Benjamin Thompson

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Thompson, Benjamin


(Count Rumford). Born Mar. 26, 1753, in Woburn, Mass.; died Aug. 24, 1814, in Auteuil, near Paris. British physicist. Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1779).

Thompson did not receive a systematic education. Between 1766 and 1772 he worked as a storekeeper’s apprentice in Salem and Boston and as a doctor’s apprentice in Woburn. He carried out secret assignments for the British command while an officer in the New Hampshire militia from 1772 to 1776. Between 1776 and 1781, Thompson was employed in various government positions in London. He commanded a regiment of royal dragoons from 1781 to 1783 in the War of Independence in North America. Between 1784 and 1798, Thompson occupied a number of government positions in Bavaria; he was, for example, minister of war. He returned to London in 1798. In 1799 he initiated the establishment of the Royal Institution. From 1804 he lived in Paris.

Thompson’s scientific work began in 1778 with his quantitative measurement of the explosive force of gunpowder. By treating heat as a special form of motion, he was able to account for the heat evolved when cannon barrels are bored. Thompson discovered and investigated the phenomenon of convection in gases and liquids. He developed a number of physical devices and instruments, such as special thermometers and photometers.


Collected Works, vols. 1–5. Cambridge, 1968–70.


Sparrow, W. J. Knight of the White Eagle: A Biography of Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. [London, 1964.]
Brown, S. C. Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford: Count Rumford on the Nature of Heat. Oxford [1967].


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