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Title: James Cutbush - An American Chemist, 1788-1823
Author: Smith, Edgar Fahs, 1854-1928
Language: English
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Let us preserve the memory of the
deserving; perhaps it may prompt
others likewise to deserve--





There is nothing thrilling in the following pages. They contain the
story of the life-work of a very modest man deeply interested in and
enamoured with the science of chemistry, who sought also to inspire
others and to familiarize the general public of his time with the
intimate connection of chemistry with manufactures and things which
enter so largely into every-day occupations. He was an active member
of a small group of chemists who, in the early years of eighteen
hundred, caused thousands of the laity to give thought to the
possibilities of Chemistry, and in addition was a pioneer in
pyrotechnics, on which account he is deservedly entitled to every
recognition. More than a century has passed since his most serious
efforts were put forth. However, it will not be long until that early
galaxy of chemical enthusiasts of which he was a member will be
accorded a high place in the history of the development of the science
in America.




It is scarcely conceivable that anything pertaining to the development
of chemical science in America would fail to interest its chemists.
The response to the needs of the Nation in the last few years has
shown how marvelously they wrought and the wonderful things which they
brought to light. Yet in the long ago--in the days of which we only
know by hearsay, and through desultory reading, there lived chemists
with enthusiasm, knowledge and initiative, whose aim it was to have
their chosen science contribute to the welfare of humanity. In the
labors of such men as James Woodhouse, Robert Hare, Adam Seybert,
Henry Seybert, John Redman Coxe, Joseph Cloud, Gerard Troost, and many
others, the scientific spirit predominated, although with it went the
purpose, more or less sharply defined, of making their acquirements
useful. Particularly noticeable was this in the instance of Woodhouse.

The general consensus of opinion among present-day chemists is that
chemistry should be helpful to all. It may and should be scientific,
but its principles ought to be scientifically applied in every useful

The reader, desirous of learning the aims and ambitions of the fathers
of the science in our country, will profit by turning to the files of
the _Aurora_, an old daily paper of Philadelphia, for the year 1808,
and beginning about the middle of July will there encounter a most
interesting series of articles on the applications of chemistry under
the general heading


There are fifteen separate papers. In considering the
period--1808,--the age of the young Republic, and that the times were
far from quiet; that unrest and uncertainty prevailed as to the fate
of the Republic, it does not surprise that thought should have been
given to means of protection; hence gunpowder was the very first
product to engage the author of the series of articles. The proving
and analysis of the powder are discussed at length. The methods appear
very primitive in the light of present-day knowledge, but one must not
forget the period. One hundred years hence the masterpieces of
present-day chemists will perhaps provoke smiles upon the
countenances of those who perchance read them. In this pioneer
contribution on gunpowder analysis the charcoal of the powder is often
called "oxid of carbon." In referring to the separation of potassium
and sodium it is recommended to precipitate out the first in the form
of tartrate. Naturally, nitre itself comes in for serious thought and
the explosibility of the mixture of charcoal, nitre and sulphur
arrests the author's attention, for he emphasizes the fact--

    "that, independent of the formation of gases or airs, the
    agency of caloric, or matter of heat, generated in the
    process of combustion, considerably facilitates the strength
    of the powder, in consequence of producing the expansion of
    these airs."

Recently, under the pressure of a national necessity, which will not
soon be forgotten, the problem of getting nitre--nitrates and kindred
bodies--had the earnest attention of chemists. So, in the period
before and after 1808, methods of forming nitre had grave
consideration. For instance, this question, now amusing, was

    "How much nitre could be manufactured from the refuse animal
    and vegetable matter of the City of Philadelphia in case of
    emergency? What quantity could be prepared by elixating or
    washing the rubbish of old buildings, the earth of stables,
    cellars, etc., and the soil of certain tracts of the United

It is quite proper that mention should have also been made of the
natural _nitre beds_, as well as of the artificial beds built up from
slow experience. Reference is made that in France nitre was won from
the lime and rubbish of old, ruinous buildings, and from the floors of
stables and pigeon houses, while it is also recorded that during the
American Revolution, the

    "same means, by the hand of economy and industry, afforded
    quantities of this article in certain of the then Colonies,

that in the Southern portions it was obtained from the earthen floors
of tobacco houses.

The presentation of the earliest methods of getting nitre is extremely
interesting, extended and elaborate, giving the reader a full view of
pioneer conditions and endeavor. The scheme of purification of nitre
for gunpowder use is illuminating and attractive. Attention is
directed to the saltpetre rock and caves of the western portion of
our country.

The preparation of charcoal is discussed. The adaptability of charcoal
from various sources receives careful thought in connection with its
use in gunpowder; so, too, the sulphur used for this particular
purpose, and there is recommended as a source of this ingredient, the
common pyrites so abundant throughout the States. Among other topics,
of vital interest in these days, discussed in the continuing articles,
is the manufacture of spirit from potatoes. The method employed in
Germany is presented in detail after which it is said--

    "Potato spirit of excellent quality has been made in this
    city (Philadelphia). It is found, not only to be much cheaper
    than grain used entirely, but to afford better flavoured
    liquor and other qualities which give it a decided

Fermentation, yeast and baking receive mention. Brewing and the
different kinds of beer are fully examined. In those days adulteration
was practiced, for wormwood and quassia were found as substitutes. The
preparation of beer and ale for home consumption would very likely
find little favor in the "dry-bone" spirit of the present, much less
would the refining of wines and other spirituous liquors of high
alcohol content meet with approbation. However, such prohibitory
questions as are now discussed did not vitally concern our
forefathers, so that it was most proper and praiseworthy to advise the
public how, through the instrumentality of chemistry, many of the
needed articles of life might be made in the highest degree of
purity. In many homes there existed miniature brewing plants.

At the other extreme, among useful commodities, were the manufacture
of fish glue, common glue, gelatine, albumen, magnesia alba, etc.

The several articles thus published in one of the most respected and
influential papers of that early day--1808--had for their purpose the
education of the general public in the application of a science to
their use, but there was also a desire to arouse a deep and steady
interest in science in general, which seems quite plain from a
quotation from that remarkable address of Dr. John Morgan--at one time
Physician-in-Chief of the American Army. The passage was--

    "Oh! let it never be said in this City or in this Province,
    so happy in its climate and in its soil, where Commerce has
    long flourished and plenty smiled, that science, the amiable
    daughter of liberty and sister of opulence, droops her
    languid head, or follows behind with a slow, unequal pace."

Doubtless deeply moved himself by this impassioned appeal, the author
of the _Aurora_ papers exclaimed--

    "I pronounce with confidence this shall never be the case.
    Every useful kind of learning shall here fix a favorite seat
    and shine forth in meredian splendour, to accomplish which
    may _every_ heart and _every_ hand be united."

And then, probably overpowered by an inner, compelling force and
conscious of the possibilities of his science in the cause of man and
the undeveloped resources of our country, quietly awaiting the
oncoming alterations to be performed by applying chemistry, he
continues with like spirit--

    "If ever there was a time to bring the Arts and Manufactures
    to perfection in this Country, it is the present; for the
    season is approaching, when, of necessity, which is the
    mother of invention, our internal resources, and the
    application of them to our wants, will advance a brilliant
    and glorious epoch in the annals of our Country--second to
    none but the declaration of independence. Who is to establish
    the _chain_ of manufactures--to convert the crude productions
    of Nature into useful articles; but you enlightened citizens,
    men of _science_ and _improvement_, _artists_ and
    manufacturers. The laboratory of Nature will be thrown open
    to you, and to use the scriptural phrase, 'Ye shall know
    even as ye are known.'"

