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Organic Chemicals and Multiple Combining Proportions

Organic Chemicals and Multiple Combining Proportions


(p.190) Chapter 8 Organic Chemicals and Multiple Combining Proportions
Pure Intelligence
Melvyn C. Usselman
University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes the organic chemicals business of W. H. Wollaston and S. Tennant, and Wollaston’s discovery of multiple combining proportions in the salts of organic acids. Wollaston extracted tartaric acid from the sediments of wine fermentation and converted large amounts of it to salts of oxalic acid, which were sold to textile manufacturers in Manchester. The organic chemicals business was not greatly profitable because of decreasing profit margins, so it was terminated about 1811. A scientific bonus of the commercial process was Wollaston’s discovery in 1803 and 1804 of multiple proportions in the potash salts of tartaric and oxalic acids. After learning of Thomas Thomson’s report of multiple proportions in two salts of oxalic acid in 1807, and the significance of the observation for atomic theory, Wollaston published several examples of integral combining proportions in 1808. Many believed that the paper provided strong empirical support for John Dalton’s atomic theory.

Keywords:   William Hyde Wollaston, Smithson Tennant, organic chemicals, tartaric acid, oxalic acid, multiple combining proportions, Thomas Thomson, John Dalton, atomic theory

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