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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor



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John Lawrence Smith

SMITH, John Lawrence, chemist, born near Charleston, South Carolina, 17 December, 1818; died in Louisville, Kentucky, 12 October, 1883. He entered the University of Virginia in 1836, and devoted two years to the study of chemistry, natural philosophy, and civil engineering, after which for a year he was assistant engineer in the construction of a railroad line between Charleston and Cincinnati. Abandoning civil engineering, he stud-led medicine, and was graduated at the Medical college of the state of South Carolina in 1840. After studying in Paris, he determined in 1841 to devote himself to chemistry, and thereafter he spent his summers in Giessen with Baron Justus von Licbig and his winters in Paris with Theophile J. Pelouze. He returned to Charleston in 1844, began the practice of medicine, delivered a course of lectures on toxicology at the Medical college, and in 1846 established the "Medical and Surgical Journal of South Carolina." Meanwhile he had published in the "American Journal of Science" several papers, including one "On the Means of detecting Arsenic in the Animal Body and of counteracting its Effects" (1841), in which certain of the conclusions of Orfila were shown to be erroneous, and one on "The Composition and Products of Distillation of Spermaceti " (1842), which was the most elaborate investigation on organic chemistry published by an American up t, ) that time. Dr. Smith's fondness for chemistry led to his appointment by the state of South Carolina to assay the bullion that came into commerce from the gold-fields of Georgia and the Carolinas. About this time his attention was directed to the marlbeds in the vicinity of Charleston, and his investigations of the value of these deposits for agricultural purposes were among the earliest scientific contributions on this subject. He also investigated the meteorological conditions, soils, and modes of culture that affect the growth of cotton, and made a report on these subjects, in 1846 he was invited by the sultan of Turkey, on the recommendation of James Buchanan, to teach Turkish agriculturists the proper method of cotton-culture in Asia Minor. On reaching the East, he found the proposed scheme to be impracticable, and was then appointed by the Turkish government to explore its mineral resources. For four years he devoted his energies to this work, and the Turkish government still derives part of its income from his discoveries. Besides the chrome-ore and coal that he made known, his discovery of the emery-deposits of Asia Minor was of great value, for the island of Naxos was at that time the only source of supply, and, in consequence of the opening of new deposits, the use of the substance was extended. The subsequent discovery and application of emery in this country is due to his publications on the subject. In 1850 he severed his relations with the Turkish authorities, spent some time in Paris, and projected there the inverted microscope, which he completed after his return to the United States in October. Dr. Smith then made New Orleans his home, and was elected to a chair in the scientific department of the university of that city, but in 1852 he succeeded Robert E. Rogers in the professorship of chemistry in the University of Virginia. While filling this chair, with his assistant, George J. Brush, he undertook the "Re-examination of American Minerals," which at the time of its completion was the most important contribution to mineral chemistry by any American chemist. He resigned this appointment in 1854, and settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where he married Sarah Julia Guthrie, daughter of James Guthrie, secretary of the treasury in 1853-'7. Dr. Smith filled the chair of chemistry in the medical department of the University of Louisville till 1866, and was superintendent of the gas-works in that city, of which he also acted as president for several years. He established a laboratory for the production of chemical reagents and of the rarer pharmaceutical preparations, in which he associated himself with Dr. Edward R. Squibb. From the time of his settlement in Louisville he devoted attention to meteorites, and his collection, begun by the purchase of that of Dr. Gerald Troost, became the finest in the United States. It is inferior only to those of London and Paris, and is now owned by Harvard. His interest in this subject led to the study of similar minerals with the separation of their constituents, and while investigating smarskite, a mineral rich in the rare earths, he announced his discovery of what he considered a new element, to which he gave the name of mosandrum. Dr. Smith was exceeding ingenious in devising new apparatus and standard methods of analysis. He was a chevalier of the Legion of honor, and received the order of Nichan Iftabar and that of the Medjidich from the Turkish government, and that of St. Stanislas from Russia. In 1874 he was president of the American association for the advancement of science, and he was president of the American chemical society in 1877. In addition to membership in many foreign and American set-entitle bodies, he was one of the original members of the National academy of sciences, and in 1879 was elected corresponding member of the Academy of sciences of the institute of France, to succeed Sir Charles Lyell. The Baptist orphan home of Louisville was founded and largely endowed by him. In 1867 he was one of the commissioners to the World's fair in Paris, furnishing for the government reports an able contribution on "The Progress and Condition of Several Departments of Industrial Chemistry," and he represented the United States at Vienna in 1873, where his report on "Chemicals and Chemical Industries" supplements his excellent work at the earlier exhibition. At the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 he was one of the judges in the department relating to chemical arts, and contributed a valuable paper on "Petroleum" to the official reports. His published papers were about 150 in number. The more important of them were collected and published by him under the title of "Mineralogy and Chemistry, Original Researches" (Louisville, 1873; enlarged, with biographical sketches, 1884). Mrs. Smith transferred to the National academy of sciences $8,000, the sum that was paid by Harvard university for Dr. Smith's collection of meteorites, the interest of which is to be expended in a Lawrence Smith medal valued at $200 and presented not oftener than once in two years to any person that shall make satisfactory original investigations of meteoric bodies. The first presentation of this medal was on 18 April, 1888, to Professor Hubert A. Newton (q. v.).

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