Throughout the whole series of these papers there is manifest that
noble patriotic spirit which shows itself in the last paragraph. There
exists also an intelligent and unselfish spirit, so that as one
finishes his reading there comes to mind a query as to the author who
wrote thus in 1808--who was this early advocate of applied
chemistry--this enthusiast in chemistry? Each article bears at its
conclusion the initials _J.C._, which in several of the earlier
articles are erroneously given as I.C. They throw no light on our
curiosity and probably no one would ever have known whom _J.C._
represented had not the man himself in later life confessed that as a
lad of twenty years he penned these papers. They are exceedingly well
composed. They show a wide, general knowledge and also great
familiarity with the science of chemistry. Their young author was
_James Cutbush_.

When Robert Hare was twenty years of age he gave to the world one of
the finest discoveries made by a chemist. Cutbush presented known
chemical facts for the use and improvement of natural conditions.
Might not the young men of these days, surrounded by every sort of
help, make similar earnest and worthwhile contributions? They surely
can do this if they are imbued with the spirit of the forefathers--the
American spirit in chemistry.

Additional evidence of Cutbush's chemical activity at this early age
may be seen in a contribution to the Philadelphia _Medical Museum_
(1808) upon mercury fulminate. This interesting body he declared to be
mercury oxalate and cited as his authority Aikin's Chemical and
Mineralogical Dictionary. He believed that its oxalic acid content was
due to the action of nitric acid upon alcohol. Such being the case, he
argued that he saw no reason why the salt could not be prepared in a
way by which "no alcohol is employed." Accordingly, he mixed
intimately two parts of salt of sorrel and one part of red
precipitate. Upon this mixture he poured sixteen parts of water, and
rubbed the solid mass intimately together. In time the red-colored
mass assumed an ash color, when it was collected on a filter and
dried. In his own words--

    "On trying a part of this powder on an anvil with a hammer,
    it exploded very violently, the comparison of which to that
    prepared by Howard's process was nearly equal."

While Cutbush was in error, relative to the true composition of the
fulminate, he at least gave to the scientific world a characteristic
property of mercuric oxalate, which does explode with considerable
violence, while at 180° C. it quickly breaks down with a mild
explosive effect. Singularly enough, he seems not to have abandoned
the view that the interaction of alcohol and nitric acid give rise to
oxalic acid.

While doing experimental work, Cutbush was active in the dissemination
of science facts through the medium of his pen. Thus it was in this
year (1808) that he published the "Useful Cabinet."

The surroundings of Cutbush were congenial. Woodhouse was at the
zenith of his career. John Redman Coxe figured largely in Philadelphia
science circles. The delightful and widely trained Benjamin Smith
Barton was a prime favorite with the younger men of science; Adam
Seybert was laying the foundations of mineralogical chemistry and
Gerard Troost was soon to appear and give additional zest and impetus
to chemical research. To all these men Cutbush was known and favorably
known, judging from his own allusions to them in his scattered
writings. Of them all he seems to have entertained the strongest
attachment to the celebrated Barton and the talented Coxe, although he
wrote of Dr. Woodhouse as "an experimenter unequalled." It is strange,
however, that his references to Robert Hare are few and meagre. It is
not easy to understand why this should be the case. True, there
existed local prejudices and cliques in the closing decades of the
18th Century and the opening decades of the 19th Century. They are to
be deplored, but humanity is frail and perhaps it is wisest to pass
them by, yet so many things could be better understood if all the
facts were laid bare. Frequent favorable mention was made by Cutbush
of John Redman Coxe, hence probably the appearance of several of his
contributions in the pages of the Philadelphia _Medical Museum_,
edited at this particular time by Coxe. For example, in 1809, Cutbush
published an article on the formation of ether in this journal, and
suggested that the product of the interaction of sulphuric acid and
alcohol could be best purified by distilling it over manganese or lead
dioxide and not over caustic potash as was customary. He also dwelt on
the production of ethylene in this process, attributing its presence
to the dehydrating action of sulphuric acid upon the alcohol.
Momentarily, he rejoiced over this observation, believing it was new,
but promptly subsided when he discovered that Fourcroy and Vauquelin
had long before made the same observations and given the same
explanation. Two years later (1811), in the same journal, Cutbush
reported results gathered from experiments to determine the value of
the hop to brewers. He said much in regard to its essential oil in the
preparation of malt liquor and repeated earlier personal observations
upon the importance of chemistry in the brewing operations--

    "An art in which, to the principles of chemistry, many
    improvements have been made. To our worthy and ingenious
    countryman, Mr. Hare, much praise is due for various
    improvements in this art, which, we may add, were in
    consequence of his correct principles in chemistry and
    natural philosophy."

Here is one of the few references to Robert Hare made by Cutbush. It
was when Hare was devoting most of his time and mental energies to the
development and improvement of his father's business. He applied his
scientific knowledge to it, only in the end to have it fail through
the conditions which came upon the country during the period of the
War of 1812. One cannot easily forget the filial devotion of Robert
Hare to his father in this particular business. Gladly would he have
pursued pure science, but he knew his duty and assumed it, although
unable to devote much time to science until 1818. But that story has
been told. Another appreciation from Cutbush which appears years later
reads as follows:

    "The deflagrator of Professor Hare of Philadelphia is an
    apparatus well calculated for many interesting experiments
    on galvanism. To that gentleman we are indebted for the
    compound blowpipe, which produces a very intense heat by the
    combustion of hydrogen in contact with oxygen gas.
    Notwithstanding Professor Clark of England has laid claim to
    the apparatus, and the use of hydrogen gas in this way, the
    merit of the discovery is due to our learned and ingenious

The next few years in the life of Cutbush were most interesting. He
enjoyed mingling with his fellows, and it is recorded that in 1810 he
became a member of Lodge No. 2, Free and Accepted Masons, comprising
in its membership General Peter Muhlenberg and many other
distinguished Philadelphians in various walks of life. Upon them he
made an exceedingly favorable impression, because in June of 1811,
Cutbush was made presiding officer of his Lodge and frequently
thereafter he was invited to address his brethren upon some of the
topics of the moment. It is quite certain that he also availed himself
in his dignified position to inculcate a knowledge of science, and his
favorite science chemistry in particular, for on the pages of the
_Freemason's Magazine_ for 1811 may be seen "Subjects and Importance
of Chemistry"--an article for laymen in which is plainly set forth how
the science enters every walk of life. In many respects it recalls the
introductory chapter of Parke's Chemical Catechism, for it advises how

    "removes the veil from the fabric of Nature, and makes us
    acquainted with all the phenomena which happen around us."

The offerings of Cutbush were fitting and most timely. They aroused
the interest of his audience and induced many to enter upon scientific
pursuits. At one place he enlarged upon the wonderful medicinal
properties of a chalybeate water near Colestown, N. J., giving its
analysis and the healthful effect it seemed to produce on those who
used it.

Again, in the December issue of the _Freemason's Magazine_ (1881), he
presented a most interesting, readable and succinct historical sketch
of our science which concludes as follows:

    "Thus chemistry is become an entirely new science. It is no
    longer confined to the laboratory of the arts: it has
    extended its flights to the sublimest heights of philosophy,
    and pursues paths formerly regarded as impenetrable
    mysteries. Placed forever in the elevated rank it now holds,
    rich with all its new conquests, it is become the science
    most adapted to the sublime speculations of philosophy, the
    most useful in advancing all the operations of the arts, and
    the most rational for scientific amusement. Exact in its
    process, sure in its results, varied in its operations,
    without limits in its applications and its views, severe and
    geometrical in its reasoning, there is scarcely any human
    occupation which it does not enlighten, and upon the
    perfection of which it may not have great influence. It
    bestows great enjoyment to every class of individuals: and
    who would not be ambitious of becoming acquainted with a
    science which enlightens almost every species of human

Imagine for a moment the effect of such an enthusiastic proclamation
of the powers of chemistry on the readers of the Magazine! It would
be and no doubt was contagious, with the consequence that our science
was called upon to aid infant industries. Cutbush was far-visioned and
dreamed of the development of our Country's national resources. He had
the spirit of Woodhouse, Seybert and others, who, too, were actuated
for our Country's welfare, for its development physically and
spiritually, and how better could this be accomplished than through
the medium of science, and in large measure by chemical science?

