Memoir

Benjamin Silliman, Jr.

December 4, 1816 - January 14, 1885


Election Year: 1863
Membership Type: Member

Benjamin Silliman Jr. was a chemist and geologist who in 1855 was hired to write a report on the possibility of using petroleum as a fuel for illumination. Though originally skeptical, Silliman used fractional distillation (a technique developed by his father Benjamin Silliman Sr.) to create refined oil from Pennsylvania rock oil and showed that the refined oil was a powerful illuminator. Silliman’s report was a major factor in the development of the oil industry. He also made contributions to geology, mineralogy, and engineering.

Silliman was a founder of the Scientific School at Yale, later renamed the Sheffield Scientific School, teaching chemistry and natural sciences there. In 1853 he was in charge of the departments of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations at the Crystal Palace in New York. In 1838 he took over, with James Dwight Dana, as coeditor the American Journal of Science, the prestigious journal created by his father, remaining in that role for the rest of his life. Silliman was a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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