Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

2014 Edition
| Editors: Thomas Hockey, Virginia Trimble, Thomas R. Williams, Katherine Bracher, Richard A. Jarrell, Jordan D. MarchéII, JoAnn Palmeri, Daniel W. E. Green

Draper, John William

Reference work entry

Born Saint Helens, (Mersey), England, 5 May 1811

Died Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, USA, 4 January 1882

John Draper captured the first photographic astronomical image of any type and stated, qualitatively, the relationship between the temperature and the spectrum of a solid body.

After immigrating to Virginia, USA, with his widowed mother in 1832, Draper was trained as a physician at the University of Pennsylvania. He taught chemistry at Hampton-Sydney College for 3 years before moving, in 1839, to New York, where he was a professor of chemistry at the University of the City of New York (later New York University). Draper helped found the New York University School of Medicine and served as its president after 1850. He was a pioneer photographer and applied photography in his medical research.

Besides his support and encouragement for his son,   Henry Draper , John Draper’s major contributions to astronomy were twofold. First, his daguerreotype image of the Moon, taken during the winter of 1840, was the first such astronomical image formed anywhere. By 1845, Draper had also captured a daguerreotype image of the solar spectrum. More importantly, in mid-1840 Draper enunciated the principle that solid substances become incandescent as their temperature is raised and emit a continuous spectrum of light that is increasingly refrangible (shifted toward the ultraviolet end of the spectrum). This important principle, which is fundamental to astrophysics, was refined by Draper in 1857 with his assertion that the maximum of luminosity and heat in the spectrum coincide. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded its Rumford Medal to Draper for his work on radiant energy in 1875.

Draper was also a strong defender of science from the encroachment of religious thinking. His 1860 paper on the progress of organisms, presented to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, provoked the famous debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas H. Huxley, but his most popular book was A History of the Conflict between Religion and Science.

Selected References

  1. Draper, John William (1844). A Treatise on the Forces which Produce the Organization of Plants. New York: Harper and Brothers.Google Scholar
  2. — (1874). A History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. New York: D. Appleton and Co.Google Scholar
  3. Fleming, Donald (1950). John William Draper and the Religion of Science. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Hoffleit, Dorrit (1950). Some Firsts in Astronomical Photography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Observatory.Google Scholar
  5. Lindberg, David C. and Ronald L. Numbers (eds.) (1986). God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science. Berkeley: University of California Press. (See the introduction for more on the impact of Draper’s History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science.)Google Scholar
  6. Martin, Marion (1992). “John William Draper and the Hastings Observatory.” Hastings Historical Society Historian21, no. 1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA