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Crookes, Sir William (1832-1919)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0116 William Crookes Collection
Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain - click here to see details of the physical location of collection
Full title: Crookes, Sir William (1832-1919)
Date(s): 1881-1978
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1.45 metres
Name of creator(s): Crookes, Sir William, 1832-1919. Knight. Chemist.


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Crookes was born the son of Joseph Crookes, tailor, and Mary Scott in London, in 1832. His education was irregular but eventually he attended A W Hofmann's Royal College of Chemistry in London in 1848. In 1850 he became Hofmann's assistant until 1854. He attended lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) given by Michael Faraday (1791-1867). In 1854 he was Superintendent of the Meteorological Department of the Radcliffe Astronomical Observatory in Oxford. In 1854 he worked with John Spiller on the collodion process of photography and improved it. In 1855 he taught chemistry at the College of Science in Chester. In 1856, he researched into photography and compiled a Handbook to the Waxed-Paper Process in Photography (Chapman and Hall, 1857). He also undertook the editorship of the Liverpool Photographic Journal in 1856, and in 1857 he became Secretary of the London Photographic Society, a position he held until 1858. He was also the editor and proprietor of the weekly Chemical News journal from 1859. In 1856 he married Ellen Humphrey and they subsequently had ten children. Crookes researched into spectra and in 1861 he discovered a new element which he called thallium. In 1863 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (RS). In 1865 he discovered the process of extracting precious metals from ores, however it had already been discovered in America and Crookes had to negotiate half rights over patents for using sodium amalgam, only to be superseded by the discovery of potassium cyanide as the best solvent of gold. From 1867 he became interested in spiritualism, which affected his views on science. By 1870 he decided to investigate spiritualism as a scientist and prove the existence of psychic force, an investigation which caused him to lose some respect as a scientist. Despite this, he developed the technique of determining the atomic weight of thallium. In 1873 he wrote the paper `Attraction and Repulsion resulting from Radiation' published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society; this resulted in his invention of the radiometer in 1875. In 1876 he researched into radiant matter and found that molecular pressure was the result of radiant matter being affected by magnets. In the 1880s he worked on incandescent lamps for electricity. He became Director of the Electric Light and Power Company in 1881 and patented his designs on incandescent lamps, however he sold these as newer and better designs developed. In c1891 he became Director and later Chairman of the Notting Hill Electric Light Company which prospered in its time. In 1890 he was elected President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. In 1897 he was elected President of the Society for Psychical Research and in the same year he was knighted. He gave lectures on making diamonds at the RI in 1897 and became its Honorary Secretary in 1900 a position he held until 1912. In 1908 he was elected Foreign Secretary of the RS until 1913 when he was elected President of the RS, a position he held until 1915. He published papers in journals such as Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, as well as Proceedings of the Royal Society and in Chemical News. He died in 1919.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir William Crookes include: laboratory notebooks VI to XXI covering topics relating to chemistry and physics and the spectroscope, 1881-1903; a 1926 edition of the book Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism (William Crookes, 1898; Strong's Ltd, Manchester, 1926), as well as a 1953 edition by the Psychic Book Club; copies of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vols 48-49, Numbers 765-771, 1975-1977; Notes for Investigators of Spontaneous Cases by the Society for Psychical Research, 1968; A Selective Guide to Publications in English of the Society for Psychical Research, 1972; nomination forms and publication lists for the Incorporation of the Society for Psychical Research; copies of Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 56 part 209, 1974 and part 210, 1976; biographical information on Sir William Crookes such as part of Representative Subjects of the King, notes and folders containing research notes, correspondence and papers on the biography of Crookes, draft biography by E E Fournier D'Albe and photographs.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content field, though the final arrangement will be determined in a detailed catalogue, to be prepared.

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.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Sir Charles Kimber donated some of the material relating to Sir William Crookes to the RI in 2000.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds some original specimens of thallium, an early radiometer and an early cathode ray tube, of Sir William Crookes.

Other papers of Sir William Crookes are located at: the Science Museum Library (reference: MS408, MS410, MS409, MSS A.46, A.148-189, B. 1326-7, E. 5-286 Passim); London University Imperial College Library (reference: B/Armstrong, B/Thompson); Incorporated Society for Psychical Research; Royal Society; Wellcome Library (reference: MS 5151); Cambridge University Library Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (reference: Add 7342, 7656); British Library (reference: Add MSS 43437-42 passim).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

The Life of Sir William Crookes, E E Fournier D'Albe (T Fisher Unwin Ltd, London 1923).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
E E Fournier D'Albe, author of The Life of Sir William Crookes, stated in his book that he used over 40,000 documents for his biography; unfortunately most have yet to be located, though some have been found in the papers at the Science Museum Library. 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:
April 2001

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