President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that “Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Count Rumford are the greatest minds that America has produced,” and indeed, Rumford was a peer of theirs, and arguably contributed more to the scientific canon, and yet is nowhere near as well known. Born in the British Americas as Benjamin Thompson, he died a count and a knight, and lived a fascinating, eventful life in between, founding the Royal Institution in London, inventing a better chimney (still in widespread use) for open fires, finding time along the way to invent the coffee percolator and the enclosed oven, and most importantly pioneering our modern understanding of heat. White Knight, Red Heat tells the story of this notable figure in book form for the first time in over twenty years.
Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford, was an American-born British physicist, government administrator, and a founder of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, London. His investigations of heat overturned the theory that heat is a liquid form of matter and established the beginnings of the modern theory that heat is a form of motion.
Loyal to the British crown, he served as a spy after the outbreak of the American Revolution, but in 1776 he was forced to flee to London, leaving his wife and daughter behind. Knighted by King George III in 1784, Thompson introduced numerous social reforms and brought James Watt’s steam engine into common use... He was created a Count of the Holy Roman Empire in 1791. Interest in gunpowder and weaponry stimulated his physical investigations, and in 1798 he began his studies of heat and friction, making one of the earliest measurements of the equivalence of heat and mechanical energy.
John Gribbin is the author of many best-selling books, including In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat. Mary Gribbin is a teacher and science writer, and previous winner of the TES Junior Information Book Award. John and Mary are both Visiting Fellows at the University of Sussex.