Chemical Practice and Time Economy: The Case of Ami Argand’s Distillery

Early modern chemical practice was not only aimed to produce knowledge on the natural world but was also deeply concerned with economic issues. Scholars have especially emphasized the idea of economy – often spelled ‹oeconomy› – intended as the virtuous management of the household. This paper aims to show that the economy of chemical practice did not only concern the good use (or re-use) of material resources, but also the time spent in chemical experimentation. In this sense, the traditional concept of ‹oeconomy› went in parallel with a more modern notion of economy, involving the idea of financial profit associated with the production of goods. Saving time was in fact crucial to organize manufacturing activities, as quantifying the duration of processes contributed to give a rational structure to production. These issues will be discussed through the example of the Swiss scientist and inventor Ami Argand’s (1750-1803) work on distillation techniques, and his attempt at creating a distillery in the South of France.