Joseph Priestley House

Northumberland, Pennsylvania

When Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is remembered today, it’s usually for his 1774 discovery, in England, of oxygen. Few know he was a noted theologian, political progressive, and prolific author whose scientific contributions include the development of the modern timeline, the carbonation process, the identification of carbon monoxide and other gases, early experiments in electricity and an early understanding of the inter-relationship of plants and animals mediated by gases: oxygen and carbon dioxide and the role of sunlight in photosynthesis.

He counted Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Watt among his friends. Yet Priestley was also a controversial figure whose views were so odious to some of his countrymen that his house, Fair Hill in Birmingham, was burned in a riot in 1791, and he and his family fled to London and then left England in 1794. Priestley spent the last ten years of his life in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he continued his work in science, religion, and education. But even in this democratic republic his liberal ideas were frequently received with intolerance, and the peace that he so ardently desired was often elusive.

Joseph Priestley House and laboratory is an historic site that preserves and interprets the contributions and significance to American history of Joseph Priestley.  As a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Chemical Landmark, the site features Priestley’s manor house with its laboratory.  In the nearby Pond Building can be found the Joseph Priestley Timeline, a series of panels that present accomplishments during different periods of his life.


Gunpowder Joe: Joseph Priestley, Pennsylvania, and the American Experiment

Posted November 28th, 2016

Gunpowder Joe: Joseph Priestley, Pennsylvania, and the American Experiment

This January, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE)  presents Gunpowder Joe: Joseph Priestley, Pennsylvania, and the American Experiment directed by Ensemble Member Laurie McCants.  The Friends of Joseph Priestley House are one of the play’s sponsors.  Gunpowder Joe will play January 19th through February 5th, with evening  performances as well as Project Discovery Student Matinees.

Gunpowder Joe is a world-premiere play by award-winning playwright Anthony Clarvoe, commissioned by and created with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, about Joseph Priestley, celebrated scientist, radical religious leader, and fierce defender of the American Revolution, who, after making himself the most hated man in England, spent his last years in Northumberland, Pennsylvania.
According to director and BTE Ensemble Member Laurie McCants, Pennsylvanians should be interested in Priestley because of his connection to our area and his place in history. “As a scientist, Priestley is still world-famous, known as the “discoverer” of oxygen.  He was also considered a “very dangerous man” in his native England because he was a political radical, a religious dissenter, and fervent supporter of the American Revolution.  Thomas Jefferson said that many of the phrases he wrote in the Declaration of Independence were borrowed from Priestley.”   Priestley ended up in Northumberland by chance. “After a drunken mob hired by his enemies had burned down his house and laboratory in England, Priestley chose Northumberland as his home in exile.  Still vigorous but elderly, he imagined living out the rest of his years in quiet retirement on the bank of the Susquehanna, continuing his chemistry experiments and religious studies.”

Anthony Clarvoe has had three plays produced by BTE: Ambition Facing West, The Deer Hunter’s Bible, and Let’s Play Two. He has received American Theatre Critics, Will Glickman, Bay Area Theatre Critics, LA Drama Critics, Garland, Elliot Norton, and Edgerton New American Play awards; fellowships from the Guggenheim, Irvine, Jerome, and McKnight Foundations, National Endowment for the Arts, TCG/Pew Charitable Trusts, and Kennedy Center.  Anthony teaches at UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s College, and Stagebridge. A native San Franciscan and long-time resident of New York City and the Midwest, he lives with his family in Berkeley, CA.

PUBLIC PERFORMANCES are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 3:00PM, January 19th through February 5th. BTE’s traditional “Pay What You Wish” Preview performances are January 19th and 20th at 7:30PM (doors open at 6:30pm, no reservations) and the “Pay What You Decide” Opening Night Performance is Saturday, January 21st at 7:30PM.  A symposium with the playwright and cast will be held on Sunday, January 22 after the 3:00pm performance.

Reserve tickets online at or at 570-784-8181.

Gunpowder Joe is sponsored by The Friends of Joseph Priestley House, The Degenstein Foundation, Bucknell University, Penn State University, and BTE’s Season 39 Sponsors WNEP, WHLM, Seven Mountains Media, Press Enterprise, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.


Discoveries of Joseph Priestley: the videos

Posted August 11th, 2016

Discoveries of Joseph Priestley:  videos on Carbon Monoxide,  Ammonia and Nitrous Oxide

The Friends of Joseph Priestley House have released videos of Priestley’s discoveries.  The videos include:  a review of his discovery,  a demonstration of the discovery process in a modern laboratory and a discussion of the hazards and uses of the gas.

Viewers of the videos are asked to complete a brief survey

Carbon monoxide discovery here

Ammonia discovery  here.

Nitrous oxidediscovery here:



Partial funding for the carbon monoxide discovery video was provided by the Susquehanna Valley Local Section through an American Chemical Society Local Section Innovative Program Grant (January 2013 round).

Partial funding for the Ammonia discovery video was from a Merck Cherokee Neighbor of Choice grant.

Partial funding of the Nitrous Oxide video was from Department of Anesthesiology, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

These videos  are used in the museum to explain Priestley’s achievements to visitors.