Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GUTHRIE, Samuel, chemist, born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, in 1782; died in Sackett's Harbor, New York, 19 October, 1848. He studied medicine, and was among the earliest laborers in practical chemistry in the United States. He invented and first manufactured percussion pills, also inventing the punch lock for exploding them. This lock took the place of the old flint lock in firearms, and was in turn superseded, after Dr. Guthrie's death, by the percussion cap. In the course of his experiments he sustained lasting injuries and nearly lost his life from an accidental explosion. He also invented in 1830 a process for the rapid conversion of potato starch into molasses, which he published in Silliman's "American Journal of Science," to which he contributed occasional papers on scientific subjects. Dr. Guthrie was an original discoverer of chloroform, independently of the contemporaneous researches of Soubeiran, Liebig, and Dumas--made at the same time, but unknown to Guthrie. His chloroform was distributed and his process repeated and verified by the elder Silliman at Yale college in 1831, while the publication of Soubeiran and Liebig's discoveries were made in January and March, 1832, respectively. Dr. Guthrie's process was by distilling together alcohol and bleaching powder and afterward purifying the distillate, thus obtaining pure chloroform. The exact composition of this substance, termed by Guthrie a "spirituous solution of chlorie ethel," remained unknown till 1834, when Dumas published the results of his investigation, and named it chloroform. A committee of the Medico-chirurgical society of Edinburgh awarded to Dr. Guthrie the merit of having first published an account of its therapeutic effects as a diffusible stimulant in 1832.--His son, Alfred, mechanical engineer, born in Sherburne, New York, 1 April, 1805; died in Chicago, Illinois, 17 August, 1882, removed with his parents to Sackett's Harbor in 1817, where he studied medicine and chemistry with his father, being his assistant at the time of his discovery of chloroform. For ten years he practised medicine, but an aversion to that profession led to his engaging in other occupations. In 1846 he settled in Chicago, where he advanced the idea of supplying the summit level of the Illinois and Michigan canal with water by raising it from Lake Michigan with steam power. The hydraulic works of this canal in Chicago were designed by him and constructed under his supervision, and when completed they were capable of handling a larger volume of water than any other similar works then in existence. In consequence of having a capacity greater than was required by the canal, they were operated for several years in lifting the sewage of Chicago to the canal, which then passed on to its ultimate dissipation in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Guthrie's great work was his conception of the United States steamboat inspection laws. The terrible steamboat disasters of 1851 led him, at his own expense, to visit the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, where he studied the defective building and the reckless management that resulted in serious loss of life and property. He made numerous drawings with explanations, which were presented to congress, and finally drafted the bill that was enacted in 1852. It is estimated that prior to 1849, 45 percent of these river steamboats were lost by disaster, while in 1882, on 5,117 vessels, the loss of life was only one to each 1,726,827 persons.--Another son, Edwin, physician, born in Sherburne, New York, 11 December, 1806; died at the Castle of Perote, Mexico, 20 July, 1847, studied medicine with his father, but subsequently abandoned that profession and settled in Iowa, where he held public office. Soon after the beginning of the war with Mexico, he raised a company of Iowa volunteers, of which he became captain, and went to the seat of war. He was wounded in the knee during the engagement at Pass La Hoya, and, after suffering two amputations, died. Guthrie county, Iowa, is named in his honor.
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