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August 4, 1962


JAMA. 1962;181(5):437-438. doi:10.1001/jama.1962.03050310077017

Joseph Priestley was born in 1733 a few miles from Leeds in Yorkshire, and died in exile in Northumberland, Pa., in 1804.1 He isolated oxygen but did not "discover" it because of his bondage to the phlogiston doctrine. First honors went to Lavoisier by default. However, Priestley's investigations in respiration constituted basic advances in general physiology, although he was neither a physician nor a physiologist. Like Stephen Hales, who measured the blood pressure in a horse, Priestley's interests in physiology were avocational. Theology was the vocation of each, with one notable difference. Priestley moved from parish to parish bettering his position each time, whereas Stephen Hales remained a perpetual curate in one parish. Priestley was neither a University man nor an avowed scientist, but gained most of his livelihood as a minister, supplemented by royalties from his writing and assistance from his friends for scientific research.

There were two