[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
August 1, 1966

JOHN MAYOW (1641-1679)

JAMA. 1966;197(5):364-365. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03110050102029

If John Mayow had described by name the vital substance he identified in the respiratory cycle, he would have been credited with the discovery of oxygen a century before the communications by Priestley and Lavoisier. Instead, he called the molecules "nitro-aërial" or "igneo-aërial" particles, which failed to attract the scientists of his day to the significance of his experimental observations and physiological deductions. A difference of opinion prevails among his biographers regarding the date and place of his birth as well as credit due for his belatedly recognized concepts.1

Mayow was born some time between 1640 and 1645, either in Cornwall or in London. He was accepted as a commoner of Wadham College, Oxford, and, on the recommendation of Henry Coventry, was elected to fellowship at All Souls College. There he studied law, receiving the bachelor of civil law in 1665 and the doctorate in 1670. Meanwhile, he had