Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794)

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Adams State University]On: 16 October 2014, At: 13:50Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Benjamin Franklin (17061790) andAntoine Laurent Lavoisier (17431794)Denis I. Duveen F.R.I.C. a & Herbert S. Klickstein M.D. aa Institute of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins UniversityPublished online: 02 Jun 2006.

    To cite this article: Denis I. Duveen F.R.I.C. & Herbert S. Klickstein M.D. (1955) Benjamin Franklin(17061790) and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (17431794), Annals of Science, 11:4, 271-302, DOI:10.1080/00033795500200295

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  • ANNALS OF SCIENCE A QUARTERLY REVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF

    SCIENCE SINCE THE RENAISSANCE

    VOL. 11 DECEMBER, 1955 No. 4

    (Published March 1957)

    BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1706-1790) AND ANTOINE LAUI~ENT

    LAVOISIER (1743-1794).

    PaRT II. JOINT INVESTIGATIONS.

    By DENIS I. DUVEEN, F.R.I.C.,

    and

    HERBERT S. KLICKSTEIN, M.D.,

    Institute of the History of Medicine, Johns Hop]cins Unive~'sity.

    ONE of the most serious problems to arise in America with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War was the provision of an adequate supply of gunpowder for the army. Most of the gunpowder that was then used ia the Colonies was obtained from Europe and, when rebellion threatened, the British forbad further imports. Franklin was informed of the new mandate by Thomas Cushing (1775 ?) 147, who voiced the apprehensions_ that this foreboded the most vigorous exertion of martial force by t.h( ~ British, and who pointed out that effective measures were being adoptet to remedy the situation. Military stores in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, he reported, had been removed to places of safety. Congres~ was faced with the problem of manufacturing gunpowder in the Colonies and of finding new sources of supply for the principal ingredients' sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre. Saltpetre was the critical material, since it accounted for almost 75 per cent of the finished explosive 14s. Committees were appointed to study the problem, bounties were offered for the

    147 Franklin Papers, A.P.S., lviii, 107. 14s See A. P. Van Golder and It. Schlatter, History of the explosives in.dustry in A met~ic~.~

    New York, 1927, particularly pp. 38-70 ; C. A. Browne, J. Chem. Ed., 1926, 3, 749 56, and ~V. C. Ford, Jou.rnals of the Continental Congres.% 1774-1789, Washington, 1905, voh :~, for debails.

    Ann. of Sci.--Vol, 11, No, 4, T 5 ~ ~ o k e o ~ p . g S g .

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  • 272 D. I. I)uveen and H. S. Klickstein on

    manufacture of gunpowder, and instructions relative to the making of gunpowder and its components were ordered to be printed. In 1775 Congress authorized the publication of a pamphlet entitled Several methods of making salt-petre ; recommended to the inhabitants of the United Colonies, by their representatives in Congress (Philadelphia) 149. This pamphlet contained articles by Benjamin Rush and Franklin. Rush's contribution was " An account of the manufactory of salt-petre ", which had previously appeared elsewhere TM. The section by Franklin, entitled " Method of making salt-petre in Hanover, 1766," had first appeared in the Massachusetts Spy for 6 September 1775, and in the Pennsylvania .Magazine for August, 1775. It was subsequently reprinted in Massa- chusetts TM and twice in New York ~ . Franklin not only took an active part in the dissemination of data on manufacturing gunpowder and its constituents 15a, but also was involved while in America in ordering powder for individual Colonies TM. When he went to England and France, he was approached on several occasions by individuals who wanted to supply saltloetre or sell information relative to its manufacture 15~. It was particnlarly in France that Franklin sought to procure saltpetre and gunpowder, since the French were anxious to sell, feeling that the American Revolution was weakening England and, therefore, favouring

    149 For bibl iographical i n fo rma t ion on th i s pub l i ca t ion and i ts la ter p r in t ings see W. Miles, Chymia, 1953, 4, 55-58.

    150 The ma te r i a l appea red in two separa te art icles in t he Pennsylvania Packet for 281Wovember 1774, a n d the Pennsylvania Jou~wal for 25 J a n u a r y 1775.

