In Leeds Joseph Priestley’s home was situated near a brewery. Whenever he walked by the brewery, Priestley observed an unusual phenomenon. He noticed that “fixed air” (carbon dioxide) was released in the process of fermentation and that this new “air” would extinguish burning pieces of wood and then drift to the ground. At home Priestley was able to prepare the new gas he observed at the brewery. When he tried to dissolve it in water, the result was a drink with a pleasant, rather tangy taste. Priestley had made carbonated water, or “artificial Pyrmont water” as he called it. Although he was not the first one to make this bubbly water, his methods were the most successful.
The first Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, and his colleagues believed that this new water was more healthful than ordinary drinking water and might even prevent scurvy at sea. Officials were impressed by Priestley’s experiments before the College of Physicians, and two Royal Naval battleships were subsequently equipped with the necessary machinery to make Priestley’s soda water. He was asked to accompany Captain James Cook to the South Seas, but Priestley’s extreme religious views made this unacceptable to the Royal Navy. In 1772 Joseph Priestley published his famous booklet that described how to make his soda water. Entitled “Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air,” the booklet cost one schilling.
Priestley’s scientific work began to earn him international recognition. He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1772, and he received the Copley Medal in 1773 from the Royal Society of London for his articles about fixed air and water solutions and for his experiments on other gases.
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