“And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” —Daniel 2:21
Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier Born, August 26, 1743
reat men and women of history come in all sizes and shapes, social classes, and countries. France has produced Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, and many others. However, you would be hard-pressed to exceed the brilliance or importance of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, one of the greatest chemists who ever lived, and whose work in the gunpowder industry, by an unusual providence, enabled the American colonists to fight a successful war of secession from Great Britain.
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794) with his wife, Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier (1758-1836) who was a constant companion and invaluable aid to her husband
Lavoisier was born to a wealthy noble family of Paris on August 26, 1743. His father served as an attorney at the Parlement of Paris, and provided his son the best education available in the capital. Although he eventually earned a law degree, the introduction Antoine received to chemistry, botany, astronomy, mathematics and biology inspired a life-long love of those disciplines. Lavoisier proved a genius of the first water, as well as a humanitarian and patriot devoted to improving the lot of the urban population. He used his own, not inconsiderable fortune, developing practical ways to apply chemical and mathematical theories. King Louis XVI recognized Lavoisier’s unique value to France and awarded him a gold medal and appointed him to the French Academy of Sciences.
A museum recreation of Lavoisier’s laboratory
In the course of his life, Lavoisier revolutionized chemistry through experimentation and invention. Among other accomplishments he discovered that combustion and respiration are caused by chemical reactions with what he called “oxygen.” He theorized about the existence of atoms, based on his discovery of the law of conservation of mass. Along with Robert Boyle and John Dalton, he contributed to the creation of the atomic chart or “periodic table.” His work to improve public health included proposals for water purification and better hygiene for prisoners, although his suggestions were often ignored.
A diorama showing Lavoisier in his laboratory, conducting experiments in respiration. His wife can be seen seated at the table in the background, taking notes and sketches for him as she often did.