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Thompson, Sir Benjamin, Count von Rumford (1753-1814)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0116 Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford Collection
Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain - click here to see details of the physical location of collection
Full title: Thompson, Sir Benjamin, Count von Rumford (1753-1814)
Date(s): 1755-1964
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 0.60 metres
Name of creator(s): Thompson, Sir Benjamin, Count von Rumford, 1753-1814. Knight. Count. Natural Philosopher. Soldier. Administrator.


Administrative/Biographical history:

Benjamin Thompson was born the son of Benjamin Thompson and Ruth Simonds, in Woburn, Massachusetts, North America, in 1753. He had little formal schooling and educated himself by reading books. Later, he attended lectures at Harvard University and became a school teacher. He moved to Concord, New Hampshire and in 1772, he married Sarah Walker Rolfe, a wealthy widow; they had one daughter. In 1775, they separated permanently. Thompson then became an active member of the Tory party and fled to London, England at the fall of Boston. He was given employment at the Colonial Office and occupied himself with various experiments such as the optimal position of firing vents in canons and the velocity of shot. In 1779 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1780 he was made under-secretary for the colonies and later returned to America as Lieutenant-Colonel in the American Dragoons of George III. In 1784 he was knighted. From 1784-1795, he joined the service of the court of the elector of Bavaria and became head of the Bavarian Army. In 1793, he was made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire and took the name of Count (von) Rumford. He continued his scientific work and showed that heat was lost through convection and as a result he made military cloth to be more insulating. He made soup a staple and nutritional diet for the poor. He also designed a drip-type coffee maker, the double boiler and pots and pans to be used on his `insulated box' more commonly known as a stove. He later designed more efficient fire places whereby the size of the throat was enlarged according to the size of the fire place in order to reduce the amount of smoke emissions. He studied light and made standard candles, and later used steam for efficient production in the manufacture of soap and dye and also in breweries. In 1796, he gave a large amount of money to the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston, America, for scientific research prizes into heat and light. In 1799, he helped found the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) with the idea of making it into a museum for technology to educate the poor. He established lectures and gained money from the aristocracy in order to fund the RI, introducing Humphry Davy (later Sir) and Thomas Young as early professors. However, he lost interest in the running of the RI and went to Paris, France, where he married Marie-Anne, widow of Antoine Lavoisier. The marriage failed and he retired to Auteuil, France, where he later died in 1814. Many of his papers were reprinted, for example under S. C. Brown, The Nature of Heat, 1968; Practical Applications of Heat, 1969; Devices and Techniques, 1969; Light and Armament, 1970; Public Institutions, 1970.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford include: (Rumford 1) volume of letters to and from various recipients such as William Savage, Bessey Williams and Joseph Banks, 1798-1832; (Rumford 3) a daybook of 1799 and a notebook of expenses for 1802; printed papers relating to Rumford 1819-1964, such as 'Sir Benjamin Thompson, Comte Rumford' by J. D. Dumas in Journal des Savants 1881-1882 and Count Rumford's Concept of Heat by S. C. Brown, 1952; (Rumford 9) typescripts of letters in the bound volume, Rumford 1; (Rumford 11) MSS consisting of receipts, postcards and a sketch of Rumford's tomb with a transcript of the inscription and notes by C. E. S. Phillips, 1805- c1935; (Rumford 12) Dr Stollard's correspondence in connection with the Rumford papers, 1972-1973.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, French and German.

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content field.

Conditions governing access:

Access to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Keeper of the Collections or the Assistant Archivist, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI).

Conditions governing reproduction:

Reproduction of material is permitted at the discretion of the Keeper of the Collections, RI. Conditions apply to photocopied items.

Finding aids:

general catalogue at the RI.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Copies of letters and papers were obtained and deposited in the RI in 1972 from the institutions of: the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, Birmingham University Library, Kent County Archives and the New Hampshire Historical Society. Copies were also obtained and deposited in the RI from the private collection of William C. Pierce in 1974.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other papers are located at: Harvard University, Houghton Library; American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Birmingham University Information Services, Special Collections Department (reference: MSS6/iv/29); New Hampshire Historical Society; Public Record Office (reference: PRO30/55); Royal Society; British Library Manuscript Collections (reference Add MSS 8096-99; Add MS 34045); Dartmouth College Library; Royal Institute of British Architects Library. The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds the Gillray cartoon of Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: general catalogue at the RI. Detailed catalogue to be prepared. Other useful published sources on Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford: Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, Sanborn C. Brown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 1979. Description compiled by Miss Ivone Martins, Assistant Archivist, RI.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2001

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