Silliman, Benjamin

caption Benjamin Silliman.

Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), one of the first American professors of science to fractionate petroleum by distillation (1854). Working with oil samples from the fledgling industry in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Silliman separated the crude oil into its component parts, or its fractions, and observed the characteristics of each fraction. Using a photometer, he discovered that distilled petroleum burned much brighter than all but the most expensive and least efficient of fuels. He also noted distilled petroleum's potential use as a lubricant, found it capable of withstanding extremely high and low temperatures, and of keeping its form after long use. Silliman concluded that petroleum was "a raw material from which...they may manufacture a very valuable product.” His report is widely viewed as the original impetus for the advancement of the petroleum refining industry and the expansion of oil as an illuminating fuel. A professor at Yale University, Silliman was an opponent of slavery and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln. He was the first President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.



Cleveland, C. (2008). Silliman, Benjamin. Retrieved from


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