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.


Twelfth Night Celebration on Sunday, January 3

Posted November 26th, 2015

Twelfth Night Celebration at Joseph Priestley House, Sunday January 3 from 4 to 7 pm.

In merry old England Twelfth Night marked the end of Christmas, and it was commonly believed that all seasonal decorations were to be taken down on that date to avoid bad luck for the year.  It was a night of gaiety often filled with practical jokes and short plays.  Have you ever wondered how the Priestley family celebrated Twelfth Night in Northumberland?    A time for merrymaking, the Twelfth Night celebration will feature musical entertainment, experiments by Dr. Joseph Priestley in his laboratory, children’s activities, wassail, Twelfth Night or king’s cake, and other warm and spicy refreshments that would have been enjoyed during the Priestley family’s celebrations. Plan now to attend this festive occasion when the Friends of Joseph Priestley House will host a Twelfth Night celebration on the Sunday evening prior to Epiphany, January 3rd, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.  The Joseph Priestley House will be decorated for the occasion with greenery and the warm glow of lantern light will add to the ambience of the evening.

Regular admission fees.Visitor Center open from 1 pm to 4 pm.  House decorated as Enlish manor house for Twelfth Day.   Tour the house on your own and visit with costumed docents in each room.  Chemistry demonstrations by Dr. Priestley in the lab at 4:30 and 5:30  and 6:30pm.  Limited seating.


Ronald Blatchley as Joseph Priestley testing for oxygen

Discoveries of Joseph Priestley: the videos

Posted June 16th, 2014

Discoveries of Joseph Priestley:  videos on Carbon Monoxide and Ammonia

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   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.

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