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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor

 



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Benjamin Thompson Rumford

RUMFORD, Benjamin Thompson, Count, scientist, born in Woburn, Massachusetts, 26 March, 1753; died in Auteuil, near Paris, France. 21 August, 1814. He received a common-school education and excelled in mathematics and mechanics. In 1766 he was apprenticed to John Appleton, a merchant in Salem, and continued his studies by devoting his leisure to the study of algebra, trigonometry, and astronomy, so that at the age of fifteen he was able to calculate an eclipse, Later he began the study of medicine under Dr. John Hayin Woburn, and attures at Cambridge, but spent most of his time in manufacturing surgical instruments. Subsequently he returned to Boston, and there engaged as a clerk in the dry-goods business. The depressed condition of affairs soon threw him out of employment, and, with his friend Loammi Baldwin, he attended the lectures in experimental philosophy that were delivered by Professor John Winthrop at Harvard. The experiments were repeated by the two students with improvised apparatus on their return from the lectures. He also taught for a short time in Bradford, Massachusetts, and later in Rumford (now Concord), New Hampshire In 1771 he married Sarah Walker Rolfe, a widow of ample means, about thirteen years his senior. Governor John Wentworth, of New Hampshire, recognizing his ability, gave him a commission of major in one of the New Hampshire regiments ; but this act met with opposition from those who resented the appointment of a younger man over their heads. This feeling of hostility increased as the active measures of the Revolution approached, and knowledge of the intention of tarring and feathering him on account of his supposed Tory inclinations caused his abrupt departure from Concord in November, 1774, leaving his wife and infant daughter, tie made his way to Boston, where his military feelings led to his intimate relations with General Thomas Gage. It is said that after the battle of Bunker Hill he was favorably introduced to George Washington, who had just assumed command of the American army, and who would have given him a commission in the artillery but for the opposition of the New Hampshire officers. In March, 1775, he returned to Woburn, where he was arrested, and, after a public trial, was not fully acquitted, although not condemned. Unwilling to remain in obscurity at home under a cloud of suspicion, he determined to seek a field of activity elsewhere. Turning his property into money as far as possible he left his family in October, 1775, and they did not hear from him again until after the close of tile war. it appears that he was received on board of the British frigate " Scarborough" in Newport, and thence taken to Boston, where, on the evacuation of the city, he was given despatches from General William Howe to Lord George Germaine, secretary of state for the colonies, His behavior so impressed the minister that he was appointed in the colonial office. He directed immediate attention to military affairs, improved the accoutrements of the horse-guards, continued his experiments on gunpowder, and improved the construction of firearms. These services received the approbation of his superiors, and in 1780 he was appointed an under-secretary of state. Meanwhile he investigated various scientific subjects, including the cohesion of bodies, a paper on which he submitted to the Royal society, where, in 1779, he was elected a fellow. In 1781, after the retirement of Lord George Germaine, he returned to this country and raised in New York the "King's American dragoons," of which he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel on 24 February, 1782, and was stationed chiefly on Long Island, where he built a fort in Huntington. Some authorities say that he served in the south, and at one time defeated General Francis Marion's men, destroying their stores. Before the close of the war he returned to England, and on the establishment of peace he obtained leave of absence to visit the continent with the intention of offering his services to the Austrian government, which was then at war with Turkey. At Strasburg he met Prince Maximilian of "Deux-Pouts, who furnished him with an introduction to his cousin, the elector of Bavaria. Colonel Thompson was received at Munich with consideration, and invited to enter the Bavarian service, but he refused to accept any offer, until he had visited Vienna. Finding that the war was near its close, he agreed to enter the service of the elector, provided that he could obtain the consent of the English authorities. In order to secure the requisite permission he returned to England, where his resignation of the command of the regiment was accepted, and he was permitted to retain the half-pay of his rank until his death. The honor of knighthood was also conferred on him. Near the end of 1784 he returned to Munich, where the reigning prince, Charles Theodore, gave him a confidential appointment with the rank of aide-de-camp and chamberlain. He reorganized the entire military establishment of Bavaria, introducing a simpler code of tactics and a new system of discipline, also providing industrial schools for the soldiers' children, and improving the construction and , node of manufacture of arms and ordnance. Colonel Thompson devoted himself to various other reforms, such as the improvement of the dwellings of the working class, providing for them a better education and organizing homes of industry. But his greatest reform was the suppression of the system of beggary that was then prevalent in Bavaria. Beggars and vagabonds, the larger part of whom were also thieves, swarmed over the