Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/April 1880/Sketch of Dr. Charles F. Chandler



PROMINENT among the men who have won large distinction by varied and valuable labors in the field of science in this country, stands the name of the subject of the present notice. His career has been one of such eminent public usefulness in several departments of activity, which he has efficiently promoted both by his scientific attainments and his marked executive ability, that no biographical sketch of him can be given that does not involve some account of the various projects, measures, and reforms, with which he has become identified. Science is devoted to the interests of truth, but that truth is for the service of humanity; and the work of research becomes of the highest value only in its large Baconian application to the "relief of the estate of man." It is through the intelligent and well-directed efforts of such men as Dr. Chandler that the fruits of science are applicable for the large amelioration and advantage of society. It is, moreover by the substantial and lasting benefits thus gained that the community is led to recognize its great debt to science which it discharges by increasingly liberal provisions for its cultivation and development.

Professor Chandler was born at Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1836. His father became a merchant in New Bedford, where he still resides. On the maternal side he is descended from the rebels of the Revolution and on his father's side from the Tories. His maternal grandfather was John Whitney, an old Boston merchant; his grandmother was a daughter of John Slack, who fought at Lexington. The Chandlers originated with William Chandler and Annis his wife, who arrived in Roxbury, Massachusetts, from England in 1637. It was at Lancaster, Massachusetts, in the house of his grandfather, Nathaniel Chandler, who graduated at Harvard in 1792, that Professor Chandler was born.

Hunting chiastolites and other minerals at Lancaster during vacations, and attending lyceum lectures and listening to the elder Agassiz, led him to take an early interest in scientific studies, and while still a boy he turned his workshop in the attic into a laboratory. After graduating at the high school, he continued his classical studies privately with a friend of the family for a year, and then pursued his professional studies at the Lawrence Scientific School, and the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin.

His teachers in chemistry have been Horsford, Wöhler, and Heinrich Rose. Through the influence of Wöhler and his friend Professor Joy he obtained the position of private assistant to Rose during the year he spent in Berlin, in whose laboratory his only companion, besides Rose and his lecture assistant Oesten, was the now famous Nils Erich Nordenskjöld, the Arctic explorer. In physics he studied with Weber, Dove, and Magnus; in mineralogy he attended the lectures of Professor Cooke at Harvard, Yon Waltershausen in Göttingen, and Gustav Rose in Berlin. In geology he listened to the lectures of Agassiz. In 1856 he received his degree of Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Arts at Göttingen, publishing a dissertation containing the results of miscellaneous chemical investigations.

Soon after his return to America he accepted the position of assistant at Union College under his friend Professor Joy; and when, soon after, this gentleman was called to Columbia College, Chandler immediately succeeded to his duties, and began lecturing to the Senior Class, though not yet "of age"—politically. He remained here for eight years in charge of the laboratory, and lecturing to the college classes on general and agricultural chemistry, mineralogy, and geology.

In 1864 Professor Chandler became connected with Columbia College, joining Professor Egleston and General Vinton in the experiment of starting a School of Mines. The project originated with Professor Egleston, who, with his friend Vinton, had recently graduated at the École des Mines in Paris. It was not considered very promising, but the three professors were willing to begin without salaries. Mr. George T. Strong, W. E. Dodge, Jr., and several others, furnished about three thousand dollars to equip the modest laboratories. Hon. Gouverneur Kemble presented a fine cabinet of minerals. Dr. Barnard, the newly-elected President of Columbia College, Dr. Torrey, and the other Trustees, encouraged the enterprise in every possible way, and some vacant rooms in the basement of the college were assigned for laboratories. The success of the school was marvelous. Provision was made for twelve students; twenty-four came the first day. During the entire winter the carpenters and gas-fitters were constantly at work erecting new tables for additional applicants, and the number of pupils reached forty-eight. The Trustees of the College responded liberally. During the first vacation they placed a large four-story building at the disposition of the school, with ample funds for the equipment of laboratories and cabinets. Accommodations were arranged for seventy-two pupils. During the second year the school was thronged; eighty-nine students were in attendance. The success of the new school seemed so well assured that the Trustees arranged to place it on a substantial basis as a coordinate department of the college. Professor J. S. Newberry was called to the chair of Geology, relieving Professor Chandler of this subject, and a full faculty of professors and assistants was established. A new building was erected, and equipped with laboratory accommodations for one hundred and fifty pupils; these were outgrown, and a few years ago still larger ones were erected. The school is now in its sixteenth year; it has about two hundred and fifty students, pursuing a four years' course of study. Professor Chandler has been Dean of the Faculty of the School from the beginning, and has been the executive officer, besides having charge of the laboratories and giving his regular courses of lectures. The Assay Department was the especial hobby of Professor Chandler, and, with the aid of his successive assistants, Miller, Day, Blossom, and Ricketts, has been made the most complete of its kind to be found anywhere. To facilitate the work of assaying gold and silver ores, he devised an improved system of weights, which has been generally adopted by assayers.

