Someone of insight was needed to thrust chemistry into the modern age, and it was the French who provided him. His name was Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. Born in 1743, Lavoisier was a member of the minor nobility (his father had purchased a title for the family). In 1768, he bought a practicing share in a deeply despised institution called the Ferme Generale (or General Farm), which collected taxes and fees on behalf of the government.
Although Lavoisier himself was by all accounts mild and fair-minded, the company he worked for was neither. For one thing, it did not tax the rich but only the poor, and then often arbitrarily. For Lavoisier, the appeal of the institution was that it provided him with the wealth to follow his principal devotion, science. At his peak, his personal earnings reached 150,000 livres a year—perhaps $20 million in today's money.
Three years after embarking on this lucrative career path, he married the fourteen-year-old daughter of one of his bosses. The marriage was a meeting of hearts and minds both. Madame Lavoisier had an incisive intellect and soon was working productively alongside her husband. Despite the demands of his job and busy social life, they managed to put in five hours of science on most days—two in the early morning and three in the evening—as well as the whole of Sunday, which they called their jour de bonheur (day of happiness). Somehow Lavoisier also found the time to be commissioner of gunpowder, supervise the building of a wall around Paris to deter smugglers, help found the metric system, and coauthor the handbook Methode de Nomenclature Chimique , which became the bible for agreeing on the names of the elements.