John William Draper was an anachronism in an era marked by growing specialization and professionalism. A student of physiology, a teacher of chemistry, the president of a medical school, a pioneer in photography, a science researcher, and a respected historian, he was in large degree a "Renaissance" man, vitally interested in many fields and competent in all. To the Lazzaroni, however, he was too much the generalist to command their respect, and so when in 1863 they nominated fifty leading scientists to be members of the National Academy of Sciences, Draper was omitted from their list.
A native of Liverpool, England, Draper studied chemistry at London University under the noted Dr. Edward Turner. Coming to America in 1832 at the behest of relatives who had already emigrated, he settled in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, where he had hopes of teaching at a Methodist college. He arrived, however, too late in the school term to receive an appointment. Hardly discouraged, he fell back on his own devices and continued for the next few years to devote the bulk of his time to independent scientific research. Of his many investigations during this period, the most significant was his study of capillary attraction, the results of which he published in the Journal of the Franklin Institute. Though not conclusive, his account set forth his belief in the existence of previously unrecognized fields of force, a belief that others would substantiate in further experiments.
In 1835 Draper entered the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his medical degree just one year later. His thesis, "Glandular Action," in which he recorded his ingenious experiments demonstrating how oxygen is introduced into the blood, received special recognition from the medical faculty and was subsequently published in extended versions under the titles of "Experiments on Endosmosis" and "Experiments on Absorption." Testifying to the originality and incalculable value of this early work is the fact that nearly a century later it served