Eunice Foote

Dr Andrew Wright

The ‘greenhouse effect’ is attributed to Horace-Benedict de Saussure who described the effect in 1770. John Tyndall of the Royal Institution, London did experimental work that he published in 1859 and 1861 which laid the scientific basis of today’s understanding of the contribution of gases in the atmosphere to the heat in the atmosphere. That was how history has been understood for 150 years.

Now a researcher in the University of California in Santa Barbara has found a paper published in 1856 by Eunice Foote. Due to the ’rules’ she could not read her paper personally but it was read for her at the 10th annual meeting of the American Society for the Advancement of Science. Moreover it was not published in the conference proceedings but in the American Journal of Science and Arts. The person who read her paper to the conference was an eminent American Scientist, Joseph Henry, who said in his introduction ‘science was of no country and of no sex’.

There is a two-page article in the May 2020 edition of the Royal Society house journal Chemistry by Rachel Brazil. The New York Times ran a rather belated obituary for Eunice on 21st April 2020.

The question is whether John Tyndall knew of her work or not, but given the distance and the journal of publication it is doubtful that he did. Just another case of an overlooked paper that is now in public view and Eunice Foote can be given her deserved fame as the first to publish work on the science of greenhouse gases….unless there is another earlier overlooked paper……..

Dr Andrew Wright (Chair of JRI)


Image: A column in the American Journal of Science and Arts described in 1856 Eunice Newton Foote’s temperature experiments with gases, and found that carbonic acid (carbon dioxide/CO2) caused the greatest warming effect. Author: American Journal of Science and Arts 1856. Wikimedia Commons- public domain. Source: