Green, Jacob

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Green, Jacob

(b. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 26 July 1790; d. Philadelphia, 1 February 1841)

chemistry, biology, botany, dissemination of knowledge.

Jacob Green was the son of Ashbel Green, prominent Presbyterian clergyman and eighth president of Princeton University. He attended the University of Pennsylvania (B.A., 1807), studied medicine briefly, sold books in Albany, New York, for a few years, took up law, and was admitted to the New York bar.

In 1816 Green moved to Princeton, New Jersey, to live with his father and study theology. He was sidetracked to science when the professor of natural philosophy, Henry Vethake, hired him as an assistant. In 1818 he was elected to a newly created professorship of chemistry, experimental philosophy, and natural history, and held this professorship until it was abolished in 1822.

Green then moved to Philadelphia, delivered a course of public lectures on chemistry, and joined several physicians in founding Jefferson Medical College. He was professor of chemistry at the medical school from 1825 until 1841. During several summers he traveled to Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College) and to Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, to teach chemistry.

In 1828 Green visited Europe and later published his impressions in Notes of a Traveller. He met Michael Faraday, John Dalton, and other scientists but, to his disappointment, not Humphry Davy, who was abroad. In 1830 he published an edition of Davy’s Consolations in Travel.

Green moved from one science to another, depending upon the circumstances of his life. At the age of nineteen he and his friend Erskine Hazard published An Epitome of Electricity & Galvanism. Learning botany largely by independent study, he wrote about plants of New York. Inspired by the skies during evening strolls, he wrote a popular book, Astronomical Recreations. As a teacher of chemistry he published three texts. In these activities Green was chiefly a disseminator of science. He advanced science through studies on shells, salamanders, and trilobites, contributing in a small way to the early knowledge of natural history of the United States.

Late in his life Green married and was the father of two children.


I. Original Works. Green’s works are An Epitome of Electricity...Galvanism. By Two Gentlemen of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1809), written with Erskine Hazard; A Catalogue of the Plants Indigenous to the State of New York (Albany, 1814); Astronomical Recreations (Philadelphia, 1824); Electro-Magnetism (Philadelphia, 1827); Text-Book of Chemical Philosophy (Philadelphia, 1829); Notes of a Traveller, During a Tour Through England, France, and Switzerland, in 1828, 3 vols. (New York, 1830); Consolations in Travel, or the Last Days of a Philosopher. By Sir Humphry Davy… With a Sketch of the Author’s Life, and Notes, by Jacob Green (Philadelphia, 1830); A Monograph on the Trilobites of North America (Philadelphia, 1832; supp., (Philadelphia, 1835); Syllabus of a Course in Chemistry (Philadelphia, 1835); and Chemical Diagrams (philadelphia try (Philadelphia, 1835); and Chemical Diagrams (Philadelphia, 1837).

II. Secondary Literature. The primary biography is by his father, Ashbel Green; it may be found in James F. Gayley, ed., History of the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1858), pp. 31–34, with portrait. More recent accounts are Edgar F. Smith, Jacob Green, 1790–1841, Chemist (Philadelphia, 1923), with portrait, abridged in Journal of Chemical Education, 20 (1943), 418–427; and George W. Bennett, “Old Jakey Green at Canonsburg,” in Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science, 23 (1949), 218–221.

Wyndham Davies Miles

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Green, Jacob

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