    151 Several methods of making salt-petre ; recommended to the inhabitants of the U~ted Colonies, by the Honorable Continental Congress, and republished by order o/ the General Assembly of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay. Together with resolve of said Assembly, and an appendix, by Doctor William Whiting, W a t e r t o w n , 1775.

    152 Essays upon the making of salt-petre and gun-powder. Published by order of the committee of safety of the Colony of New York, New York, 1776, a n d incorpora ted b y J o h n N a t h a n H u t c h i n s into Hutchin's improved ; beir~g an almanack and ephemeris of the motions of the sun and moon : . . . . for the year of our Lord 1776, ~ e w York.

    l~a I n add i t ion to the Lavois ier pub l ica t ions on sa l tpe t re t h a t F rank l in h a d in his l ibrary, and which will be no ted below, he h a d two copies of the following work, b o t h now in t he collection of t h e His tor ical Society of P e n n s y l v a n i a : Experiments and observations on American potashe8. With an easy method of determining their respective qualities, by W. Lewis, M.D., F.R.S., made at the request of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in consequence of an application from the House of Representatives of Massa- chusetts Bay, Loi~don, 1767. F r a n k l i n was a m e m b e r of th is Society as ear ly as 1761 ; see F'rankiiT~ Papers, A.P.S. , lxviii, 14, 15, 16, and Franklin Papers, U.P., 1, 2.

    1~4 A m o n g F r a n k l i n ' s papers , for example , is an order b y t he Cont inen ta l Congress of 28 J u l y 1775 for supp ly ing Virginia wi th one t on of gunpowder , Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , iii, 18.

    15s Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , vi~ 47 ; viii, 6 ; lx, 93 ; lxxi , 7b,

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  • Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier 273

    their own interests 156, 157 In this connexion Franklin was associated with Lavoisier, since the latter was one of the rdgisseurs of the Rdgie. des Poudres, a governmental organization which controlled the manufacture and distribution of gunpowder and saltpetre in France.

    The provision of gunpowder for the needs of France was entrusted in the latter part of the eighteenth century to a group of financiers, who frequently fell short of the required amounts, forcing the government to buy supplies in time of war from other countries at exorbitant prices. It is contended that a shortage of powder led to the acceptance of the Peace of Paris in 1763 which terminated the Seven Years' War. The Ferme des Poudres, the company who supplied the gunpowder, had little incentive other than profit, which ran as high as 30 per cent per annum of the capital investment. Many of their practices, in fact, considerably reduced the amount of saltpetre produced. When Louis XVI succeeded to the throne of France in 1774, he replaced the Abb6 Terray with the liberal Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot as comptroller-generM of finances. Turgot took steps to improve the powder situation. On the recommendation of Lavoisier the system was completely changed (1775) with the replacement of the Ferme des Poudres by the Rdgie des Poudres. Four rdgisseurs were appointed to carry out the duties previously handled by the company ; Lavoisier was one of them. The R@ie des Poudres soon abolished the malpractices of its predecessor and instituted for the first time efficient methods of operation. The major part of the administrative improve- ments and the totality of the important technical advances were due to Lavoisier. His efforts made it possible for France to produce sufficient gunpowder to allow export above her domestic needs ; she was, therefore, able to supply much of the gunpowder and saltpetre needed by the Colonies 15s.

    a~6 One le t ter speaks of the p r o c u r e m e n t of 200,000 p o u n d s of E a s t I nd i a sa l tpe t re a t 60 l ivres the h u n d r e d w e i g h t (Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , v, 8) ; ano the r gives par t icu la rs as to t h e ar t i l lery a n d a m m u n i t i o n needed, a n d a t w h a t a rsenals in France t hey can be ob ta ined (Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , lxi, 115).

