Sir David Brewster was born in Jedburgh, Scotland on December 11, 1781. The son of distinguished Jedburgh Grammar School rector James Brewster, young David was raised primarily by their only sister Grisel following the deaths of his mother and later his stepmother. Known for his quick temper and scientific curiosity, he developed an early interest in optics that remained for the rest of his life. An important professional turning point was when Mr. Brewster met James Veitch, who made telescopes at his workshop in the neighboring village of Inchbonny. A visit to Mr. Veitch's workshop left ten-year-old David mesmerized. Soon, the boy amazingly constructed his first telescope.
A child prodigy, Mr. Brewster went to Edinburgh University at the age of 12. Despite his great interest in science, he studied at the University of Edinburgh to be a minister. Having earned an M.A. degree in 1800, Mr. Brewster continued dabbling in scientific discovery while also contributing and editing Edinburgh Magazine. After becoming a Church of Scotland licensed minister, he quickly writing and science. He became a non-member resident of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1808, the same year he also became editor of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia. Mr. Brewster married Juliet Macpherson on July 31, 1810. In 1814, Mr. Brewster was studying light polarization, which culminated in the discovery of the kaleidoscope. He was also engaged in research involving plant chlorophyll and fluorescence and invented a lighthouse optical system. The next year, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his optical innovations.
Knighted in 1831, Sir David Brewster became enamored with photography after learning of William Henry Fox Talbot's experimentation in the genre. Of particular interest to him was the stereoscope invention of Professor Charles Wheatstone. Mr. Brewster invented the binocular camera in 1849 to be used in the stereoscope to take pictures. His preoccupation with the stereoscope and its uses was a much-needed distraction following the death of his beloved wife in 1850. Mr. Brewster's scholarly text, The Stereoscope, Its History and Construction, was published in 1856. In it, he considered the possibilities of a camera with only a pinhole and without lenses. In his 1861 article, 'Upon Some Improvements Proposed by Sir David Brewster in the Photographic Camera,' Troy University Professor Edwin Emerson declared such a notion to be illogical.
Such criticism failed to deter Sir David Brewster, who continued pushing the experimental envelope in his optical research. He introduced Fresnel lenses to Scottish lighthouses, wrote hundreds of papers and articles, and penned a biography on Sir Isaac Newton’s scientific accomplishments. In addition, Mr. Brewster played a key role in establishment of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. His personal life took a happy turn when he met Jane Kirk Purnell while traveling through France and the couple was married in March 1857. Sir David Brewster's long and productive life ended in Scotland on February 10, 1868.
1881 Earnest Lives: Biographies of Remarkable Men and Women (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo & Co.), pp. 175-202.
1856 The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction (London: John Murray), pp. 136-137.
1861 British Journal of Photography, Vol. VIII (Liverpool: Henry Greenwood ), pp. 380-382.
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