When Professor Chandler first came to New York, he was asked to lend a hand in the development of the College of Pharmacy. This institution was then occupying a single room in the old University building on Washington Square, and numbered about thirty students. Three evenings a week, all winter, Chandler lectured there year after year. The active exertions of the faculty and the trustees, and the interest manifested by the New York druggists, have built up from this small beginning a most flourishing school of three hundred pupils, which is able now to own a fine building, with laboratory and lecture halls.

At the death of Professor St. John, Professor Chandler succeeded to his chair of Chemistry and Medical Jurisprudence in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which he now holds. Here his voice has always been raised in favor of a much more exacting system of medical education, and has not been without effect, in the recent radical improvements which have been adopted in this institution, involving an extension of the session to seven months, written examinations, etc.

In 1866 Professor Chandler was invited by the Metropolitan Board of Health to do some gratuitous chemical work. He accepted the invitation, and so impressed the Commission with the importance of his work that, at the end of the year, they created the office of Chemist for him, which he held till 1873, when he was appointed by Mayor Havemeyer President of the Board. In 1877 he was reappointed, for six years, by Mayor Ely. As Chemist to the Board of Health, food and water supply were made the subjects of careful investigation. The absurdity of the annual complaints with regard to the quality of the Croton was clearly established, as was also the danger of drinking water from any of the city wells. It was also shown that the popular belief in the wholesale adulteration of the common articles of food, such as flour, bread, sugar, etc., was unfounded. The shameful condition of the milk-supply was pointed out, and it was shown that for every three quarts of milk there was added at least one quart of water, to say nothing of the frequent removal of a considerable portion of the cream. The fact that most of the condensed-milk companies skimmed the milk before they concentrated it and sold the cream separately was also published. A fraud on the citizens, amounting to at least ten thousand dollars a day, was traced to the milk-dealers.

After Dr. Chandler was made President of the Board of Health, he made the milk question his special study, and carried on a successful warfare against the dishonest dealers. He rightly assumed that, as milk was the chief diet of the one hundred and thirty thousand children in New York, under five years of age, it was the most important article of food for municipal supervision. His reforms were not accomplished without very sharp fighting. The milk-dealers organized, and secured the services of lawyers and chemists, who attacked both the laws and the chemical methods. After prolonged litigation, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ordinances of the sanitary code, and the lactometer as used by Dr. Chandler and his inspectors received the scientific endorsement of the best chemists in the country, including Barker, Morton, Silliman, Caldwell, Goessmann, and many others, as well as the more practical endorsement of verdicts from the Judges of the Courts of Special Sessions and the jury of the General Sessions. At least fifteen thousand dollars has already been paid by milkmen in fines for watering and skimming milk. This investigation of the lactometer is important and interesting, for, while the Swiss and German investigators use it with the greatest confidence, the English analysts were shaken in their faith by the special pleading with which Wanklyn recommended his own method of analysis.

At the same time an investigation of the liquors sold in the commoner resorts was undertaken. The Metropolitan Excise Commissioners decided to withdraw the license of every one of the eight thousand dealers who should be found selling adulterated liquors. Professor Chandler was engaged to make the analyses on terms which might well have turned the head of any chemist. He was to receive twenty dollars for each analysis; there were eight thousand dealers, and there were likely to be three or four samples from each. But when he came to examine the first installment of forty samples of whisky, gin, rum, and brandy from Mulberry, Mott, Baxter, and other streets of that character, he was compelled to report that while the brandy was all factitious, and the basis of the others was common whisky, there was no adulteration in the sense of anything added of an injurious character. Some of them had been carelessly made and contained more fusel-oil than others, but the poisonous constituent was the alcohol. This ended the projected reform of the liquor-traffic by chemical analysis.

An effort was made to put a stop to the sale of poisonous cosmetics, especially the various preparations of lead salts which are employed either on the skin as a white enamel or upon the hair to restore the original color. His analyses were widely published.