In his historical resume Cutbush mentions some

    "of the philosophers who have ... cultivated and enriched the
    new theory of chemistry with discoveries which will forever
    give immortality to their names, we have to notice Aikin,
    Babington, Bancroft, Beddoes, Blagdon, Cavendish, Chenevix,
    Crichton, Cruickshank, Davy, Lord Dundonald, Lord Dundas,
    Fordyce, Garnett, Hatchett, Henry, Higgins, Hope, Howard,
    Kirvan, Bishop of Llandaff, Murray, Nicholson, Pearson,
    Tennant, Tilloch, Thompson, Wedgwood, and Wollaston; and
    Achard, Crell, Gilbert, Gren, Goetling, Humboldt, Hermbstadt,
    Klaproth, Lowitz, Richter, Scherer, Tromsdorff, Westrumb,
    Wiegleb, Bertholet, Chaptal, Fourcroy, Lagrange, Guiton, Van
    Mons, Proust, Sequin, Vauquelin, etc., etc."

To the modern chemist these names probably represent little. Perhaps a
few sound familiar, but the majority are unknown to him. For instance,
who would be apt to say much about the Bishop of Llandaff, who wrote
to Henry, author of one of the earliest and most delightful texts:

"CAMBRIDGE, Oct. 28, 1787."


    "Allow me to return you my thanks of the obliging manner in
    which you conveyed to me the kind notice, which the Literary
    and Philosophical Society were pleased to take of my essay;
    and to assure you at the same time that it will give me great
    pleasure to be acquainted with a gentleman who is so
    eminently distinguished for his skill in chemistry, as you
    have shewn yourself to be. I have been told by good
    authority, of an odd fact relative to calcined mercury, the
    fact is this: A bottle which contained some calcined mercury
    which had been purchased in London was left standing without
    its cork for near thirty years without being looked at. When
    it was examined, the greater part of it was revivified.

    "I have the honour to be, Sir,
              "Yr obliged servt
                      "BP. LLANDAFF."

And this celebrated Bishop was no less a personage than Dr. Watson,
whose "Chemical Essays" are most charming, instructive reading at the
present moment. Students of the history of our science will find them
to be so.

But all these early chemists--ancient, if you please--are gone. They
cultivated chemistry with pleasure and ardor. Some left visible
imprints, while scarce a vestige remains of others. Their labours have
made our path easier. A century hence, many honoured to-day and
respected for their achievements, will receive scant consideration,
though the work of the present looms up large in our judgment.

The founding of the Columbian Chemical Society in 1811 was an event in
the chemical circles of Philadelphia. The old Chemical Society of
Philadelphia went out of existence in 1809, with the death of
Woodhouse. The new organization was founded "by a number of persons
desirous of cultivating chemical science." It comprised many young men
zealous in research. The names of eminent foreigners and distinguished
Americans are upon its rolls. Its meetings were monthly. Each year, at
the fall opening, "an oration on some chemical subject" was delivered.
Every month some member was appointed to read "an original chemical
essay." It was recorded that

    "any person desirous of membership ... previous to his
    election ... shall read an original essay on some chemical
    subject on which any member may speak not more than ten

This feature was held to be important; at least the daily papers made
note of it, as is evident from the subjoined excerpt:

    "The following gentlemen have been elected Junior members of
    the Columbian Chemical Society, during the last year, after
    having read original dissertations, the subjects of which are
    attached to their respective names:

    "Mr. T. W. Robertson, 'Objections to the Existence of a
    Principle of Repulsion.'

    "Mr. Francis Brognard, 'On Chemical Affinity.'

    "Mr. Lewis Gerhardt, 'On Light.'

    "Mr. Dudley Burwell, 'On the Chemical Properties and Medical
    Uses of Arsenic.'

    "Mr. Jeremiah J. Foster, 'On the History, Nature and
    Properties of Oxygen Gas.'

    "Mr. J. C. Foster, 'Objections to the Antiphlogistic Theory
    of Combustion.'

    "Mr. Charles Gignilliat, 'On Hydrogen Gas.'

    "Mr. John Bent, 'On Oxygen Gas.'"

The monthly meetings were announced in the city papers. The
announcements appeared at intervals through a period of years, hence
it may be assumed the Society was an active organization and that its
members regarded it as of consequence. The personnel of its official
family is not devoid of interest at present. A single volume of
memoirs, printed in 1813, is still extant and may occasionally be
seen; from it will be learned that the "Hon. Thomas Jefferson, Esq.,
was the Patron" of the Society and its President was "James Cutbush,
Esq., Professor of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and Mineralogy in St.
John's College."

Turning to the table of contents two contributions from the President
are observed. The first relates to the "Prognostic Signs of the
Weather" and the second is "On the Oxyacetite of Iron as a Test or
Reagent for the Discovery of Arsenic." There is little chemistry in
the first contribution, and the second possesses value chiefly in the
qualitative way. They were evidently dashed off with the idea of
arousing discussion, in the hope that serious efforts might be set in
operation in certain directions.

The thought which intrudes itself in looking through the _Memoirs_,
noting the character of the individuals in the membership, and upon
recalling the chemical activities of Cutbush, is as to the man
himself. Why should he, barely twenty-three years of age, be chosen to
such an important and prominent station as that of President of the
Columbian Chemical Society? What manner of man was he? What his
qualifications, his fitness and his position in the science world of
Philadelphia? A search through ancient volumes in many libraries
failed to bring to light any facts bearing on these points. The only
fact discovered that had any value came from a newspaper advertisement
bearing the date October, 1819. It read:

    "_Bleaching Liquor_, _Artificial Musk_, _Phosphate of Mercury
    and other chemical Preparations_, prepared and sold by

"Chemist and Apothecary
"No. 25 South Fourth Street, Phila.

    "where complete collections of chemical reagents are kept as

Here is a hint as to the occupation of Cutbush. He was a
chemist--presumably a manufacturing chemist, supplying the necessary
reagents to persons desiring them for their chemical studies; and
further he was a pharmacist serving the various requirements of the
medical men of the City.

Thorough search through newspaper files disclosed that from the year
1811 and perhaps two years earlier, and extending up to the year
1813--various announcements were made by Cutbush as to lectures of a
public nature. These help us realize the character of the individual
and his work. For example--

    "Dr. Cutbush's course of _Evening Lectures on Chemistry_ will
    commence early in the second week in November, at the
    Laboratory in Videl's Court, in Second, near the Corner of
    Chestnut St."

and several months later the following notice was found--


    "The subscriber, at the solicitation of several medical
    gentlemen, proposes to give a series of Lectures on the
    Theory and Practice of Pharmacy, accompanied with the
    necessary chemical elucidations.

    "Tickets may be had at 25 South Fourth St.

    "Price 20 dollars.

              "JAMES CUTBUSH."

This was in the year 1812. Early in 1813, a year after the preceding
announcement, there appeared--

    "J. Cutbush has the pleasure to announce to the ladies and
    gentlemen composing his class that the lectures on Chemistry,
    as well as those which are to follow on Mineralogy and
    Natural Philosophy, will be given in St. John's Lyceum in a
    building lately erected at the Corner of Chester and Race,
    between Eighth and Ninth Sts.

    "N.B. The next lecture will be delivered this evening
    (Saturday) when, at the request of several ladies, the
    nitrous oxide or the exhilarating gas will be exhibited."

