A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 05, 2015
“Johnny thought that H2O was H2SO4” (chemistry rhyme)

Water (H20) should not be confused with sulfuric acid (H2SO4). A rhyming aid was cited in 1894 and has long been popular with high school and college chemistry students:

Our Willie passed away today,
His face we’ll see no more;
What Willie thought was H2O
Proved H2SO4. 


The author of the lines is not known. “Willie” has been replaced with other names, such as Johnny, Jimmy, Tommy and Timmy.


Wikipedia: Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid (alternative spelling sulphuric acid) is a highly corrosive strong mineral acid with the molecular formula H2SO4. It is a pungent-ethereal, colorless to slightly yellow viscous liquid which is soluble in water at all concentrations. Sometimes, it is dyed dark brown during production to alert people to its hazards. The historical name of this acid is oil of vitriol.

Google Books
November 1894, Hamilton Review (Hamilton College, Clinton, NY), pg. 54, col. 1:
A CHEMICAL TRAGEDY.
Our Willie passed away today,
His face we’ll see no more;
What Willie thought was H2O
Proved H2SO4. 
-- Bowdoin Orient.

1 February 1895, The Cosmos (Cedar Rapids, IA), pg. 54, col. 2:
A CHEMICAL MISFORTUNE.
Our Willie passed away today,
His face we’ll see no more;
What Willie thought was H2O
Proved H2SO4.
-- Cornellian.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
16 February 1898, Gazette & Courier (Greenfield, MA), pg. 3, col. 4:
Poor Jimmy Brown is dead and gone.
His face we’ll see no more
For what he took for H2)
Was H2SO4.
(This was published in the high school’s paper, “The Alpha.”—ed.)

Google Books
8 October 1898, The Polytechnic (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY), pg. 14, col. 2:
Our Willie passed away today,
His face we’ll see no more;
What Willie thought was H2O,
Proved H2SO4.

Hadst though but given Willie boy
Na HCO3,
NH3 Ca(HO)2,
He’d still have been with thee.

“Twa better thus,” Will’s spirit cried;
“No NH3 for me.
When vitriol gets in one’s inside,
The stomach goes, you see.”

E’en though the stomach’s gone,
We know—since Schlatter showed the way—
His ileum and oesophagus might
Have served for many a day.

But th’ oesophagus, too, is always charred
By H2SO4.
And so our antidotes are barred
And death has closed the door.—Ex.

Google Books
September 1907, The Pacific Pharmacist pg. 246, col. 1:
John H. Brown
He used to drink,
But now he drinks no more.
For what he thought was H2O
Proved H=SO. 
-- Nathan Winter, Ph. G.

1 November 1907, The Daily Echo (Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, IN), pg. 1, col. 3:
Little Tommy’s gone to heaven.
His face we’ll see no more—
For what he thought was H2O
Was H2SO4.—Ex.

Google Books
June 1909, The Clinique (Chicago, IL), pg. 402:
Darby was a Drug Clerk,
Darby is no more!
What Darby thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4. — Exchange.

Google Books
February 1910, American Journal of Public Hygiene, pg. 104:
Before addressing myself to that topic, I am disposed to report the metrical form of death certificate, which is said to have been indulged in by a certain wag among the doctors:

“Regarding William Shore
We’ll never see him more,
For what he took for H2O
Was H2SO4.”

19 September 1910, Iowa City (IA) Citizen, pg. 4, col. 4:
“Our Willie boy is dead and gone,
We ne’er shall see him more.
What Willie thought was H2O
Was H2SO4.”
(From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.—ed.)

Google Books
Minnesota Magazine
Volume 18
1911
Pg. 79:
Alas for little Johnny
We shall never see him more
For what he thought was HsO
Was H2SO4.

25 November 1913, Shortridge Daily Echo (Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, IN), pg. 3, col. 2:
A TRAGEDY
Little Willie now is singing
On the golden shore.
For what he thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4. —Exchange.
ANOTHER VERSION
Little Willie now is coughing.
Coughing sure is something new.
For what he thought was perfumed water
Was H2O and Cl2.

Google Books
Year Book of the College of Pharmacy
University of Nebraska--Lincoln
the University Press
1914
Pg. ?:
Fortier took a drink one day,
But now he drinks no more;
For what he thought was H2O
Was H2SO4.

Google Books
April 1917, Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, pg. 200:
In this connection the speaker is reminded of Willie:

Willie had an awful thirst,
But Willie is no more,
For what he thought was H2O
Was H2SO4.

14 July 1928, Boston (MA) Herald, “Selections From Our Mail Bag,” pg. 14, col. 8:
It is to be hoped that his faith may have a surer foundation of knowledge than that of the youth in the time-worn lyric:

“Johnny was a druggist’s son,
But Johnny is no more—
For what Johnny thought was H2O
Was H2SO4.”
SARAH HINDS WILDER.
Worcester, June 11.

11 June 1929, Edwardsville (IL) Intelligencer, “Side Talks” by Ruth Cameron, pg. 3, col. 6:
Indeed I doubt if I could even give a product its chemical nom de plume except sulfuric acid, which was forever fixed in my mind by the delightful couplet, “Our Johnny is no more, what Johnny took for H2O was H2SO4.”

18 March 1930, San Diego (CA) Union, “The Northeast Corner,” pg. 6, col. 6:
Mysterious clipping received by the Corner:

“Johnny was a chemist.
But Johnny is no more.
For what Johnny thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4.”

Will some leading druggist tell us what that means?

Google Books
Total Recall:
How to Boost Your Memory Power

BY Joan Minninger
Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press
1984
Pg. 102:
Chemistry students have little desire to confuse a bottle of water with a bottle of sulfuric acid:

Johnny was a chemist.
Johnny is no more.
For what he thought was H2O
Was HZSO4.

Urban Dictionary
H2SO4
The chemical formula for sulfuric acid.
Little Timmy took a drink,
But he will drink no more,
For what he thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4.

by Thumbs it up plz July 07, 2006

Google Books
The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said
By Robert Byrne
New York, NY: Touchstone
2012
Pg. ?:
2,021
Willie was a chemist;
Willie is no more
What Willie took for H2O
Was H2SO4
One ofmany Little Willie poems

YouTube
Track 07 “Acid Head” - Album “Vanishing Lessons” - Artist “Tourniquet”
ChristianClassicRawk
Published on Jul 18, 2012
“Acid Head” Track 07 from the album Vanishing Lessons by Tourniquet.
Lyrics:
Johnny is a chemist’s son
But Johnny is no more
What Johnny thought was H2O
Was H2SO4

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • Sunday, July 05, 2015 • Permalink