Buckley Rumford Fireplaces
Count Rumford, 1763-1814

Note: This article from an unknown (forgotten) source on the Internet contains some errors starting with Rumford's birthdate, which was 1753 not 1763. - Jim Buckley

One of the most incredible men associated with science was Benjamin Thompson, later titled Count Rumford. Aside from making as many enemies as friends, this man amassed a large list of honorary titles and contributed significantly to scientific knowledge. He never let an opportunity for advancement escape him and many claimed he had no real love or regard for his fellow men. Nevertheless he was one of the first American scientists and his career was probably the strangest of all American success stories.

Thompson was born into a Massachusetts farming family in 1763. He was a strange boy who fancied he could build a perpetual motion machine and took great interest in eclipses. He became an itinerant teacher and was hired by a wealthy family in Rumford, Massachusetts. After endearing himself to nearly everyone, Benjamin married the daughter of the household and was accepted into high society. So favorably did he impress the local military officers that he was made a major at age 19. This undeserved honor made him quite unpopular with the local citizenry. In fact as the political climate ripened for revolution, Thompson was arrested upon suspicion of being inimical to the liberties of this country. Perhaps he was a spy, but most likely he was indifferent to the revolutionary cause. When released he left his wife and fled to England.

His charming manner and good looks won the friendship of the War Minister and soon he was elected to the Royal Society and named Under Secretary in the War Department. He returned to America to command the Queen's Horse Dragoons against the colonists. During this time he strangely enough began systematic lunar observations and extensive experiments with gunpowder and shell velocity.

At age 30 he returned to England and traveled to Bavaria. He won the friendship of the Duke of Bavaria and in due time was made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire- Count Rumford. Thompson was bright enough and had enough power to apply his cherished ideas of enlightened despotism; he established a successful welfare system in Munich.

This was the time he made his greatest contribution to science. While watching a cannon being bored he noted the extreme amount of heat produced. After careful experiments he was able to deduce that heat was molecular motion, not a fluid. This was a breakthrough.

Count Rumford was a careful observer. He installed a glass door in his fireplace, watched the flame carefully, and soon designed better stoves and better chimneys. He built up quite a reputation as a nutritionist; he wrote several essays on the benefits of coffee over tea. Many credit him with inventing the folding bed and he made many improvements in the design of lamps. His main scientific accomplishment in later life was his large role in founding the Royal Institution in 1800. It was Count Rumford who hired Humphrey Davy as lecturer at the Institution and it was Count Rumford's money that kept the Institution going in the beginning. Soon, however, the Institution became too theoretical for Thompson and he severed connection with it to move to France. He died in 1814 of a fever. He left his gold watch to Sir Humphrey Davy and much of his money to Harvard University.

Although much of what Benjamin Thompson did in his lifetime was simply not cricket, he was an enlightened philanthropist and did more for society and science than most men.

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