    la7 F r a n k l i n also a r r anged m a n y of the pu rchases f rom the Ferme Gdndrale of which Lavois ier was a m e m b e r . Considerable correspondence passed be tween F rank l i n a n d the Ferme par t i cu la r ly wi th Paulze , f a rmer -genera l colleague a n d fa ther - in law of Lavois ier ; see Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , v, 31 ; vi, 14; 125; vii, 14; xiii, 148; xlv, l13b , 113c; lxxi, 63, a n d Library of Congress List, cc. 145, 373, 376, 485. The Amer i can Colonies sold tobacco to t h e Fer,rne t h r o u g h F rank l in ; see Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , xii, 159 ; x lv , 55, l I3a , 114 ; xlvi , 37, 67, 68 ; liii, 29, 34, 36 ; Franklin Papers, U. P., ix, 35 ; Library of Congress List, ce. 137, 3, 129, cc 137, 3, 111, cc. 145, 385, 810, 1147, 1148. For o ther m a n u s c r i p t s re la t ing to the Ferme see Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , iv, 126 ; xiii, 183 ; xliii, i18, 152 ; Franklin Papers, U.P., x, 49, 50.

    158 S tephenson , Am. Hist. Rev., 1925, 30, 271-81, gives a llst of such impor t s for the period f rom the s t a r t of host i l i t ies to t h e fall of 1777.

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  • 274 D . I . Duveen and H. S. Kliekstein on

    Lavoisier wrote and edited a number of works for the _Rdgie des Poudres : in 1776 the Recueil dem~moires et d' observations sur la formation & sur la fabrication du salpdtre 159 ; his Instruction ~ur l'dtablissement des nitri~res et sur la fabrication du salp~tre in 1777 ; and in 1778 the Observa- tions sur le travail des eaux-m~res de salp~tre, et sur celui des eaux d'atelier. Franklin had three copies of the latter publication, two of which are now in the possession of the HistoricM Society of Pennsylvania and one in the library of the American Philosophical Society. Other works followed, and Lavoisier made additional studies on the sMtpetre problem, reporting his results to the Acaddmie Royale des Sciences from time to time1% Franklin was in a position to learn a great deal about gunpowder and saltpetre from Lavoisier, and he unquestionably passed his informa- tion on to the Colonies z61.

    Only a few Franklin-Lavoisier manuscripts have survived relating to the sale of gunpowder and saltpetre. In a letter of 9 November 1780162, Lavoisier apologized to Franklin for not having previously returned letters and other pieces referring to the shipment of saltpetre from St. Male to L'Orient, because he had been obliged to put them at the disposal of the gdgie des Poudres and to attach them to the pertinent memoir and report. Letters from Jonathan Williams Jr. to Franklin give some details of this transaction and the apparent difficulties that arose : on September 26, Williams gives Franklin a minute account of the

    159 This volume is a compilation of all t ha t was known about saltpetre. On pp. 597- 600 of this work is a section en t i t l ed" M6thode de fabriquer le saltp6tre en Amdrique, extrai te du Remembrancer , numb. vi, London, 1775." Lavoisier made a synopsis of the article in his Recueil de mdmoires et de pi~ees sur la formation et la fabrication du salp$tre (1786).

    190 The rdgisseurs gdndraux des poudres & salpgtres issued in 1779 an anonymous work entitled L'art de fabriquer le salin et la potasse (Paris), which was unquest ionably wr i t ten by Lavoisier. A German t ranslat ion was made in 1780 and an English t ranslat ion by Charles ~Villiamos was published a round 1784 (for details see D. I . Duveon and H. S. Klickstein, " The art of manu,facturing alkaline salts and potashes the first publication of Lavoisier in America," William and Mary Quart., in press). Frankl in knew Williamos and exchanged several letters wi th h im (Franklin Papers, A.P.S. . xxx, 131x/2; xxxiii, 25, 67, Ivi (i), 78).

    161 Frankl in was also a friend of Pierre Samuel du Pon t de l ~ r n o u r s (1739-1817), an associate of Lavoisier, who pr inted several of his smaller works ; Frankl in and du Pon t corresponded regularly, see, for example, Franklin Papers, A . P . S . , ii, 83, 124, 276 ; vi, I61 ; xxxiv, 120. Pierre 's eldest son, Victor Marie du Pon t (1767-1827), was at one t ime Lavoisier 's laboratory ass i s tan t ; Frankl in refers to h im in his letter to Madame Lavoisier (note 123). Victor Marie went to America around 1789 and was initially guided by Frankl in at the request of the elder du Pont (Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , xxxv, 130). I t was Eleuth6re Ir6n6e du Pont (1771-1834), a younger son, who later came to America an...

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