Count Rumford History

Sir Benjamin, Graf von, Rumford, invented the Rumford fireplace and his life (1753-1814) is quite a tale for a farm born of modest means. 

Born Benjamin Thompson in Woburn, MA, he acquired two prestigious titles. One when King George III of England knighted him in 1784, and another when Elector Theodor of Bavaria decorated him Count (of the Holy Roman Empire) in 1792. Henceforth, he was familiarly known as Count Rumford. 
count rumford
During Colonial rebel-rousing, Thompson left his wife, baby, and birthplace to resume his Tory stance in England. He accepted a military position under Bavaria’s Elector after the Revolution ended. As his Royal Institution experienced growing pains, the nowhere-to-be-found Count was in love in Paris. In other words, he pivoted directions during transitions to what best suited his interests. Yet, his seemingly selfish gains enabled Rumford to better the lives of others. Wanting to share his knowledge with the public, he refused to get patents. And, his improvements were not elitist, from minor tweaking such as cooking with a dash of baking soda (Ever notice the Count's profile on the label of a familiar brand?) to major debunking such as re-configuring home heating. Rumford’s natural science curiosities about the nature of heat shed light upon his work-related challenges. After experimenting with gunpowder and cannon boring, he deducted that heat was an energy (not substance) resulting from moving particles. So he figured why not apply this property toward practical measures, e.g., increasing the warmth of military clothing (thermal underwear)? As for fireplaces, those at the time were low and deep, emitting smoke with uneven room heat.
By increasing
history of count rumfordfront height, shallow-ing depth, and widening out walls, folks felt warmer while viewing the fire, plus saving fuel by half. Another modification (a curved narrow channel called the throat) dispersed smoke smoothly up and out.

In 1796 Count Rumford published writings (he called essays) about his method of building fireplaces. Word was that he “Rumfordized” 250 units in London within a two-month period. This same year he gave $5000 3% stock to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston to establish an award (Rumford Prize) for research on heat or light.

In 1869 that same Academy requested permission from the Massachusetts Supreme Court to put some of the accrued funds toward compiling the inventors' works. Not an easy feat. Having lived in England, Germany, and France, versions had to be found and translated. 

The set totaled four volumes, with the fifth a memoir. We can digitally access these texts and peruse the Count’s illustrations via the Internet Archive. Reading his own words about "proper fireplace construction"  is phenomenal. 

Before delving into this detailed material, skim a few articles about Count Rumford and his Rumford fireplace design to get a general understanding. 

Rumford invented a plethora of ingenious products and ranks among men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. Read the full article below for the "intensive" bio of Count Rumford.


Learn more about Rumford fireplaces and the history of Count Rumford here.