These announcements exhibit a phase in the development of chemical
science which is worthy of pause and reflection. Science subjects had
taken hold of many persons in the early years of the Nineteenth
Century. Some of them became ardent enthusiasts and missioners in the
extension of those subjects. As early as 1808 M. Godon gave lectures
on Mineralogy, and in 1810 announced a work of two volumes with a
quarto supplement of charts. The science of chemistry also had its
advocates. Cutbush was evidently one of them, although not the first.
This honor belongs to Dr. Patrick Kerr Rogers, father of William B.
Rogers, founder and first president of Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and President of the National Academy of Science, of Dr.
Henry D. Rogers, the eminent geologist, and of James B. and Robert
E.--both distinguished in the chemical field.

It was in 1802 that Patrick K. Rogers received his medical degree and
embarked upon practice. Having spare time, he began public lectures on
the sciences, confining himself from 1807 to chemistry. He was very
successful. One of his advertisements as it appeared in the _Aurora_,
in 1809, read:

    For Gentlemen

    DR. P. K. ROGERS

    "Having commenced a course of experimental lectures on
    Chemistry to ladies, proposes to give a similar course to
    gentlemen at a different hour. Twelve o'clock is the hour
    fixed for the former, but as the gentlemen of the city are
    variously engaged in business during the day, an evening hour
    will be more convenient for them. The evening course is
    particularly intended to accommodate men who have a taste for
    scientific information and who cannot, on account of their
    respective engagements during the day, attend the lectures
    in the University.

    "A course for gentlemen will commence on Tuesday and will
    terminate in the last week of February. The hour will be
    seven o'clock in the evening. Two lectures at least,
    sometimes three, will be delivered every week. About 1500
    interesting experiments will be exhibited and submitted to
    the familiar inspection of the class. Several important
    experiments not hitherto introduced in any series of chemical
    demonstrations in this place will be displayed in the
    illustrations of different subjects.

    "The laboratory is in the lecturer's house in South Ninth
    Street, opposite the University and is furnished with an
    excellent chemical apparatus.

    "The tickets for this course will be ten dollars. The persons
    to take tickets will be entitled to the use of the
    lecturer's excellent medical and chemical library during the

    "Persons wishing to attend this course will please call at
    the lecturer's home at any time before next Tuesday in order
    to enter the names on the list.

    "Ladies are informed that the list of subscribers to their
    course will not be closed until next Monday at twelve o'clock
    at the hour the next lecture, properly the first of the
    regular series, will be delivered. Gentlemen are not admitted
    to these lectures."

In 1810 Dr. Rogers gave out a Syllabus of 12 octavo pages "On
Experimental Lectures on Natural Philosophy and Chemistry," in which
great emphasis was laid on the practical application of these
sciences. It also stated that "it is even esteemed, in some measure,
a cause of shame, for persons of respectable education, to be
ignorant of their general principles." In one newspaper announcement
Rogers said that in order to get sufficient space for his audience he
had procured the "use of the elegant and spacious ball room of M.
Guillou." In this special work he was repeating the labors of Sir
Humphrey Davy in London. In reality, Rogers and his contemporaries and
coadjutors were pioneer University Extension Lecturers. They sought to
popularize the natural and physical sciences and also broaden the
vision or outlook of their hearers. In the case of Cutbush there was a
strong desire to utilize chemistry in manufacture. This he emphasized
more strongly than any other lecturer.

Another participant in the science propaganda was Dr. Thomas P. Jones,
who devoted himself to Chemistry. The following notice of his lecture
course is not devoid of interest:

    "On Saturday, the 13th inst., at seven o'clock in the
    evening, at Dr. Jones' Chemical Lecture Room, S.W. Corner of
    Fourth and Chestnut Streets, a lecture will be delivered on
    the properties of nitrous oxide, or the exhilarating gas,
    accompanied with a number of experiments. A large quantity
    will be prepared to exhibit its effects when inhaled.

    "Tickets at fifty cents each may be had at A. Finley's
    Bookstore, S.E. Cor. of Chestnut and Fourth Streets, or at
    the lecture room on the stated evening."

On perusing early chemical texts and advertisements, such as those
just given, attention is pointedly called to nitrous oxide, especially
to its exhilarating properties, for then it was "_laughing gas_!" One
Philip H. Nicklin published a brochure entitled


    "A character representation of the effects produced by
    inhaling nitrous oxide gas. The accuracy of which no man
    breathing can deny. Price 25 cts."

To-day, nitrous oxide means a benign anæsthetic, so helpful and
merciful when one is brought under the knife of the skillful surgeon.

The honor accorded Cutbush by his election to the Presidency of the
Columbian Chemical Society was merited. He was not only an active,
intelligent chemist, devoted to the advancement of his science in all
directions, but he seems to have been an ardent enthusiast in the
cause of education, for on the 7th of November, 1811, he delivered an
Oration on Education before the Society for the Promotion of a
Rational System of Education. His audience was large and consisted of
the very best people of the city. The printed oration shows that in
addition to his chemical knowledge he was versed in the humanities, in
mathematics, in philosophy and ancient history. To-day the intelligent
reader would pronounce the oration scholarly in every particular. His
chief purpose seems to have been to introduce into what was then the
customary curriculum in schools a definite amount of science--natural
and physical. This is marked in the title of the organization before
which he appeared on the occasion referred to, in Old St. John's
Church. The whole community was interested in education. A society of
educators had existed for a number of years. Neef had for a long time
been advocating a system which was in reality a modification of the
Pestallozian System, and men in every walk of life were seriously
considering the innovations and advancements in this all-important

Little can be found in regard to the Society for the Promotion of a
Rational System of Education, but it may be inferred that the society
had branches throughout the city and perhaps far beyond, because
elsewhere Cutbush spoke of the society as under the Presidency of John
Goodman, Esq., and that its purpose was to bring about a reformation
in education. Further, Goodman was a prominent layman in the Church of
Old St. John, who with his associates, Messrs. Greiner and Braeutigam,
fellow churchmen, deeply impressed with the new thought, seem to have
established a school "formed out of the Lutheran congregation of the
Church of St. John ... instituted several professorships ... one of
which, that of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Natural Philosophy" was
conferred upon Cutbush, who proceeded to deliver courses on these

Desirous of learning something in regard to St. John's College, the
authorities of St. John's Lutheran Church were consulted. It must be
remembered that this is the oldest English-speaking Lutheran Church in
America. It was founded by General Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, and a
unique distinction of this church is that in a period of 113 years it
has had but three pastors. Nothing in the minutes of the church showed
that a movement toward the establishment of a college had ever been
made. Moreover, search in the archives of the State Department failed
to bring to light the granting of a charter for an institution bearing
the name of St. John's College, although in an old directory of
Philadelphia, reference is made to St. John's College, and to the fact
that Cutbush was Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Natural
Philosophy in it. The same source of information declared that "the
lectures were held back of St. John's Church in Race Street." It may
be questioned whether Messrs. Goodman, Greiner and Braeutigam, who
were the leaders of the congregation in the early years of 1800, and
enthusiasts in regard to the reformation in education, did not,
perhaps, carry out their thought without consulting the rest of their
church associates. In the history of the church there is a singular
reference to the purchase of houses and lots which were known as "the
fourteen chimneys" and the statement is made that the object of the
purchase is not given. These "fourteen chimneys" may have been the
buildings back of St. John's Church on Race Street.

Benjamin Smith Barton was another professor in St. John's College, who
devoted himself to Natural History and Botany. Mr. Greiner, who was
associated with Messrs. Goodman and Braeutigam also taught in the
institution, and the head of the college or school was a Mr. Bachman,
who later became a Lutheran clergyman and naturalist of high repute in
South Carolina.

