Edinburgh World Heritage - The Man with the Green Silk Umbrella - Joseph Black M.D., 1728-1799, Chemist

The Man with the Green Silk Umbrella - Joseph Black M.D., 1728-1799, Chemist

Joseph Black, a popular chemist who helped to bring about the industrial revolution. He was known for his sociable nature, card playing, smart clothes and his green umbrella.

Joseph Black was a tall, dark eyed man who would be seen about the city in his elegant black suit, with silver buckled shoes and carrying a green silk umbrella. He was a man of science as well as fashion and his research into the subject of heat would have important influences on the development of the steam engine and the industrial revolution. His chemistry lectures at Edinburgh University were so popular people went to be entertained just as today they would go to the cinema.

Black was a sociable man. He liked going to clubs, such as the Poker Club, (as in a poker for the fire - meaning to stir things up) to talk, eat and play backgammon with his friends Adam Smith, David Hume, Alexander Carlyle and James Hutton. He was musical and played the flute and he was popular with the ladies although he never married. He was often in poor health and suffered from Vitamin D deficiency. He became a vegetarian. Black is buried in Greyfriars Churchyard.

Why was he important?
-    He discovered carbon dioxide
-    He worked closely with James Watt who developed the Steam Engine.
-    He made Chemistry popular with lectures on subjects such as heat and magnesium

Things to do:
Find out more
What is carbon dioxide? Is there a safe experiment which you could try to ?
What is latent heat? Why was the steam engine so important in the 18th century?
What do our clothes say about us?
Black’s stylish clothes made him stand out from the crowd and reflected his personality – what do people’s clothes say about them (school uniforms, costumes, etc.)?

National Museum of Scotland, Boulton and Watt Beam Engine and Newcomen Engine.

Curriculum links: Expressive Arts, Health and Wellbeing, Languages, Sciences, Social Subjects, Technologies.

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