Lewisite and organoarsenic compounds


Wooden presentation box containing 23 ampules of organoarsenic compounds that were prepared by H.W. Stiegler at Northwestern University and presented to Col. Prof. Winford Lee Lewis in 1924 for use in his lectures on chemical warfare. Lewis began his research in poison gases in 1917, the same year as the U.S. entry into World War I, while serving in the Gas Service, and later, the Chemical Warfare Service.

While looking for agents containing arsenic, Lewis followed a suggestion to research a compound that Father Julius Arthur Nieuwland synthesized and described in his doctoral dissertation at Catholic University of America in 1904. The products of the reaction, which combined acetylene with arsenic trichloride in the presence of a catalyst, were purified and studied by Lewis, and they would subsequently be named after him: lewisite 1, 2, and 3.

Tests on animals and humans showed lewisite to be a powerful vesicant (blister) agent, and it was anticipated to be an even more powerful weapon than the mustard gas being deployed on the front. Production at a large scale was undertaken, but the war ended before it was used in battle. After the war, Lewis continued his study of lewisite and its derivatives, as is evidenced by the contents of this box. Many of these compounds are discussed in a paper he co-authored with H.W. Stiegler in 1925 for the Journal of the American Chemical Society, which funded in part by a grant from the Research Board of the Public Health Institute of Chicago.

Ampule contents are as follows:

1) 2-Chlorovinyldichloroarsine {Lewisite (L-1)}

2) 2-Chlorovinyldibromoarsine

3) 2-Bromovinyldibromoarsine

4) 2-Chlorovinyldiiodoarsine

5) 2-Chlorovinyloxoarsine {Lewisite oxide}

6) (2-Chlorovinyl)arsonic acid

7) 2-Chlorovinyl-silver-arsonate

8) (2-bromovinyl)arsonic acid

9) 2-Chlorovinylthioarsine

10) Diphenylaminechloroarsine {Adamsite}

11) 10-chloro-5,10-dihydro-3,4-benzophenarsazine

12) Bis(2-Chlorovinyl)chloroarsine {Lewisite 2 ( L-2)}

13) Bis(2-Chlorovinyl)cyanoarsine

14) Bis[bis(2-Chlorovinyl)arsyl]sulfide

15) Bis(2-Chlorovinyl)ethylarsine

16) Bis(2-Chlorovinyl)methylarsine

17) Bis[bis(2-Chlorovinyl)arsyl]oxide

18) Bis(2-chlorovinyl)ethylmethyl arsonium iodide

19) Bis(2-chlorovinyl)dimethyl arsonium iodide

20) Tris(2-chlorovinyl)arsine {Lewisite 3 (L-3)}

21) Tris(2-chlorovinyl)methyl arsonium iodide

22) Double Salt of tris(2-Chlorovinyl)methyl arsonium Iodide and Mercuric Iodide

23) Double Salts of tris(2-Chlorovinyl)arsine and Silver Nitrate


W. L. Lewis and H.W. Stiegler, "The Beta-Chlorovinyl-Arsines and Their Derivatives," J. Am. Chem. Soc., 1925, 47 (10), pp. 2546-2556.

Vilensky, J. A, Dew of Death: The Story of Lewisite, America's World War 1 Weapon of Mass Destruction. . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Date Made: 1924

Inventor Of Lewisite: Lewis, Winford LeeMaker: Stiegler, H. W.Inventor: Lewis, Winford Lee

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Illinois, ChicagoAssociated Place: United States: Illinois, Chicago

See more items in: Medicine and Science: Chemistry


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. W. Lee Lewis

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CH.318500Catalog Number: 318500Accession Number: 170140

Object Name: box of organoarsenic compounds

Measurements: box: 2 1/2 in x 14 in x 7 1/2 in; 6.35 cm x 35.56 cm x 19.05 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746b3-6dde-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_2345

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.