It is interesting at this far-away day to note the purposes of the
Society for the promotion of education as set forth in its
constitution. Among other things, it is said "the education of youth
in useful knowledge ought to be a primary object with parents and
friends, that more especially ought every endeavour to be made in a
religious community to lay a sure and solid foundation for every moral
and social virtue. Impressed with a conviction of this important
truth, a number of the members of St. John's congregation, willing to
give every aid within their power toward the establishment and support
of a Rational System of Education, have formed themselves into a
Society for that purpose."

The copy of Oration on Education, printed by Cutbush, which it was the
privilege of the writer to peruse, was the copy handed by Cutbush "To
Dr. Seybert with the compliments of the author." In spite of age,
these words are very clear and legible, and if the only relic by which
to judge of the character of Cutbush, would indicate him to be a man
of intelligence.

There were many other societies extant at this period and through
subsequent years which had for their object the promotion of
scientific education. Among these was the Linnean Society, of which
James Cutbush was Vice-President.

Cutbush had the honor of being one of the few of the original Society
of Philadelphia for the Promotion of National Industry, whose essays
excited the attention of the citizens of the United States. Samuel
Jackson, M.D., Professor in the College of Apothecaries, was one of
the most active members.

Amidst all the activities of Cutbush as a manufacturing chemist, as a
teacher of the science, as a promoter of educational reforms, as a
member of many organizations, he was very busy in a literary
direction. For example, in 1812 he published a brochure on
Hydrostatics, in which were described various hydrometers and their
application. Numerous tables appear in it as well as many interesting
and serviceable problems. It was designed for and was helpful to
artisans and to beginners in the science of physics and chemistry. It
is appropriately dedicated to the Columbian Chemical Society.

In the year 1813, Cutbush placed before the public his "Philosophy of
Experimental Chemistry" in two volumes. It was dedicated to the
"Professors and Students of the University of Pennsylvania and to the
Trustees of St. John's College." One cannot fail to wonder why Cutbush
should have so honoured the University when there is no record
anywhere that he ever pursued studies under the ægis of the
University. Indeed, it will probably remain a query as to where he
was educated. He is often spoken of as "Doctor Cutbush" and in at
least two instances the title "M.D." is placed after his name, yet it
is a fact that in no place where he personally was responsible for the
printing of his name is there any title affixed to it. Every source of
information from which it was hoped to ascertain where Cutbush might
have obtained the Doctorate in the first decade of the 19th Century
failed to produce the fact. Libraries were searched and volumes that
ordinarily convey such information were studied without positive

The little contribution on the "Philosophy of Chemistry" was favorably
known, for Silliman, in his reference to Gorham's Chemistry as the
first book upon this subject by a native American, credits Cutbush
with having written a similar work, but speaks of the effort of
Cutbush as more elementary and not as exhaustive as that of Gorham.
The introduction in the first volume of Cutbush's work will always be
interesting to American students of the science. For example, this

    "Several original works have, accordingly, appeared, and some
    editions of European treatises have been published with
    revisions, corrections and additions by our countrymen. The
    Chemical and Economical Essays of Pennington, the edition of
    Chaptal enlarged by the late James Woodhouse ... that of
    Henry's Chemistry by Professor Silliman of Yale College, with
    some others, evince not only the learning and talents of our
    countrymen, but a growing taste for the encouragement of
    learning and the acquisition of chemical knowledge. Besides
    these, in the Transactions of our Societies and in the
    journals, or periodical works, several valuable papers have
    appeared. The genius of the medical students of the
    University of Pennsylvania, in particular, has been shown in
    a number of excellent inaugural dissertations, some of which
    have added to the improvement of chemical science.

    "The first teacher of chemistry was Dr. Benjamin Rush ... who
    may justly be styled the father of chemistry in America. He
    commenced a course of lectures on this science in the then
    College of Philadelphia; and although chemistry at that day
    (1768) may be said to have been in its infancy, yet the
    Doctor did honour to the chair, the school, and his country.
    We now speak of him only as a chemist.... The advancement of
    chemistry in our city ... is also indebted to other
    institutions. The American Philosophical Society, the College
    of Physicians, instituted in 1787, the Medical Society,
    formed in 1771; the Chemical Society under the patronage of
    Doctors Woodhouse and Seybert, which has since been
    dissolved; the Linnean Society, instituted under the
    presidency of the learned Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton; the
    Columbian Chemical Society, founded in 1811; the Academy of
    Natural Science--all show the zeal for useful knowledge and
    philosophical inquiry.... For the introduction of popular
    chemistry, the citizens of Philadelphia are also indebted to
    Doctors Rogers and Jones, and to Benjamin Tucker, who have
    taught Chemistry with much zeal and talents."

Many attractions are found in the Philosophy of Experimental
Chemistry. The first discussion is that on Chemical Affinity. Two
experiments are introduced. In the first it is stated

    "If equal parts, by weight, of sulphur and mercury be
    introduced into a crucible, and in this situation exposed to
    a sufficient heat; a compound will be formed, called
    sulphuret of mercury."

In the second experiment the student is advised to

    "Mix together sulphur and potash, and throw them into water;
    the sulphur will separate. If the same articles be put into a
    crucible and melted, and then thrown into water, the sulphur
    as well as the potash will be dissolved."

And next comes the

    "_Rationale._ In the first experiment there is an instance of
    chemical action, as well as of single affinity, for the
    sulphur and mercury would remain separate if heat was not
    applied. In consequence of this agent, they unite into an
    uniform whole, totally inseparable by mechanical means, and
    possessing characters distinct from either of its constituent

    "In the second experiment, the union of sulphur with potash
    is effected by heat; for if a sulphuret was not formed, no
    solution of the sulphur would take place. Hence it is that
    chemical action is the consequence of a power, without which
    it could never ensue, and with which it always acts in
    unison. This power is affinity."

Then it is remarked:

    "Chemistry is a science, which has for its object to discover
    the constituent properties of bodies, the result of the
    various combinations, and the laws by which those
    combinations are effected. Its operations being either
    analytical or synthetical, consist of composition, or
    decomposition. The laws which govern chemical changes have
    been resolved into those of attraction or affinity. Affinity
    of composition of chemical affinity differs from that of
    aggregation or cohesion or corpuscular attraction, by acting
    upon matter of a different kind; or by taking place between
    the ultimate constituent parts of bodies, producing by its
    action, substances possessing properties frequently very
    different, and sometimes contrary to those of the constituent

Throughout the book the order of presentation is the experiment,
rationale, and remarks. A study of the "Philosophy" shows clearly
that Cutbush presented his material in a rather original fashion. His
method is not observable in any of the text-books of that date.

In discussing potash, Cutbush wrote:

    "It has been supposed ever since our countryman, Dr.
    Woodhouse, made an experiment with potash that this alkali
    had an inflammable base. I am disposed to believe that the
    Doctor was the first one who hazarded this conjecture as to
    the inflammable nature of potash _when treated in certain
    ways_. The Doctor found that a mixture of pearl ash with
    soot, calcined by a very intense heat in a covered crucible,
    when cold caught fire on the affusion of water. The
    experiment was repeated with charcoal with the same result
    and the inflammation probably arose from the action of the
    base of the alkali on the water."

He says:

    "That Thomas Cooper ... repeated this experiment, and
    succeeded, I think, after several attempts, in procuring the
    metal. Dr. John Redman Coxe and myself also performed it, but
    in our attempt we failed. The professor, however, persevered,
    and finally procured it.... My brother, Dr. Edward Cutbush,
    succeeded in procuring it by using the heat of a
    black-smith's forge. I have not heard of any other attempts
    in this country except by a gentleman in New York, who was
    also successful."

