Oliver Wolcott Gibbs papers
Held at: The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute [Contact Us]222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Born to George and Laura Gibbs in New York, New York on February 21, 1822, Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was an American chemist who is best known for his work in inorganic and analytical chemistry, specifically with the cobalt-amines, platinum metals, and complex acids. He is also known for performing the first electrogravimetric analyses.
Gibbs' father, Colonel George Gibbs, was one of America's earliest mineralogists. In 1837, Wolcott Gibbs (he dropped the name "Oliver" early on in his career) became a student at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in New York, New York. During his junior year, Gibbs developed a new form of galvanic battery. In 1841, after graduating from Columbia, Gibbs went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to work as an assistant in the laboratory of Robert Hare, a well-known chemistry professor at the University of Pennsylvania. After several months of working with Hare, Gibbs returned to New York to attend the College of Physicians and Surgeons (now part of Columbia University), earning his doctor of medicine degree in 1845. Seeking advanced education in chemistry, Gibbs next traveled Europe, studying first in Berlin, Germany and then Paris, France before returning to his home in New York in 1848.
After returning from Europe, Gibbs became a professor of chemistry at the newly established Free Academy of the City of New York (now the City College of New York). In 1857, he published his investigation of ammonia-cobalt compounds with F.A. Genth, a chemistry professor at the University of Pennsylvania. This study was so thorough that it allowed for very little in the way of experiments for future work and firmly established Gibbs' reputation in the field of chemistry. Gibbs also created new methods for separating platinum metals in 1861.
Gibbs left his position at the Free Academy in 1863 to teach at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he remained until his retirement in 1887. Gibbs invented the ring burner in 1873, which is considered to be his most important contribution to the apparatus of analytical chemistry. Four years later, in 1877, he created an excellent method for preparing nitrogen. Gibbs moved to Newport, Rhode Island when he retired, working for the next ten years in his own laboratory.
Gibbs was involved in several science organizations and published numerous articles in various scientific journals, several on spectroscopy and the measurement of wavelengths. He was the only American to be an honorary member of the German Chemical Society. Gibbs was one of the founders of the National Academy of Sciences in 1863, and served as its president from 1895 to 1900. In 1866, Gibbs became the vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in 1897, he was also elected its president. Additionally, he was associated with non-science based organizations. He was a co-founder of the Union League Club of New York City and served on the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. Wolcott Gibbs passed away on December 9, 1908.
Clarke, F.W. "Biographical Memoir of Wolcott Gibbs, 1822-1908." In Biographical Memoirs, Volume VII. Washington D.C.: The National Academy of Sciences, 1910. Accessed April 9, 2015. http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/gibbs-wolcott.pdf
This collection, dating from 1847 to 1910, consists largely of correspondence and other papers relating to scientific matters and Gibbs' roles in various organizations, especially the National Academy of Sciences. A few of the notable scientists featured prominently in the correspondence include Ogden N. Rood, a physicist known for his work in color theory; B. A. Gould, an astronomer known for creating the Astronomical Journal and discovering the Gould Belt in the Milky Way; and engineer and scientist Alexander Agassiz, who served as the president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1901 to 1907. There is a small amount of papers on the United States Sanitary Commission, although there is not much, if any, material on his involvement in the founding of The Union League Club of New York City. A significant amount of printed matter, such as pamphlets, reprints of articles written by Gibbs, Gibbs' speeches/addresses, and obituaries of him; a few photographs and objects; and a small amount of other materials are also present in the collection. A box list is available on-site.
Box 1 Obituaries, research papers, papers relating to the National Academy of Sciences and memoirs of others, geological surveys and maps
Box 2 Papers on the United States Sanitary Commission, telephone and telegraph, forestry, and other interests of Gibbs; various pamphlets; research papers by other people
Box 3 Scientific related correspondence, Agassiz letters, other letters and correspondence, committee appointments, magnifying glass/ceremonial gift
Box 4 Letters to B. A. Gould, 1874-1896, and letters to Ogden Rood, 1860-1902
Box 5 Miscellaneous letters, National Academy of Sciences material, a bound record book of correspondence
Box 6 National Academy of Sciences bound book of letters, a file of letters to the Academy president
Box 7 Information on legal matters relating to Bell Telephone law suits on telephone, 1883
Box 8 An academic hood, photographs, and portraits
Box 9 Letters to Gibbs, materials relating to the University Club at Harvard, and other materials
Box 10 Materials related to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences' Bache Fund (a bequest of Alexander Dallas Bache, the first president of the National Academy of Sciences, to aid research in the physical and natural sciences), and the Hofmann Fund
Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.
In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute directly for more information.
- Gibbs, Wolcott, 1822-1908
- Gould, Benjamin Apthorp, 1824-1896
- Rood, Ogden N. (Ogden Nicholas), 1831-1902
- The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
- This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- Access Restrictions
Contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute for information about accessing this collection.