 1831, John William 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, she was sent with her brother Daniel to live with their aunt in London.[2]

Following his father's death in July, 1831, John William's mother was urged to move with her children to Virginia. John William hoped to acquire a teaching position at a local Methodist college.[3]


In 1832, the family settled in Mecklenburg County, Virginia 7½ miles (12 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.[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 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. 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.

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.[5][6]

On Saturday 30 May the 1860 Oxford evolution debate featured Draper's lecture on his paper "On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law." Draper's presentation was an early example of applying a Darwinian metaphor of 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.[7][8]

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 between 1876 and 1877.[9]


  • 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


He died on January 4, 1882 at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York at the age of 70.[10] 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.[11]

File:John William Draper House.jpg

The Draper House


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)[12] 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.[13]



  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. "Science: Draper's Memoirs". The Academy (London: Robert Scott Walker) XIV (338): 408. Oct. 26, 1878. 
  6. J. R. Mahan (2002). Radiation heat transfer: a statistical approach (3rd ed.). Wiley-IEEE. p. 58. ISBN 9780471212706. 
  7. Keith Thomson (May-June 2000). "Huxley, Wilberforce and the Oxford Museum". American Scientist. p. 210. Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  8. "Letter 2852 — Hooker, J. D. to Darwin, C. R., 2 July 1860". Darwin Correspondence Project. Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  9. ACS Presidents, accessed October 22, 2006
  10. New York Times, January 5, 1882.
  11. New York Times, January 11, 1882.


  • Barker, George Frederick. Memoir of John William Draper: 1811–1882. Washington, D.C., 1886.
  • Draper, John William. (1875). History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. Henry S. King & Co (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 9781108000697)
  • Fleming, Donald. John William Draper and the Religion of Science. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950.
  • 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.

Draper's publications[]

External links[]

Template:Presidents of the American Chemical Society

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