These statements substantiate the idea that Woodhouse isolated the
metal potassium quite independently from any European chemist; it even
looks as if he may have isolated it in the manner referred to before
Sir Humphrey Davy had separated it with the aid of the electric

In the first volume of the Philosophy there is a frontispiece, a lamp
furnace, consisting of a brass rod, fastened to a piece of metal,
furnished with rings of different diameters, and thumb screws to raise
or lower the lamp and rings when in use. By this furnace evaporation,
digestion, solution, sublimation, distillation and other processes,
which require a low temperature, may be performed.

And in the second volume there is a frontispiece representing a
portable universal furnace, made of strong wrought iron plates and
lined with bricks bedded in fire-proof loam. The height of the furnace
is two feet. The body of the furnace is elliptical. There are three
openings in front of the furnace, one above the other, furnished with
sliding doors, and fitted with stoppers made of crucible ware.

Both pieces of apparatus represent a marked advancement. They were
evidently exceedingly useful. By their means it was possible to
execute excellent work.

It would repay one to examine with care the various American
text-books on chemistry, beginning about 1770 and continuing down to
1830. There would arise a picture before one's mind of the successive
steps in the development of chemical apparatus, and again, the
knowledge derived from the presentation of chemical theory and data
would be refreshing and inspirational. It is to be hoped that the time
is not far distant when some library, public or university library,
will go to the trouble of gathering the American texts on Chemistry
for the period just alluded to. It is not likely that an alcove
filled with this literature would be largely patronized, yet it would
be possible for the enthusiast on the development of chemistry in this
country to collect from such a source a great deal of valuable
material which might be presented with profit to the rising generation
of American chemists.

Cutbush had little leisure during the year 1813, as he was engaged
with the duties of the College and was conducting popular lectures on
an extended scale. It was necessary for him to invite his friend, Dr.
George F. Lehman, to assist in the various demonstrations. They
emphasized not only the theory but the practice of chemistry with its
application to the useful arts. Their experiments were numerous and
were of such a character as to appeal to the general public. The
course offered by Professor Cutbush and Dr. Lehman was remunerative.
It is said the cost of tickets for ladies was $5.00 and those for
gentlemen $8.00.

In addition to the devotion of Cutbush to these didactic courses in
chemistry, he spent much time in a literary way. One of the best-known
publishers of the city announced the purpose of printing the _American
Artist's Manual_ under the editorship of Cutbush. The advertisement

    "To manufacturers, however, who are presumed to be interested
    in practical knowledge the value of such works is greatly
    diminished by the multiplicity of theories, technical terms
    and complicated processes which they in general contain. It
    is, therefore, unnecessary to expatiate on the advantages to
    be derived from such a publication as is now proposed in the
    present work. While it is intended to embrace most of the
    Arts and Manufactures, particular attention will be paid to
    those of agriculture, brewing, bleaching, dyeing in its
    various branches, the manufacture of glass, pottery and all
    others which the situation of our country renders obviously
    of primary concern and importance."

This extensive and helpful publication appeared in 1814 in two octavo
volumes of more than 600 pages each. The reader should note that

    "The price to subscribers will be $7.00 in boards or $8.00
    substantially bound, payable on delivery. Those who procure
    subscriptions of nine copies and become accountable for their
    payment shall be entitled to one copy for their trouble."

The book was dedicated to Benjamin Smith Barton. No title of any kind
appears after the author's name, indicating that he had probably by
the year 1814 severed his connection with all his educational projects
in Philadelphia. In the preface the author speaks of

    "Having devoted the greater part of his life to chemical

Glancing through these volumes the impression made upon the reader was
that the author had read widely in the sciences, but particularly in
his favorite science, chemistry. The book is really a popular
dictionary of chemical technology. While it is sparsely illustrated,
early forms of chemical glassware are pictured. From these may be
gathered the story of the gradual development of very useful
apparatus, for example, such as is used in various kinds of

That Cutbush had probably ceased his professional duties by the year
1814, as has just been hinted, is further emphasized on noting that he
was appointed Assistant Apothecary General in the U. S. Army on the
twelfth day of August in the year 1814. What his duties as such may
have been has not been discovered. It would not be fair to call it a
radical change in position, but it was a change which necessitated
Cutbush giving more thought and attention to pharmacy, which in his
earlier career was a secondary subject, but in which he was so
proficient that he attracted to himself the attention of leading men
in medical circles. He was in Philadelphia, prosecuting his duties as
late as the year 1819. It is known that during this period he was
attached to the Northern Division of the Army.

In 1820 Dr. James Lovell, Surgeon General of the Army, suggested to
General Thayer, Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point,
that Cutbush be appointed Chief Medical Officer at the Academy and
Post of West Point. In this capacity he served for seventeen months,
when he became Acting Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy in the
Academy. The first lecture in his new position was delivered October
9, 1820. In a sense, it marked the beginning of a new career for
Cutbush. He resumed teaching duties, but gave himself more
particularly to the study, not only of gunpowder, which never ceased
to be interesting to him, but to explosives of higher character, and
in this latter field he reached his greatest eminence and may
confidently be regarded as a pioneer in it.

Just before leaving Philadelphia, in the year 1820, Cutbush wrote
Benjamin Silliman at some length on an improvement of the Voltaic
electrical lamp. It was an ingenious modification and constituted the
first contribution made by Cutbush to the _American Journal of

But, returning to his life at West Point, it may be observed that in
1822 he contributed his second article to the _Journal of Science_,
which did not appear in print, however, until 1824. This article
related to the composition and properties of the Chinese fire and the
so-called brilliant fires. It was very interesting. It displayed a
thorough and wide knowledge of pyrotechnics with which Cutbush, in
previous years, had been gradually familiarizing himself. At one point
he said:

    "Most if not all the compositions used in fireworks,
    including military fireworks, were more the result of the
    labours of the artisan who was neither controlled by fixed
    principles nor by a knowledge of the effects and properties
    of bodies and of the systematic experiments of the chemist,
    and yet in consequence of some fortuitous and repeated trials
    we find that he has been successful, and moreover has amassed
    a body of facts which we may reasonably infer may either be
    rendered more perfect by knowledge or improved upon by the
    exact aid of chemical science."

Here is every proof of his purpose to apply his understanding of
chemical principles and his own experience to the solution of
pyrotechnic problems, for he continues:

    "Pyrotechnics is at present considered under two heads,
    namely, fireworks for exhibition and military fireworks. The
    latter is undoubtedly the most useful, as it embraces a
    variety of propositions calculated for attack and defence
    both for naval and land service."

Almost simultaneously there appeared in the same _Journal of Arts and
Science_ another contribution by Cutbush, entitled


In the light of recent events and the use of all sorts of chemical
bodies for warfare and destruction it will not be uninteresting to
introduce here a few paragraphs from this remarkable contribution. He

    "The Greek fire was invented by Callinicus of Heliopolis, a
    town in Syria, who used it with so much skill and effect
    during a naval engagement that he destroyed a whole fleet of
    the enemy, in which were embarked 30,000 men.

    "It appears that in the reign of Louis XV, a chemist of
    Grenoble, Dupre de Mayen, discovered a composition similar in
    effect to the Greek fire of Callinicus, which was exhibited
    at Brest, and proved successful, but the preparation was kept
    secret. The original Greek fire was used in 1291, and also in
    1679.... Writers have defined it to be a sort of artificial
    fire, which burns with increased violence when it mixes with
    water.... That it was a liquid composition, we may infer from
    the modes of using it, which were several. It was employed
    chiefly on board of ships, and thrown on the vessels of the
    enemy by large engines. It was sometimes kindled in
    particular vessels, which might be called fire ships, and
    which were introduced among a hostile fleet. Sometimes it
    was put into jars and other vessels, and thrown at the enemy
    by means of projectile machines, and sometimes it was
    _squirted_ by soldiers from hand engines, or blown through
    pipes. This fire was also discharged from the _foreparts of
    ships_ by a machine constructed of copper and iron, the
    extremity of which is said to have resembled the _open mouth_
    and _jaws_ of a lion or other animal. They were painted, and
    even gilded, and were capable of projecting the liquid fire
    to a great distance.