The most important work of Professor Chandler was, however, the investigation of kerosene accidents, which were of very frequent occurrence, not only in New York, but wherever this cheap illuminator was used. It was supposed by the world at large that the accidents were an unavoidable incident to the use of the oil. Kerosene came in as a substitute for "camphene" or "burning-fluid," which was inherently dangerous and could not be made safe. Kerosene was supposed to be similar in chemical composition and properties, and the accidents were generally attributed to carelessness. In 1869 Chandler began his work on this subject, his first report to the Board of Health bearing date January 11th of that year. It was a simple statement of the chemical nature of petroleum and its products, explained the process for refining the oil, and clearly established the fact that the dangerous character of the oils in use was due to the fact that the refiners, in order to realize a profit of two or three cents per gallon, left a certain quantity of the highly inflammable naphtha in it. He also reported the fact that he had purchased seventy-eight samples of oil from as many different dealers in the city, and not a single one of them was safe. Some were pure naphtha.

So convincing was the statement that it was taken up all over the country. The report was reprinted everywhere, and the statements were made the basis of legislative action in most of the States. The report was followed by a second in July of the same year, a third in 1870, and a very elaborate report of 110 pages in 1871. Ten thousand copies of the latter were printed and circulated by public-spirited citizens in New York. It was largely reprinted in Switzerland, extensively quoted in France and Germany, and freely used and quoted by the Select Committee of the House of Lords in their report on the Petroleum Bill, 1872. In fact, Professor Chandler was invited to go to England to testify before this committee. He did not content himself with writing on the subject, but lectured in the hall of Cooper Union, the Academy of Music, and in Washington. Not only were the dangers of poorly refined oil exposed, but also the entire failure of all the safety-oils, safety-lamps, safety-cans, vapor-stoves, etc., and patented processes for making naphtha and benzine safe. It was shown that, with proper oil, accidents would never occur, while there is no method by which bad oil can be used with safety.

In New York City alone there were, in 1870, a hundred and fifty-seven fires known to have been caused by kerosene and naphtha, eighteen per cent, of the whole. There were also twenty-one deaths from the same cause, with thirty-nine deaths from clothes taking fire in ways not stated. It was estimated that from one to two thousand persons were killed annually by these accidents, before the labors of Chandler called attention to the cause and indicated the remedy.

One of his most comprehensive investigations resulted from the action of the Board in suppressing the gas nuisance. All the gas companies purified their gas by what was called the dry-lime process. The foul lime when removed, as it was daily, from the purifiers, disseminated a stench throughout the entire city. This odor was by most citizens attributed to the sewers. When it was fully realized that it came from the gas-works, the companies were appealed to, and, with one exception, they introduced improvements by which the odor was suppressed. One company, however, maintained that no odor emanated from their works; that the odor was not disagreeable; that it was wholesome, as children suffering from whooping-cough were brought to breathe it; that they could not avoid making it; and, finally, if they did, the gas would be too bad to burn in dwellings. The result of these claims was a most elaborate trial before a referee. The gas company produced experts and other witnesses to sustain the above views, and Professor Chandler combated them with the best foreign authorities on gas-making. The evidence was subsequently published in the Report of the Board for 1869, and is one of the most complete discussions of gas-purification which has ever appeared. The Board decided against the company, and the gas nuisance ceased.

As President of the Health Department of New York, Professor Chandler has held a most responsible position for the past six years. During this time he has had associated with him in his work Dr. S. O, Vanderpoel, the Health Officer of the Port, and Dr. Stephen Smith for the first two, and Dr. Edward G. Janeway for the past four years. These men have always worked in complete harmony.

The present Board of Health was organized under the charter of 1873, which was a modification of that of 1870, which abolished the Metropolitan Board. This latter was established in 1866, and a very perfect system of sanitary legislation and supervision was inaugurated by the health laws of that year. The Sanitary Code of New York was the first result of that legislation. New enactments have been made from time to time, and it is believed that New York City now possesses a more extensive and perfect system of sanitary supervision than any other city in America or Europe; and its laws and code, as well as its work in general, have been made the model for similar work throughout the country. When the present Board organized, it adopted a thorough civil-service system, and there has not occurred a single instance since that time in which it has been departed from. Dr. Chandler's first labors in 1873 were directed to the purification of the atmosphere of New York, and his first summer was spent in the most active warfare on all kinds of stench-producing trades.

The war was not confined to the land, as a naval engagement occurred on more than one occasion. At last there were no odors left save those which were wafted across the East River from Newtown Creek and Hunter's Point, and which the Board of Health was diligently combating when the farce of the indictment of its members was enacted by the grand jury.

Judge Sutherland promptly quashed the indictment on the ground that neither a moral nor a legal excuse existed for it. That the Health Board was not inactive is shown by the fact that suits were brought against the city for nearly five hundred thousand dollars for their acts in suppressing nuisances in 1873 and 1874; and that the members acted with judgment is shown by the fact that in every one of these suits they were victorious.

