John LeConte

John LeConte (December 4, 1818 – April 29, 1891) was an American scientist and academic. He served as president of the University of California from 1869 to 1870 and again from 1875 to 1881.


LeConte was born in Liberty County, Georgia, to Louis Le Conte, patriarch of the noted LeConte family. He attended Franklin College at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society and graduated in 1838. His younger brother Joseph LeConte also attended the University.

Like many of his immediate relatives, John LeConte next studied medicine at the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons and earned his M.D. in 1842. During this time, LeConte married Eleanor Josephine Graham.[1] He practiced medicine until 1846 when he returned to UGA as a professor of physics and chemistry and taught there until his resignation in 1855. His next academic position was at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, as professor of physics and chemistry from 1856 until 1869.

In March 1869, he moved to Oakland, California, to join the faculty of the newly established University of California as a professor of physics.[2] In June 1869, he was appointed acting president of the University, serving until Henry Durant became the president in 1870. In September 1869, his brother Joseph LeConte arrived in California to join the faculty of the University as a professor of geology.

Upon the resignation of President Gilman in March 1875, LeConte was appointed acting president a second time until June, 1876, when he was elected president. On June 7, 1881, LeConte tendered his resignation as president of the University, asking to be returned to his faculty position.

LeConte died at his home in Berkeley, on April 29, 1891, while still active as a professor of physics.

Contributions to physics

LeConte contributed major discoveries to physics throughout the 19th century. In 1858, he demonstrated that flames are sensitive to sound[3] and in 1864, LeConte successfully measured the speed of sound.

LeConte began studying underwater vibrations in 1882.


  1. "University of California History Digital Archives: U.C. Presidents Overview". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  2. Walter Le Conte Stevens (November 1889). "Sketch of Prof. John Le Conte". The Popular Science Monthly. 36: 112–120.
  3. "On the Influence of Musical Sounds on the Flame of a Jet of Coal Gas," [American Journal of Science], 2nd series 23 (1858): 62-67
Academic offices
Preceded by
Daniel Coit Gilman
President of the University of California
Succeeded by
W.T. Reid
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