Among the scientific men of this country, and in connection with some of our most important discoveries in the department of natural wealth, the name which heads this article deserves to be perpetuated. The history of the manufacture of coal oils could hardly be written without frequent reference to the labors and inventions of Luther Atwood ; and, indeed, in the manipulation of the hydro-carbons, there is no one who has performed such signal service, both to science and the arts, as he Luther Atwood was born at Bristol, N. H., November 7, 1826, and remained in his native town until 1849. He received only such education as could be gained at the town school and a neighboring academy; but, having evident predilections for the acquirement of knowledge, commenced the study of medicine with Dr. Sawyer, of Bristol, when quite a lad. He, however, soon found that the bent of his desires and capacity was in another direction, and accordingly abandoned medicine for chemistry, to which science he devoted his entire life. He was a natural chemist; and component parts, under his manipulation, seemed to assume their proper correlation, almost by magic. His studies were now prosecuted under great difficulties, and in the face of many obstacles, and in 1849 he removed to 'Boston to avail himself of the advantages of a wider sphere. There Mr. Atwood entered upon the manufacture of medicinal chemicals for Messrs. Philbrick Trafton. The following year he commenced the series of original labors to which his life was to be devoted, by instituting some investigations into the nature of the products of coal tar, as well as the manufacture of benzole and naphtha therefrom. In 1853 Mr. Atwood obtained his first patent, being for a " process of preparing para-naphthaline oil from the distillate of coal tar, collecting the products at certain fixed temperatures;" the product being designated as " coup oil." At about the same time he obtained a patent for the use of manganate of potash for purifying alcohol, the alcohol purified by this process, being known in trade as " Atwood alcohol." During the following year Mr. Atwood, associated with his brother, William Atwood, now superintendent of the Portland Kerosene Oil Company, and president of the Atwood Lead Company, of the same city, commenced experiments in the manufacture of oil from coal and bituminous products, and these investigations he pursued until his failing health incapacitated him from all mental labor. During the ten years between 1853 and 1864, Mr. Atwood took out no less than thirteen patents, nearly all of which related to distillation, and the manipulation of hydro-carbons. One of his most important discoveries was the process known as " cracking," by which a heavy oil is changed to a lighter grade. Another was the process of distilling coal in a tower, known as the " meerschaum " or " pipe " process. Indeed, the high standard of purity which has been reached by the oils, known under the trade mark of " kerosene," is owing in a very large degree to the original, scientific far-sightedness, and laborious efforts of Luther Atwood. Mr. Atwood was at one time superintendent of the New York Kerosene Oil Company's works at Hunter's Point, and within a few years of his death occupied a similar position in the works at Maysville, Ky. He died of consumption, at Cape Elizabeth, Me., November 5, 1868, after a lingering illness. A Successful Inventor. Nothing in the line of our professional duties gives us more pleasure than to hear of the 3uccess of inventors, and under this head publish the following from John W Case, of Worthington, Ohio : From the patent you took out for me one year ago this March, I have realized about $10,000, and all of this I owe to the Scientific American. I have always been of an inventive turn of mind, and have originated a great many things, but have always neglected to patent them, owing to the cost and the necessary neglect of my other business, but on subscribing for your paper, I was induced by reading it to apply for a patent. Therefore I am truly indebted to the Scientific American for my success during the past year. A Prolific Inventor from Texas. Mr. F. C. Eichers, of Gilmer, Upsher county, Texas, arrived at the office of this paper a few days ago, with no less than sixty-two new inventions, on which he is making applications for letters patent. His subjects are quite varied, comprising improvements in nearly every department of mechanical and chemical science, from a steam engine and coffee mill to a process for roofing material, and mode of extracting saccharine juices from cane. All of the inventions exhibit a large degree of ingenuity, and many of them possess very much merit. Mr. Richers will remain in this city several weeks, and parties desirous of engaging in the manufacture or sale of good patented articles, can address him at Box 773 P. O., N. Y.
This article was originally published with the title "Obituary-Luther Atwood" in Scientific American 20, 15, 228 (April 1869)