One of the most creditable acts was the removal of the two-story structures, which had been erected over the half of the roadway of the public streets adjacent to Washington Market, and almost entirely surrounding the block which the market occupies. Every effort had been previously made by other boards to remove them, but in vain. After exhausting every other method, the Board of Health in 1873 decided to use force, and one quiet summer evening Dr. Chandler led an army of one hundred and fifty carpenters and laborers, three hundred policemen, and a corps of surgeons to the market, and before morning the entire line of buildings was leveled, and one of the most outrageous abuses that had grown up under political protection was abolished.

Among the numerous sanitary reforms secured by the present Board of Health, may be mentioned the system of gratuitous house-to-house vaccination established in 1874, which has already resulted in vaccinating over 360,000 persons, and the complete suppression of small-pox; the reform in the construction of tenement-houses; the employment of a special corps of fifty physicians during the five hot and damp weeks which occur in the latter part of July and the early part of August, and which were formerly so fatal to infants, killing sometimes eight hundred or one thousand in a week. The physicians make a house-to-house visitation, prescribe for the sick children, supply medicines, and distribute printed directions among the mothers. The Health Department in its varied work of recording the marriages, births, and deaths, preventing and caring for contagious diseases, disinfecting, sanitary inspection, and the abatement of nuisances, meat and milk inspection, employs a corps of one hundred and thirty men, besides the special summer corps of fifty physicians and the fruit-inspectors and extra disinfectors—requiring an annual appropriation of $250,000. The return for this large expenditure is seen in the remarkable improvement in the public health. In 1866, fifty-three per cent, of the total deaths were of children under five years of age. This percentage has steadily diminished, till it is now less than forty-six, which proves an actual saving of four thousand children's lives in a single year, to say nothing of all the sickness prevented in our population of over 1,100,000.

The sanitary chemistry of water has been a special subject of investigation with Dr. Chandler, and he has been relied upon to decide important questions with regard to the selection of water for supplying Albany, Yonkers, and several other cities. He has also been engaged in several important investigations on the pollution of water by factories, and the prevention of boiler incrustations.

During the past summer Dr. Chandler was made chairman of a committee to draw up a scheme for disinfection, to be adopted by the National Board of Health. The other members of the committee were Drs. Vanderpoel, Janeway, Henry Draper, Barker, and Remsen.

Professor Chandler's most elaborate chemical work has been the investigation of American mineral waters. With the aid of his assistants he has analyzed sixteen of the springs and artesian wells at Saratoga, besides many more sulphur and other springs at Chittenango, Florida, N. Y., and elsewhere.

Dr. Chandler, in connection with his brother. Professor W. H. Chandler, of the Lehigh University, started a monthly journal of chemistry, called "The American Chemist." It contained the results of many researches, and was a valuable periodical for those engaged in chemical pursuits, but was not a success financially, and, after running six years with very considerable loss, it was discontinued. Professor Chandler has devoted much attention to chemical industries, and has written and lectured upon them frequently. He is often consulted by both manufacturers and the courts in regard to scientific questions involved in the arts.

Dr. Chandler is an effective popular lecturer, having an excellent voice, and a clear, direct, and vigorous style of delivery. His subjects chosen are those of technical and special interest, such as petroleum and kerosene accidents, water-supply, gas-lighting, prevention of fires, public health, etc., which are always practically and instructively treated. These lectures are of very great value, and, having been given in most of our principal cities, have exerted a wide and excellent influence. He has also been remarkably active as a writer. The list of his scientific papers is very comprehensive. It embraces the results of varied original investigations, covering wide ground, and making a catalogue too extensive for insertion here. He is the author of numerous scientific papers, cyclopædia articles, and addresses and reports, which have been published in the journals and proceedings of societies.

Dr. Chandler was President of the Convention that met at Northumberland in 1874 to celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of oxygen by Dr. Priestley. He published in full the interesting proceedings and addresses in "The American Chemist." The success of the Northumberland meeting led to the founding of the American Chemical Society, of which Chandler was one of the most active projectors, and of which he has been a Vice-President from the beginning, having refused the regular nomination for President almost every year since it was organized.

Besides the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Arts, obtained as a student, Professor Chandler has received the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of New York and Doctor of Laws from Union College. He is a life-member of the Berlin, Paris, and American Chemical Societies; he is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the London Chemical Society, the Sociedad Humboldt of Mexico, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Philosophical Society, New York Academy of Sciences, and several pharmaceutical, sanitary, and other societies.