Sir Benjamin Thompson, HRE Count Rumford, FRS (1753-1814).
American Scientist, British Loyalist, Bavarian Count, French retiree.
Per fess Argent and Sable, a fess embattled counter-embattled counterchanged between
in chief of the second beaked membered and belled Or
and a horse passant in base of the first.
Crest : On a wreath of the colors, a mural crown Or,
thereon a mullet of six points Azure
the battlements four pine-buds Vert.
Motto : Fidelis.
In the history of Science,
Rumford is best remembered for making the first observation which would precipitate the
downfall of the dubious "caloric" theory, which presented heat as a fluid.
Rumford pointed out that the heat released in the boring of a cannon would have been enough to melt
the metal if that heat had actually been "contained" in it to begin with
(as the caloric theory was stating).
This helped define the modern concept of energy
(mechanical energy is transformed into heat by friction).
Rumford even estimated the so-called mechanical equivalent of heat,
well before a precise value was obtained by James Prescott Joule
Some elements of Rumford's rise to prominence and his activities as an American-born
British Loyalist during the American War of Independence gave him
an enduring sulfurous reputation, especially in the United States.
The term "scoundrel" is still applied to him in some
All told, this oversimplistic caricature is clearly an injustice to an extraordinary individual,
a dedicated scientist, soldier and social reformer who
lived an exceptional life in three different countries
after he had to leave his own...
of Benjamin Count Rumford :
- Born into a farming family on March 26, 1753 in North Woburn, Massachusetts.
- 1755: Father dies. Mother remarries.
- 1766: Clerical apprentice to an importer in Salem (Massachusetts) at the age of 13.
- Apprentice to a dry-goods merchant in Boston.
- Medical apprentice to Dr. John Hay of Woburn.
- 1772: Leaves Woburn to teach school in Bradford [?], Massachusetts.
- Introduced to Science by Rev. Samuel Williams (later Hollis Professor of Mathematics at Harvard).
- Teaches in Concord, NH (called Rumford before 1765).
Sponsored by Rev.Timothy Walker.
- Marries Sarah, his sponsor's daughter, a widow who had become the richest landowner in Concord.
- Gives up teaching, assumes the role of a gentleman and supports the British cause.
- Escaping the wrath of patriots in Concord, joins loyalists in Boston and serves as a British spy.
- 1775: Sails to England (leaves his wife behind).
- 1779: Fellow of the Royal Society.
- 1781: Presents his first scientific paper (on the force of gunpowder) to the Royal Society of London.
- Sails to America to raise a Loyalist regiment, as a lieutenant-colonel of the
King's American Dragoons.
- 1783: Knighted.
- 1784: Coat-of-arms
by the British Crown (Garter King of Arms).
- Awarded the rank of Colonel with half-pay pension for life. Becomes a soldier of fortune.
- Helps establish a successful welfare system in Munich.
- 1792: Made Count of the Holly Roman Empire
(Reichsgraf von Rumford) by the Elector of Bavaria.
- 1792: His wife Sarah dies.
- 1796: Endows the Rumford Medal (Europe)
to be awarded by the Royal Society (1800).
- 1796: Endows the
Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1839).
- 1798: Observation on the boring of cannons foretells
the first law of thermodynamics.
- 1798: Final design of a popular new type of
fireplace ("Rumford Stove").
- 1799: Helps establish the World's first research center, the
- 1800: First recipient of the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society.
- 1801: Hires Humphry Davy to give
Royal Institution lectures (which Faraday
attended in 1810).
- 1802: Moves to Paris, France.
- 1804: Marries Lavoisier's widow, Marie-Anne.
- 1809: Separated from Marie-Anne, he moves to Auteuil, near Paris.
- Dies of a sudden fever in Auteuil, on August 21, 1814, at the age of 61.