    "... John Cameniata, speaking of his native city,
    Thessalonica, which was taken by the Saracens in the year
    904, says that the enemy threw fire into the wooden works of
    the besieged, which was blown into them by means of tubes,
    and thrown from other vessels.... This proves that the
    Greeks, in the beginning of the Tenth Century, were no
    longer the only people acquainted with the art of preparing
    this fire, the _precursor of our gunpowder_. The Emperor Leo,
    who about the same period wrote his _Art of War_, recommends
    such engines, with a metal covering, to be constructed in the
    foreparts of ships, and he twice afterwards mentions engines
    for throwing out Greek fire.... For many centuries the method
    of making this dreadful article of destruction was lost; but
    it has just been discovered by the librarian of the elector
    of Bavaria, who has found a very old Latin manuscript which
    contains directions for preparing it.

    "... On the subject of incendiary and other military
    fireworks, the French have certainly laid the foundation for
    the very preparations now used by the British, for the
    formulæ for such preparations may be traced to the French

    "The Moors were in possession of the secret for preparing the
    Greek fire in 1432, according to the testimony of Brocquire.
    Bertrandon de la Brocquire was in Palestine in 1432 as
    counsellor to the Duke of Burgundy. He was present at Barrat
    during one of the Moorish celebrations. 'It began,' he
    remarks, 'in the evening at sunset. Numerous companies
    scattered here and there were singing, and uttering loud
    cries. While this was passing, the cannon of the castle was
    fired, and the people of the town launched into the air
    "_bein haut et bein loin, une maniere de fue plus gros fellot
    que je veisse oncques allume_." They told me they made use of
    such at sea, to set fire to the sails of an enemy's vessel.
    It seems to me that it is a thing easy to be made, and at a
    little expense it may be equally well employed to burn a
    camp or a thatched village, or in an engagement with cavalry
    to frighten their horses. Curious to know its composition, I
    sent the servant of my host to the person who made this fire,
    and requested him to teach me his method. He returned for
    answer, that he dare not, for that he should run great danger
    were it known; but there is nothing a man will not do for
    money. I offered him a ducat, which quieted his fears, and he
    taught me all he knew, and even gave me the moulds in wood,
    with the other ingredients, which I have brought to France.'
    ... When Constantinople was attacked, the Emperor Leo burnt
    the vessels or boats, to the number of one thousand eight
    hundred, by means of the Greek fire.... Its composition was
    kept secret at Constantinople, pretending that the knowledge
    of it came from an angel to the first and greatest of the
    Constantines, with a sacred injunction not to divulge it
    under any pretext, etc. It ... was kept secret above 400
    years ... was stolen by the Mahometans, who employed it
    against the Crusaders. A knight, it appears, who despised the
    swords and lances of the Saracens, relates, with heartfelt
    sincerity, his own fears at the sight and sound of the
    mischievous engine that discharged a torrent of fire. 'It
    came flying through the air, like a winged, long-tailed
    dragon, about the thickness of a hogshead, with a report of
    thunder, and the velocity of lightning; and the darkness of
    the night was dispelled by this deadly illumination. The use
    of the Greek, or as it might now be called the Saracen fire,
    was continued to the middle of the Fourteenth Century, when
    the scientific or casual compound of nitre, sulphur and
    charcoal effected a new revolution in the art of war, and the
    history of mankind.' ... We do not know of any imitation of
    the original Greek fire having been used in modern warfare,
    but have no hesitation in believing that naphtha prepared as
    already stated would in many cases prove advantageous. It
    seems to be well calculated for close naval combat, if the
    object be to destroy the sails and rigging of an enemy's
    ship. The rapidity and extent of its combustion, added to the
    circumstances of its peculiar properties, that of resisting
    the action of water in particular, contribute altogether to
    this opinion."

The entire article from which these excerpts have been made is worthy
of study, even at this late date. It is suggestive and carries with it
many historical references of value. The enthusiasm of Cutbush for
pyrotechnic bodies is manifest in every line of this publication.

About a year later (1823) Cutbush discussed the formation of cyanogen
in processes not previously noticed. He spoke of the appearance of
this gas in the putrefaction of animal and vegetable matter, making
the following remarkable and in some respects startling statement:

    "I believe it would be found that the compound (carburet of
    azote) is the basis of the miasmata which produces malignant,
    bilious diseases.... Marsh miasmata are generally the cause
    of intermittent fevers. Now under particular circumstances of
    action may we not admit the generation of carburet of azote
    or cyanogen, and if so, as it readily unites with hydrogen,
    may it not be the miasma which produces malignant bilious
    fevers, since it is known that hydrocyanic acid is
    destructive to animal life and a most virulent poison?...
    Miasmata of some kind are the cause of yellow fever. For our
    part we believe it to be carburet of azote, or of some of its
    combinations, and of these that with hydrogen, from its
    deleterious character, seems to be the one."

Another observation made in this connection was that cyanogen is
produced when charcoal is heated with nitric acid. Cutbush stated that
he placed charcoal and nitric acid together in a retort and subjected
them to distillation, collecting the product in Woulfe's bottles,
after which the resulting solutions were impregnated with potash, and

    "common sulphate and persulphate of iron introduced. The
    colour instantly changed and became more or less blue,
    proving the existence of the perferrocyanite of iron and,
    consequently, of cyanogen."

Having never met this method of preparing cyanogen, experiments were
made in the writer's laboratory to verify the statement. A blue, or
what had the semblance of a blue color, could be obtained at the point
given by Cutbush, but just as soon as the solution was acidulated, as
is always done, the precipitate disappeared and there was not the
slightest indication that Prussian blue had been formed. Even after
hours of rest there was not a sign of it.

Association on the part of Cutbush with the men of science in
Philadelphia during the first decade of the Nineteenth Century led to
an extension of his interest in science circles, so that during
leisure moments at West Point (1824) he wrote of the following
minerals observed by him in and near that place:

    "Molybdenite, kaolin, tremolite, schorl, adularia, garnet,
    actinolite, precious serpentine (remarkably elegant), epidote
    and diallage."

Recently, attention has been called to a volume by Cutbush entitled
"Lectures on the Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons.... With a
Means of Discovering Them and Rules for Determining the Purity of
Substances." It was published at Newburgh, N. Y., in 1823. The writer
has never seen this volume. His search for it has been unsuccessful.

Another publication was "A Synopsis of Chemistry, Arranged
Alphabetically, Comprehending the Names, Synonyms, and Definitions in
that Science." New York: E. Lewis, 1821. This book is also exceedingly

The real magnum opus of Cutbush resulted in "A System of Pyrotechny"
(1825), which voluminous publication did not appear until after his
decease, and then largely through the efforts of his wife and former
students in the Cadet Corps, for, in _Silliman's Journal_, this note

    "Mrs. Cutbush, widow of the late Dr. Cutbush, of West Point,
    proposes to publish by subscription a Treatise on Pyrotechny
    by her husband, Dr. James Cutbush.... By the reputation which
    Dr. Cutbush sustained, as well as by the ability which his
    elaborate treatises on these subjects already published in
    this journal display, there can be no doubt that this
    posthumous work will be worthy of the public patronage, which
    we hope will be liberally bestowed."

