First American PhDs
The first doctorates to be awarded in the USA were actually honorary PhDs (to recognise the holder’s general achievements rather than any specific academic research work). Ebenezer Newton Elliott was the first to receive such degree in 1852, presented by Bucknell University. He earned his award because of his distinction as President of the Southern Scientific Institute in the State of Mississippi.
Traditional PhDs did not begin to emerge until a decade later.
Yale was the first university to award PhDs in 1861 and Eugene Schuyler, Arthur Williams Wright and James Morris Whiton were the first students to graduate. All went on to become prominent scholars in their field.
Little is known about Eugene Schuyler’s dissertation, but he previously studied languages, literature and philosophy. Schuyler then went on to become the first American translator of Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy.
Arthur Wright, earning the first PhD in physics outside of Europe, went on to produce the first X-ray image. He was also instrumental in securing funding for the Sloane Physical Laboratory, the first physics lab in the US.
James Whiton earnt his PhD in classics and went on to become a prominent writer on theological and ethical themes.