country, especially in the larger towns. He removed them from the cities, provided them with work, and made them self-supporting. For his services he was made a member of the council of state, and successively major-general, lieutenant-general, commander-in-chief of the general staff, minister of war, and superintendent of the police of the electorate, and he was also for a short time chief of the regency that exercised sovereignty during the absence of the elector. He received decorations from Poland, and was elected a member of the Academies of Munich and Mannheim. In 1790 the elector, becoming vicar-general of the empire during the interval between the death of Joseph H, and the coronation of Leopold II., availed himself of the prerogatives of that office to make him a count of the Holy Roman empire, on which occasion he chose as his title the name of Rumford, the town in New Hampshire where he had married. While engaged with his various reforms in connection with the army he was led to study domestic economy. He investigated the properties and management of heat, and the amount of it that was pro-dueed by the combustion of different kinds of fuel. by means of a calorimeter of his own invention. By reconstructing the fire-place he so improved the methods of warming apartments and cooking food that a saving in fuel of about one half was effected. His studies of cookery still rank high. He improved the construction of stoves, cooking-ranges, coal-grates, and chimneys, and showed that the nonconducting power of cloth is due to the air that is inclosed in its fibers. Among the other benefits introduced by him into Bavaria were improved breeds of horses and cattle, which he raised on a farm that he reclaimed from waste ground in the vicinity of Munich, and changed it into a park, where, after his leaving Bavaria, a monument was erected in his honor. His health failed under the pressure of these undertakings, and he obtained leave of absence in 1795. After visiting Italy he spent some time in England, and while in that country he was invited by the secretary of state for Ireland to visit its charitable institutions with a view of remedying their evils and introducing reforms. The war between France and Austria caused his return to Bavaria, where he maintained its neutrality, although the country was overrun with the soldiers of both nations, His health again failing, he was obliged to leave Munich, and he was sent to England as minister of Bavaria, but, being an English subject, he could not be received in that capacity at the English court. But he remained in England as the private agent of Bavaria, and in 1799 was chiefly instrumental in founding the Royal institution, in which he caused Sir Humphry Davy to be called to the chair of chemistry. About this time he was invited to return to the United States, but, although disposed to do so, he finally removed to Paris in 1802, and there married, in 1804, the widow of the great French chemist Lavoisier, his first wife having died on 19 January, 1792, after being separated from him sixteen years. The remainder of his life was spent at the villa of his wife's former husband in Auteuil, busily engaged in scientific researches. His greatest achievements in this direction were on the nature and effects of heat, with which his name will ever be associated. The work that has been done to demonstrate experimentally the doctrine of the "correlation of forces" was begun by him in a series of experiments that was suggested by the heat evolved in boring cannon. Count Rumford gave $5,000 to the American academy of arts and sciences, and a similar amount to the Royal society of London to found prizes bearing his name for the most important discoveries in light and heat, and the first award of the latter was made to himself. The greater part of his private collection of philosophical apparatus and specimens, and models of his own invention, were bequeathed to the Royal institution, and he also left to Harvard the funds with which was founded the Rumford professorship of the physical and mathematical sciences as applied to the useful arts, which was established in October, 1816. He published the results of his investigations in pamphlets, and essays in French, English, or German, many of which ware issued as " Essays, Political, Economical, and Philosophical" (3 vols., London, 1797; vol. iv., 1802). See " Life of Count Rumford," by James Renwick, in Sparks's " American Biography" (Boston, 1845), and "Rumford's Complete Works," with a "Memoir of Sir Benjamin Thompson," by George E. Ellis, published by the American academy of arts and sciences (5 vols., Boston, 1876).--His daughter, Sarah, Countess of Rumford, born in Concord, N. H, , 18 October, 1774; died there, 2 December, 1852, is said to have been the first American to inherit and bear tile title of countess. She remained in this country after her father went to England, but in January, 1796, she rejoined him in London at his request. In 1797 she was received by the Bavarian elector as countess, and was permitted to receive one half her father's pension, with the privilege of residing wherever she chose. Subsequent to the death of tile count in 1814, she divided her time between London and her house in Brompton, making protracted visits to Paris of two and three years' duration, and to her residence in Concord. With her father she established the Rolfe and Rumford asylums in Concord, N. II., for the poor and needy, particularly motherless girls. She bequeathed $15,000 to the New Hampshire asylum for the insane, and $2,000 each to the Concord female charitable society, the Boston children's friend society, and the Fatherless and widow's society of Boston.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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