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Jean-Antoine Chaptal

Chemist and statesman (1756-1832)

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Chaptal, JEAN-ANTOINE, COMTE DE CHANTELOUP, technical chemist and statesman; b. at Nogaret, Lozere, France, June 4, 1756; d. Paris, July 30, 1832. He graduated as doctor of medicine from the Montpellier University in 1777. In 1781, he filled the newly established chair of chemistry at the same university, and established chemical works there, which acquired a European celebrity. Refusing to yield to the solicitations of the King of Spain or of President Washington, he prosecuted his work in France through the stormy times of the Revolution, up to the days of the Restoration. In 1793, he assumed charge of the Grenelle saltpetre works, where he greatly improved the manufacture of gunpowder. In the Polytechnic School of Paris he was given the chair of organic (vegetable) chemistry. After the fall of Robespierre, he was placed in charge of the reorganization of the Montpellier University, again taking his old chair of chemistry. Upon the foundation of the French Institute, he was admitted as member. He returned to Paris, and established other chemical works near the city. Under the Consulship of Napoleon, he was called to the Council of State, and later became Minister of the Interior. His work in this department was very extensive, including the establishment of commercial exchanges, of chambers of commerce, the reorganization of loan offices (monts-de-piete), the introduction of productive labor in prisons, and many other advances in local Government. He introduced the Sisters of Charity into the hospital service; regulated the mineral water industry, of which the present French Government takes very full cognizance, and arranged for the exposition of industrial products for five years. He established the study of viniculture at the Luxembourg. Roads and canals received his attention; the roads over the Simplon and Mont-Cenis Passes are largely his work. He was in the Ministry from 1800 to 1804. When Napoleon became emperor he made Chaptal senator, Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1806, and, soon after, treasurer of the Senate and Count of the Empire. During the Hundred Days, the general control of manufacture and commerce was entrusted to him. During the Restoration, he was member of the Academy of Sciences in the chemical section. In 1819, he entered the Chamber of Peers.

His technical activity covered a wide field, such as improvements in the manufacture of sulphuric acid, saltpetre for gunpowder, beet-root sugar, wine, dyeing, bleaching and other things. His principal printed works, some eleven volumes, were published from 1790 to 1823. Chaptal occupies a peculiarly interesting position in the long list of Catholic scientists. His career covered the stormy period of the French Revolution, and, more fortunate than the brilliant Lavoisier, he was spared to prosecute his useful work. The seeking of his services by Washington in the new republic, although he did not yield to the solicitation, brings him the nearer to Americans. He was a worker on the technical side of chemistry, supplementing the theoretical investigations of Lavoisier, and developing the field of chemical manufacture, which today is its all-important division.


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