Robert Hare (1781-1858), considered the leading American chemist
of his time, was a productive inventor and writer.
Robert Hare was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, 1781, the son
of a prominent businessman and state senator. He was educated at
home, then studied chemistry under James Woodhouse. While
managing his father's brewery, he found time for chemical
research and gained international fame in 1801 with his
invention of the oxyhydrogen
blowpipe, which provided the highest degree of heat then known.
(Its application led to the founding of new industries such as
production of platinum and limelight illuminants.)
After teaching briefly at the College of William and Mary in
Virginia, Hare was appointed professor of chemistry at the
University of Pennsylvania in 1818, where he remained until
1847. Hare's classes were noted for his spectacular experiments.
His inventions included a calorimeter, a
deflagrator for producing high electric currents, and an
improved electric furnace for producing artificial graphite and
Although primarily noted as an experimental chemist and
inventor of experimental apparatus, Hare was keenly interested
in theoretical speculations about both chemistry and
meteorology. He published articles in the American Journal of
Science, edited by his close friend and collaborator Benjamin
Silliman. His famous controversies were with
Jöns J. Berzelius over chemical
nomenclature, Michael Faraday over electricity, and William C.
Redfield over the nature of storms. Hare was especially
committed to the theory of the materiality of heat.
1850 Hare published a historical novel, Standish the Puritan. In
1854, near the end of his career, he became a convert to
spiritualism, much to the dismay of his rationally minded
colleagues. He produced a book on the subject and went so far as
to claim that Benjamin Franklin's spirit had validated his
electrical theories. But he was unsuccessful in getting the
American Association for the Advancement of Science to listen to
Hare was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Though his only degrees
were honorary, he represented the newly emerging professional
university scientist in contrast to the traditional
Hare had married Harriet Clark in September 1811; one son, John
James Clark Hare, became a distinguished lawyer. Hare died on
May 15, 1858.