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| ||Chemical flask used by Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, about 1800
This flask arrived at the Smithsonian in 1883, part of a shipment of material salvaged from Priestley's abandoned laboratory in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he lived from 1794 to 1804. Secretary Spencer Baird had collected the material on behalf of American chemists, who believed Priestley's "philosophical apparatus . . . should be held as one of the sacred relics in the history of American science." But the value of these relics had diminished by 1900, when W. W. Holmes, head curator, surveying the crates of mostly broken and unidentifiable material, pronounced them "in the main, worthless." After World War II, as advancements in chemistry increasingly improved life for Americans, Priestley was resurrected as a scientific hero. His relics appeared in several exhibitions during the 1970s and 1980s, including one at the Center for the History of Chemistry in Philadelphia that commemorated Priestley as an "Enlightened Chemist."
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