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Archibald Bruce. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B03753).

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Bruce, Archibald ( February 1777–22 February 1818), physician, mineralogist, and editor, was born in New York City, the son of William Bruce, a British army medical officer, and Judith Bayard Van Rensselaer. Despite his father’s expressed wish, Bruce pursued medical education and practice. After taking an A.B. at Columbia College in 1797, he continued his studies in New York and then moved on to Edinburgh (M.D., 1800). As was common in this period, his medical education included exposure to the natural sciences, and Bruce developed a lifelong interest in mineralogy. After completing his M.D., he extended his European stay with travels on the Continent to study mineralogy and collect materials for his own mineralogical cabinet....

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Cleaveland, Parker (15 January 1780–15 October 1858), educator and author of the first American textbook on mineralogy, was born in Byfield Parish, Massachusetts, the son of Parker Cleaveland, Sr., a medical doctor who served in the American Revolution, and Elizabeth Jackman. Cleaveland attended the Dummer Academy near his home and went to Harvard College for his undergraduate education. An honors graduate in the class of 1799, he took teaching jobs at secondary schools in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and York, Maine, until returning to Harvard to earn a master’s degree in 1802 and work as a tutor in 1803. Just two years later he accepted a position as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he remained on the faculty until his death. In September 1806 he married Martha Bush; they raised eight children....

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Genth, Frederick Augustus (17 May 1820–02 February 1893), chemist and mineralogist, was born Friedrich August Ludwig Karl Wilhelm Genth in Waechtersbach, Hesse-Cassel, Germany, the son of Georg Friedrich Genth, principal forest warden to Prince Issenburg, and Karoline Amalie, Freyin (Baroness) von Swartzenau. Genth attended the Gymnasium in Hanau, then studied at Heidelberg under Leopold Gmelin, at Giessen with Justus von Liebig, Hermann Kopp, and the analytical chemist C. R. Fresenius, finally receiving his Ph.D. in 1845 at Marburg, where he worked with Robert Wilhelm Bunsen. His thesis dealt with recovery of copper metal from copper-bearing schists: he later expanded it and published it in ...

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Gibbs, George (07 January 1776–05 August 1833), mineralogist and patron of science, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of George Gibbs, a wealthy merchant, and Mary Channing. Despite his father’s exhortations to “give up travelling. … fix yourself to business & lead a regular life observing the strictest economy,” Gibbs chose extensive travel in his youth and the life of a wealthy gentleman farmer when he did settle down. He adopted the honorary appellation “Colonel” and was usually referred to as “Colonel Gibbs” or just “the Colonel.”...

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Grim, Ralph Early (25 February 1902–19 August 1989), mineralogist, was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, the son of Harry Grim, a cigar maker, and Annette Early. After attending public schools, he prepared for the College Board examinations with a two-month, intensive preparatory course at Roxbury School in Cheshire, Connecticut, and was accepted at Yale University in 1920, completing his bachelor’s degree in 1924 and continuing there in graduate school. In 1924 he married Marie Claire “Peggy” O’Connor; they had no children. In the summer of 1925 he served as ...

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Keating, William Hypolitus (11 August 1799–17 May 1840), scientist, explorer, and lawyer, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, to Baron John Keating, a colonel in the Irish Brigade of the French army, and Eulalia Deschapelles. Keating’s father settled initially in Delaware after resigning his commission. The family moved to Philadelphia, and Keating entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1813, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1816. His interest in mineralogy and mining took him to Europe for five years, where he studied at the Paris School of Mines and visited mines in various countries. He returned to the United States and summarized his studies in a monograph, ...

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Mitchell, Elisha (19 August 1793–27 June 1857), geologist and mineralogist, was born in Washington, Connecticut, the son of Abner Mitchell and Phoebe Eliot, farmers. In 1813 he graduated from Yale University, where he studied under Benjamin Silliman, the noted professor of chemistry and natural history. After teaching briefly at Union Hall Academy in Jamaica, Long Island, and serving as principal of Union Academy in New London, Connecticut, he returned to Yale in 1816 as a tutor....

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Saugrain De Vigni, Antoine François (17 February 1763–18 or 19 May 1820), naturalist, mineralogist, surgeon, and physician, was born in Paris, France, the son of Antoine Claude Saugrain, a bookseller, and Marie Brunet. Little is known of Saugrain’s education other than through a 1787 letter of introduction to ...

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Seybert, Henry (23 December 1801–03 March 1883), scientist and philanthropist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Adam Seybert, a scientist, apothecary, and politician, and Maria Sarah Pepper. Seybert studied chemistry, geology, and mineralogy at the École des Mines in Paris from 1819 to 1821; his scientific education was paid for by his father who had, at an earlier period, been one of Philadelphia’s most prominent scientists, a member of the Chemical Society of Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society, and a candidate for the chair of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. After returning to Philadelphia, Seybert began a series of chemical analyses of minerals and thus transmitted to the United States this method of classification (as opposed to the classification of minerals by external characteristics or by crystal structure)....

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Shepard, Charles Upham (29 June 1804–01 May 1886), mineralogist, educator, chemist, and natural historian, was born in Little Compton, Rhode Island, the son of Mase Shepard, a Congregational minister, and Deborah Haskins. Shepard began collecting rocks and minerals while attending grammar school in Providence, Rhode Island. He entered Brown University in 1820, but his father died during his first year, and his mother then moved with her family to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Shepard entered the sophomore class at the newly founded Amherst College....

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Silliman, Benjamin (08 August 1779–24 November 1864), scientist and educator, was born in North Stratford (now Trumbull), Connecticut, the son of Gold Selleck Silliman, a lawyer and brigadier general in the Continental army, and Mary Fish Noyes. Silliman entered Yale College when he was thirteen, graduating in 1796. After spending two years at home and teaching at a private school, he began the study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1802. During this time he was also a tutor at Yale (1799–1802), where his interest in the natural world began. Yale’s president, ...

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Smith, John Lawrence (16 or 17 Dec. 1818–12 October 1883), chemist, mineralogist, and physician, was born near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Benjamin Smith, a wealthy merchant; his mother’s name is unknown. At a very young age, even before he could read, John Lawrence Smith demonstrated precocity in mathematics. After attending private schools and receiving a classical education at the College of Charleston, in 1835 he entered the University of Virginia, where he concentrated on science, mathematics, and engineering. Returning to Charleston in 1837, he worked for one year on a Charleston-to-Cincinnati railroad engineering project before entering the Medical College of Charleston and completing requirements for his M.D. degree in 1840. He studied in Europe for several years with Justus Liebig (who inspired him to focus his research efforts on chemistry), J. B. Dumas, Matthieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila, and Élie de Beaumont. Also at this time he initiated a lifelong association with ...

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Smithson, James (1765–27 June 1829), scientist and philanthropist, was born James Lewis Macie, probably in France, the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, later the first Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie, a wealthy widow from Weston, England. Little is known of Macie's childhood in France. In 1782 he enrolled in Pembroke College, Oxford, where he excelled in chemistry and mineralogy. Two years later, he embarked on his first geological collecting tour, in Scotland and the Hebrides, with a group of distinguished scientists. In 1786 he received an M.A.from Pembroke College and a year later was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, its youngest member. He presented his first paper to the society on 7 July 1791, “An Account of Some Chemical Experiments on Tabasheer,” recounting his chemical analyses of this substance found in the hollow of bamboo canes. Thus began a career of scientific research, exacting experimentation, and specimen collecting. In 1800 he was elected to the new Royal Institution of Great Britain, an organization devoted to “diffusing the knowledge and … the application of science to the common purposes of life.”...