John Leonard Riddell papers online

Riddell's plan for refrigeration, 1846.
The Louisiana Research Collection’s newest online collection is the papers of John Leonard Riddell. Riddell (February 20, 1807 – October 7, 1865) was a science lecturer, botanist, geologist, medical doctor, chemist, microscopist, numismatist, politician, and history’s first science fiction author.

Riddell was born in Leyden, Massachusetts, February 20, 1807. In 1835 he was appointed professor of chemistry and botany at Cincinnati Medical College and published his "Synopsis of the Flora of the Western States." He received his medical degree in 1836 from Cincinnati Medical College.

From 1836 until his death in 1865, he was Professor of Chemistry at the Medical College of Louisiana (now Tulane University) in New Orleans. While there, he invented the first practical binocular microscope. In 1850, he undertook one of the earliest and most extensive American microscopic investigations of cholera. While he continued working at the Medical College of Louisiana throughout the rest of his life, he also served as smelter and refiner at the U.S. Mint, a member of the River Control Commission, and a member of the Board of Inquiry into causes of yellow fever. He was also appointed Postmaster of New Orleans, a position he held even during the Civil War despite Confederate appointments intended to displace him.

Riddell is also generally acknowledged to have published the first science fiction story, Orrin Lindsay's Plan of Aerial Navigation, with a Narrative of his Explorations in the Higher Regions of the Atmosphere, and his Wonderful Voyage Round the Moon! (1847). It contained a detailed description of the building of a metal balloon that took Lindsay to the moon and back, as well as a description of the principles of anti-gravity that propelled the craft.


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