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December 6, 1965


JAMA. 1965;194(10):1131-1132. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03090230099032

James Syme, surgeon in ordinary to the Queen of Scotland, professor of clinical surgery in the University of Edinburgh, and senior attending surgeon in the Royal Infirmary, occupied an enviable station in Edinburgh during the first half of the 19th century.1 He was born on Princes Street, Edinburgh, into a family of wealth and position. His father had been a Writer to the Signet. James's preliminary education was gained at the local schools, where he showed, at an early age, an interest in chemistry and developed a solvent for India rubber. Syme sent a communication on the new substance to Dr. Thomson, dated March 5, 1818, which was published in the Annals of Philosophy.2

As coal tar in every respect bears the strongest resemblance to petroleum, it occurred to me that by distilling it a fluid might be procured which, like naphtha, should have the property of dissolving