Count Rumford was originally born Benjamin Thompson in Woburn (today a northern suburb of Boston), Massachusetts in 1753. He became an itinerant teacher and was hired by a wealthy family in Rumford, Massachusetts. There, he married the daughter of the house and became a member of the high society. There are differing accounts of what happened next...
  • During the Siege of Boston (1775 - 1776) he attempted to betray the Americans to the British. He abruptly left the Americas because of loyalist sympathies.
  • He was made a major in the army at age 19, which made him unpopular with the locals. As the political climate moved to revolution, Thompson was arrested on suspicion of "being inimical to the liberties of this country".
Upon release, he left his wife and fled to England. He returned to America to command the Queen's Horse Dragoons. At the age of 30, he traveled to Bavaria.

Much of his left he spent as the employee of the Bavarian government and later received the title "Count of the Holy Roman Empire". He took the name of the town which he first made a living in.

In England, Rumford applied his knowledge of heat to the creation and innovation of fireplaces. Most notably, he was able to design them smaller and shallower with angled coverings so that they were able to radiate heat better. Furthermore, he was able to design them so that smoke went up the chimney instead of into the room. The Rumford fireplace is named after him.

Rumford wrote two essays which detail the improvements upon the fireplaces in 1796 and 1798. He also wrote on the benefits of coffee over tea.

In 1800, Count Rumford played a large role in founding the Royal Institution. He hired Humphrey Davy as a lecture for the Institution and was key in funding it in the beginning. After it became too theoretical for Rumford, he moved to France. He died in 1814 of a fever. Much of his estate was left to Harvard University.

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