Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Peirce, John

John Peirce (1836-1897), professor of chemistry, was born in Providence on August 16, 1836, after the death of his father. His mother married Seth Padelford, who was several times governor of Rhode Island. Peirce lived at Padelford’s home on Benevolent Street and received his early education at the University Grammar School. After graduation from Brown in 1856, he worked for a short time for a drug and dye company until the depression of 1857 caused him to leave his work and travel to Europe for a year with the Padelfords. The following year he studied law with Abraham Payne, but he never practiced. In 1862 he was appointed assistant professor of chemistry applied to the arts at Brown and was promoted to professor in 1863. He resigned after about two years and devoted himself to research in chemistry, at first at Harvard and later at Yale. According to his obituary, “After this time he devoted himself to the care of his private estate, which was ample, and to the studies in which he was interested.” These subjects were electricity, pharmacy, photography, microscopy, and textile finishing. When the telephone was being developed, he invented the mouthpiece for the hand telephone, and late in life he experimented with construction of the Aeolian. His obituary continued, “The principal features of Professor Peirce’s character were a great love of investigation, particularly in the positive and exact sciences, extreme truthfulness and great modesty in respect to his own attainments. He had a powerful and retentive memory, sound common sense and excellent judgment.” He also had an impressive personal library and a pleasant habit of sharing his wealth without ostentation. He died on March 3, 1897 in Providence.