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Some Paternal Ancestors of Edwin Brown (“Big Doc”) KUGLER Sr

Count Rumford (not an ancestor)

Who was this heartless monster who had kept Huntington in subjugation? Benjamin Thompson (1753–1814) was a complex, contradictory and very intelligent, albeit abrasive, individual. He was at times a brilliant scientist and at times a despicable scoundrel, a generous philanthropist and a self-aggrandizing rogue. He consorted with probable homosexuals, although he was married twice and had at least one child. He managed to alienate almost everyone with whom he came in contact. During his lifetime George Washington, King George III, Edward Gibbon (author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), and Napoleon all met and mistrusted him. Yet he achieved honor and wealth—a charlatan who made good—and left behind a number of commendable works.

Thompson was born on a farm in Woburn, MA, now a suburb of Boston. He demonstrated a remarkable mechanical and scientific aptitude and, though too poor to attend college, he managed to sit in on some physics lectures at Harvard. While serving as an apprentice to a storekeeper in Salem, MA, he began conducting various chemical and mechanical experiments. Ruthlessly ambitious, at the age of 19 he searched out and married a wealthy New Hampshire widow, Sarah Walker Rolfe, 14 years his senior, which made him the second wealthiest man in NH. This, and the fact that he looked handsome sitting on a horse, allowed him to become a major in the NH militia. He offered his services to General Washington, who rejected him. It is believed that fellow New Hampshire officers whom he had antagonized blackballed him. So he approached the British, who were happy to have him.

In England, to which he was obliged to flee after the Revolution, Thompson was appointed a clerk in the Office of Foreign Affairs and soon became an undersecretary of state. During this period he continued his scientific studies, investigating the explosive force of gunpowder, developing improvements in firearms and ship design and inventing a system of communication between ships at sea. He had his portrait done by Thomas Gainsborough, favorite painter of the aristocracy. Soon he received an offer of employment from His Most Serene Highness Karl Theodore, Elector Palatine, Duke of Bavaria, a nation with which Britain desired closer ties. In order to facilitate this, King George grudgingly awarded Thompson a knighthood. For a number of years Sir Benjamin Thompson served the Bavarian government in various capacities—including Minister of War, Minister of Police, and Grand Chamberlain of the Court—while continuing his scientific studies. He conscripted all the vagrants in Munich and put them to work on public projects. Benjamin Thompson by Thomas Gainsborough

Benjamin Thompson, by Thomas Gainsborough

“The Comforts of a Rumford Stove”, by James Gillray

Enjoying a Rumford Fireplace: cartoon by James Gillray
Thompson reorganized the Bavarian army, improving their discipline and living conditions, and became a major general and led the successful defense of Munich against the French and Austrians in 1796. He also laid out a beautiful park in Munich called the English Garden. Eventually the Bavarian ruler made him a count. Remarkably, Thompson chose “Count Rumford” as his title, after his first wife’s hometown (which is now called Concord, NH).

Rumford was a member of England’s Royal Academy, the Institut de France, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a pioneer in the science of thermodynamics and studied the relationship of heat and friction. He devised the “Rumford fireplace” which quickly became state of the art in the Western world. He is also credited with the invention of the fireplace damper. Among his numerous scientific contributions are the development of a calorimeter and a photometer.

Furthermore, He was an early student of the science of food and cooking and designed a kitchen featuring a sink with running water, stove with an oven, ice box, trash slot, broom closet and overhead cabinets. It sounds quite familiar to us but was considered revolutionary at the time, especially the idea of having an oven indoors. His other practical innovations include the pressure cooker, drip coffee maker and thermal underwear. In 1859, an American professor, Eben Horsford, formulated and patented a calcium-phosphate baking powder, which he named “Rumford Baking Powder”, in honor of Rumford’s contributions to cooking and baking. You can still buy it. It is now manufactured by the Clabber Girl Corporation.
Rumford Baking Powder
Count Rumford in Later Life

Count Rumford in later life

For the last decade of his life, Count Rumford lived in France, where he married, again for money, Marie Anne Pierette Paulze. She was the widow of Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794), the “Father of Modern Chemistry” who among many accomplishments had determined the composition of water and named its constituents “hydrogen” and “oxygen”. However, Lavoisier had the ill luck to be guillotined in the French Revolution.

In both England and America, the wealthy count endowed a “Rumford Medal” for scientific accomplishment. He also bequeathed the “Rumford Chair for the Application of Science to the Useful Arts” at Harvard.1


1 The preceeding essay was compiled from the following sources: Huntington Historical Society (ws); NYS Military Museum (ws); DeWan (ws); “Inferno” (ws); Buckley (ws); Vanardy (ws); Weisstein (ws); ACS (ws); and “Thompson, Benjamin, Count Rumford” and “Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent” articles in Encarta (1998).

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