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Chemistry, like all science, should serve a practical purpose.

… of the importance of turning a knolege of chemistry to houshold purposes I have been long satisfied. the common herd of philosophers [scientists] seem to write only for one another. the chemists have filled volumes on the composition of a thousand substances of no sort of importance to the purposes of life; while the arts of making bread, butter cheese, vinegar, soap, beer, cyder Etc remain totally unexplained. Chaptal has lately given the chemistry of wine making. the late Doctr. Pennington did the same as to bread … good treatises on these subjects would   recieve general approbation [approval].

…I recall with pleasure the many happy days of my youth spent at College with your father. the friendships which are formed at that period are those which remain dearest to our latest day.
To Thomas Beale Ewell, August 30, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Practical leaders want practical applications, not theory.
Ewell, a young physician, wrote Jefferson asking his opinion about developing some treatises on chemistry applied to practical purposes in America, such as soil improvement, baking, and glassmaking. Jefferson was all in favor if it improved life for their fellow countrymen. His assessment of most scholarship in chemistry was withering, written to impress other chemists rather than serve any practical purpose.

Ewell sent his father’s greeting and compliments on the President’s leadership. The two older men had been students together at the College of William and Mary in the late 1750s. Jefferson returned the sentiment, affirming that friendships made in youth were the most valued late in life.

“Your wonderful presentation as Daniel Boone was well received
and appropriate to the interests of our group.”
Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association
I am not always Thomas Jefferson.
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One Response to Chemistry, like all science, should serve a practical purpose.

  1. Love it. This letter shows that Jefferson recognized the need for the Land Grant colleges and the Cooperative Extension Service, which did not come into existence until Lincoln (~60 years later). Many scientists today still write for each other.
    These Land Grant colleges (such as Ohio State U, Virginia Tech, Texas A & M, U. of Missouri, Tuskegee) still provide practical science and engineering. The Extension folks in each state (actually in every county) make sure the valuable research findings are readily available to us common folks, including 4-H and other youth.

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