Thompson, Benjamin

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Thompson, Benjamin:

see Rumford, Benjamin Thompson, CountRumford, Benjamin Thompson, Count,
1753–1814, American-British scientist and administrator, b. Woburn, Mass. In 1776 he went to England, where he served (1780–81) as undersecretary of the colonies, conducting significant experiments with gunpowder in his spare time.
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Thompson, Benjamin

Noted American architect/developer; he designed the Design Research Building, Cambridge, MA (1969); the large retail complex Harbor Place, Baltimore, MD (1980); and Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market Restoration, Boston, MA (1977), for the Rouse Company.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thompson, Benjamin

(1919–  ) architect, urban designer; born in St. Paul, Minn. He attended the University of Virginia before graduating from Yale, then served in the U.S. Navy in World War II (1941–45). After the war, he and some young architect friends at Harvard's architecture school invited the school's head, Walter Gropius, to start a firm with them; it was known as Architects' Collaborative and took the lead in designing classic modern buildings. In 1953, Thompson and his wife Jane Thompson, an editor and curator, started Design Research, a Cambridge (Mass.)-based firm that imported and sold the latest in European furnishings and housewares. Thompson is credited with suggesting (about 1967) that Boston renovate its fading Faneuil Hall-Quincy Market neighborhood to attract people. He and his firm won the design competition (and developer James Rouse became their collaborator). Their success in Boston led to the firm—now Benjamin Thompson Associates—to take on other renovation projects such as the Union Station in Washington, D.C., and the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, Minn. Thompson won the American Institute of Architects' gold medal in 1992.

Thompson, Benjamin (often called by title, Count Rumford)

(1753–1814) scientist, administrator; born in Woburn, Mass. He showed a youthful aptitude for mathematics and science, and after a three-year apprenticeship with a Salem, Mass., merchant, he studied medicine and taught school briefly. In 1772 he married a wealthy widow and accepted a British commission as major in a New Hampshire regiment. As the American Revolution began to heat up, he seemed unable to join one side or the other, but when he was denied a commission in the Continental army, he cast his lot with the Loyalists; after the British evacuated Boston (March 1776), he fled to England (and left his wife behind). Always adept at ingratiating himself with the powerful, he got himself elected to the prestigious Royal Society (1779). He returned to America as a lieutenant colonel (1781–83) and saw some combat—he would be knighted in 1784—and then went on to serve the Prince of Bavaria for many of the next 18 years. While in Munich, he helped improve conditions for both the Bavarian army and the poor and unemployed; for his services he was made a count of the Holy Roman Empire—choosing for his title the name of his former wife's hometown, Rumford (now Concord), N.H. Between 1795–1802 he spent much time in England, but in 1803 he settled permanently in France; he was briefly married to the widow of the great French chemist, Lavoisier. Although something of a dilettante-tinkerer—he invented a calorimeter, a photometer, and the drip-coffee maker—he did carry on scientific and mechanical experiments, and in his studies of heat he made a major contribution: by observing the boring of cannons in Munich, he was the first to understand that heat is a form of motion. Never shy about promoting himself, he endowed the Rumford Medals of the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Rumford chair of science at Harvard.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.