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John Dalton

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John Dalton (1766-1844) was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness (sometimes referred to as Daltonism, in his honour).

1766 John Dalton was born on 5 or 6 September, in Eaglesfield, Cumberland, into a Quaker family of tradesmen. He was the youngest of the three offspring of Joseph and Deborah, who survived to adulthood. He attended John Fletcher's Quaker grammar school in Eaglesfield.

1778 When John was only 12 years old, Fletcher turned the school over to John's older brother, Jonathan, who called upon the younger Dalton to assist him with teaching.

1780 The brothers purchased a school in Kendal, where they taught approximately 60 students, some of them boarders. Whilst teaching, Dalton was influenced by two men - a classical scholar and mathematician from Kendal and a monied Quaker who was interested in science. He started to learn about Latin, Greek and mathematics as well as meteorology and the instruments associated with keeping weather records.

1793 Dalton moved to Manchester as a teacher of mathematics at the New College. His work, Meteorological Observations and Essays, was published that year, and although it seemed to have little effect at first, it would soon pave the way to meteorology becoming a serious science.

1800 Listed in Bancks's Manchester & Salford Directory as 'Mathematical tutor, New College, 14 Dawson Street'.

Dalton was elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society shortly after his arrival in Manchester. He submitted a paper on the the defect he had discovered in both own and his brother's eyesight - it was the first publication on colour blindness, an affliction thereafter known as Daltonism.

Dalton's most important work in chemistry was his atomic theory, although little is known as to exactly how his ideas were developed, as records are incomplete. He theorised that each gas in a mixture behaved independently and, although this was later found to be incorrect, it helped him put and end to the idea that atoms of all kinds of matter are alike - a concept that dated back to the early Greeks. But Dalton had not performed research in this field, even though he had taught chemistry for several years.

Dalton did little scientific work of distinction once he reached the age of fifty, although his interest in research continued.

He was elected into the fellowship of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and from the University of Oxford he was awarded an honorary degree. He became one of only eight foreign associates of the French Academy of Sciences, taking the place vacated by the death of Sir Humphry Davy. The British Crown awarded him a pension on the Civil List.

1817 Dalton was elected president of the Literary and Philosophical Society in Manchester, and remained in that office for the rest of his life. The society provided him with a laboratory after the New College moved to York.

1825 Listed as a teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy. House: 10 George Street[1].

He stayed on in Manchester and taught private pupils.

1844 John Dalton died of a stroke on 27 July, in Manchester.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'History, Directory, and Gazeteer of the County of Lancaster', Vol 2, by Edward Baines and W. Parson
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • [2] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
  • [3] Oxford DNB