Scientists and Inventors

American psychologist Joseph Buchanan (1785-1829), who wrote the pioneering work The Philosophy of Human Nature, was also an attorney and physician, despite less than 2 1/2 years of formal education.

Charles Dawson, a British lawyer, discovered Piltdown Man, later determined to be a hoax. If Dawson was the hoaxer, perhaps he’s not a lawyer you should emulate!

Many people would consider that Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) is not a scientist as we conventionally understand the term, but he certainly has had an impact on science: he is credited with the creation of the modern myth of Atlantis. He was also a novelist and poet.

Lawyer-scientist James Hamilton was the first person (other than James Smithson) to bequeath money to the Smithsonian.

The doctor/scientist/lawyer Thomas Phaer (1510?-1560) popularized all the disciplines in which he was proficient, and wrote the influential Boke of Children and A New Boke of Presidents. William Sherard studied law at Oxford and then turned his attention to botany.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was also known as both a lawyer and scientist as well as as a philosopher and writer.

Many people have combined science and law into rewarding careers: note Richard Peet of the law firm of Foley and Lardner, Jayme Huleatt of the law firm of Rossi, Kimms & McDowell, and MIT corporation member Alfred Loomis. Perhaps Edward Kelley (1555-1593?) isn’t what one thinks of today when one thinks of scientists; a lawyer who was convicted of various land fraud charges, he became interested in alchemy (the transmutation of metals) and convinced various European royals to back him in his experiments. Alfred Binet received a law degree before beginning his research into the nature of intelligence. Elijah Bond invented the forerunner of the Ouija Board. He assigned the patent to Charles Kennard and William Maupin.

Patent lawyer and inventor Robert Rines headed an expedition to find the Loch Ness Monster and published a famous photo which some believe is an image of the beast. He has also written music and founded the Franklin Pierce Law Center. You can also thank physicist and patent lawyer Chester Carlson for the Xerox machine.

Horace L. Hunley, planter and Tulane Law School graduate, invented a submarine for the use of the Confederate forces during the War Between the States.

The brilliant chess prodigy Paul Morphy, son of the Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Alonso Morphy, was a University of Louisiana law graduate before he was 21. Here’s more extensive information about Morphy and his chess career. 

William Francis Gibbs practiced law for two years and then quit to design ocean liners. Among his creations: The S. S. United States.

Margaret Mellon uses her law degree and her PhD in molecular biology as director of the agricultural and biotechnology program program of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

A number of lawyers abandoned the courtroom for greener pastures, specifically gardening and botanical studies. Charles H. Perkins of the Jackson and Perkins Company, and Edwin De Turck Bechtel (see below under “Other Contributions by Lawyers”) helped develop new species of roses. George Harison, a lawyer and rose lover, discovered “Harison’s Yellow“, later imported into Texas, where it became known as the Yellow Rose of Texas. That roses are consequently popular in that state is no surprise; Houston attorney Donald Ray Burger maintains a webpage devoted to roses. Check out Gary O’Neil’s work as well; he’s a master gardener as well as a practicing attorney in Bakersfield, California. Samuel Ruggles, lawyer and real estate mogul, developed Gramercy Park, the only remaining private park in New York City. Park Trammell, Senator and Governor of Florida, was also a fruit grower.

Lewis Henry Morgan was a New York lawyer whose interest in Native Americans led him to formulate a theory of social evolution, which he explained in his book Ancient Society (1877).

Edward Clark entered into partnership with Isaac Singer, and they developed the Singer sewing machine empire.

Benjamin Eisenstadt invented the notion of packaging sugar in little packets before he came up with Sweet n Low.

Finally, Nicholas Copernicus studied canon law at the University of Bologna (beginning in 1493) before devoting himself to scientific studies.