Even to-day this publication stands out preëminently and for years has
been referred to by artisans and by scientists. Chapters dealing with
military fireworks have been seriously studied. In the light of the
violent fires, grenades, etc., used in the late war the writings of
Cutbush become very fascinating. They show that he truly blazed the
way in this field. In the introduction to this splendid volume he

    "On this head, that of the application of chemistry to
    pyrotechny, we claim so much originality, as, so far as we
    know, to have been the first, who applied the principles of
    chemistry.... As this subject, however interesting to the
    theoretical pyrotechnist, cannot be understood without a
    knowledge of chemistry, it is obvious that that science is a
    powerful aid to pyrotechny.... Viewing pyrotechny either as a
    science or an art, there is undoubtedly required in its
    prosecution much skill and practice. The mere artificer or
    fireworker by constant habit may understand, it is true, how
    to mix minerals, prepare composition, charge cases, etc., ...
    but without a knowledge of chemistry he cannot understand the
    theory.... Indeed, chemistry is indispensable to pyrotechny."

Much time and thought were given by Cutbush in the experimental
development of this particular subject in his own laboratory. In
reading upon the subject he had collected a vast material which was
then put to crucial experimental tests. These, outside of his
teaching hours, occupied his whole attention.

An outline of how the work in the chemical department of the United
States Military Academy was conducted will not be devoid of interest.

    _First Year_

        Theory and Experimental Chemistry.

    _Second Year_

        Application of Chemistry to the Arts, Manufactures and
        Domestic Economy, constituting along with Mineralogy the
        second course.

Pyrotechny naturally was developed quite extensively. Teachers of
chemistry will note with pleasure the questions which Cutbush arranged
for his student corps, particularly those questions which had to do
with pyrotechny:

    "What is saltpetre? What is nitric acid? What are the sources
    of saltpetre, and how it is obtained? How is it formed in
    nitre beds, extracted, and refined? What circumstances are
    necessary to produce nitre, and how does animal matter act in
    its production? What is the difference between the old and
    new process for refining saltpetre? What reagents are used to
    discover the presence of foreign substances in nitre? What
    are nitre caves? Where do they exist? What are the nitre
    caves of the western country, and how is nitre extracted from
    the earth? What proportion of nitre does the saltpetre of the
    nitrate caves afford? What is the theory of the process for
    extracting saltpetre from nitrous earth, or nitrate of lime?
    What is sulphur? How is it obtained, and how is it purified
    for the manufacture of gunpowder? Of what use is sulphur in
    the composition of gunpowder? Does it add to the effective
    force of gunpowder? What is charcoal? What is the best mode
    of carbonizing wood for the purpose of gunpowder? What woods
    are preferred for this purpose? In the charring of wood, what
    part is converted into coal, and what gas and acid are
    disengaged? What is the use of charcoal in gunpowder? What is
    gunpowder? What are considered the best proportions for
    forming it, and what constitutes the difference between
    powder for war, for gunning, and for mining? How does the
    combustion of gunpowder take place? Can you explain why
    combustion takes place without the presence of a gaseous
    supporter of combustion, as gunpowder will inflame in vacuo?
    What are the products of the combustion of gunpowder? What
    gases are generated? To what is the force of fired gunpowder
    owing? What are the experiments of Mr. Robins on the force of
    gunpowder? How would you separate the component parts of
    gunpowder so as to determine their proportions? What are
    gunpowder proofs? What is understood by the comparative force
    of gunpowder? What are eprouvettes, etc.? In noticing in the
    same manner the preparations used for fireworks, and for war,
    as the rocket, for instance, the following questions were
    propounded; viz., What is a rocket? How is it formed? Is the
    case always made of paper? What is the war rocket? What is
    the composition for rockets, and how does it act? What
    particular care is required in charging a rocket? What is the
    cause of the ascension of rockets? What is the use of the
    conical cavity, made in a rocket at the time it is charged,
    or bored out after it is charged? How do cases charged with
    composition impart motion to wheels, and other pieces of
    fireworks? What is understood by the rocket principle? What
    is the rocket stick and its use? Is the centre of gravity
    fixed, or is it shifting in the flight of rockets? How are
    rockets discharged? What is the head of a rocket? What is
    usually put in the head? Are all rockets furnished with a
    head? What is understood by the furniture of a rocket? How
    are the serpents, stars, fire-rain, etc., forming the
    furniture of a rocket, discharged into the air, when the
    rocket has terminated its flight, or arrived at its maximum
    of ascension? What forms the difference between a balloon, in
    fireworks, and a rocket? As the balloon contains also
    furniture, and is projected vertically from a mortar, how is
    fire communicated to it, so as to burst it in the air? Is
    the fuse used, in this case, the same as that for bombs,
    howitzers, and grenades? What is the Asiatic rocket? The
    fougette of the French? In what siege were they employed with
    success by the native troops of India? What was the nature of
    their war-rocket? What is the murdering rocket of the French?
    Is the conical head hollow, solid, blunt, or pointed? Why is
    it called the murdering rocket? What is the Congreve rocket?
    Is Congreve the inventor or improver of this rocket? What are
    Congreve rockets loaded or armed with? In what part is the
    load placed? Is the case made up of paper or sheet-iron? What
    are the sizes of Congreve rockets?"

In the introduction to "Pyrotechnics" Cutbush remarked that he had
consulted many authorities without much advantage, finding the French
the most helpful. Of the English he said:

    "As respects the turtle torpedo and catamarin submarine
    machines, it appears that Bushnel claims the originality of
    the discovery from the date of his invention, although
    similar contrivances had long ago been suggested. Fulton's
    improvements, in the torpedo, are deserving of particular
    attention, but it is plain that the Catamarin of the English
    is the same in principle and application as Fulton's torpedo
    and that Fulton deserves the merit of it."

The "System of Pyrotechny" bears the ear-marks of much careful
experimental study. It is a most worthy contribution, and is strong
proof of the dominating force in the mind of Cutbush, namely, to make
his science as widely useful as possible. Chemists may justly take
pride in this early contribution in the application of chemical

The life story of Cutbush has now been told. It is really the story of
his life activities, for regrettable as it is, there does lack a
picture of the man's personality. The parents of James Cutbush were
Edward Cutbush and Anne Marriat. The father was a stone-cutter or
carver. To these good people were given four children: Edward, born in
1772; Ann, in 1782 (who died in 1798); William, born in 1785, and
James in 1788. Edward became prominent as a naval surgeon, while
William graduated from West Point in 1812, and attained eminence as an

Indeed, at an early age, William was a midshipman in the United States
Navy, and was taken prisoner by the Algerines at the time the frigate
Philadelphia ran aground in the harbor of Tripoli, from which he was
released after two years' confinement in prison, and returned to the
United States, when he became a cadet in the Military Academy.

James Cutbush must have been a man of mark among his neighbors--as
indicated by sundry positions of trust which he held. Further, he must
have been a favorite with the Cadet Corps at West Point, where he was
buried. His tomb there bears this inscription:

    "Sacred to the memory of Dr. James Cutbush, Member of the
    American Philosophical Society, Late Surgeon, U. S. Army and
    Professor of Chemistry at the U. S. Military Academy, West
    Point, N. Y., who departed this life December 15, 1823, aged
    35 years. An honourable tribute of respect from his grateful

The work of Cutbush was of the genuine pioneer character, and enriched
the annals of American chemistry. While it would be delightful to know
more of the man, cruel fate compels us to be content with the
estimate, brief though it is, given in Poulsen's _American Daily
Advertiser_, December 23, 1823:

    "A man not only known for his extensive knowledge of
    chemistry, but distinguished for his philosophy and

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

The following typos have been corrected:

Page 28: Socity changed to Society.

Page 44: Braeutigram changed to Braeutigam.

Page 51: responsibile changed to responsible.

Page 67: beginnig changed to beginning.

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