Lawes, Sir John Bennet

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b. 28 December 1814 Rothamsted, Hertfordshire, England
d. 31 August 1900 Rothamsted, Hertfordshire, England
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English scientific agriculturalist.
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Lawes's education at Eton and Oxford did little to inform his early taste for chemistry, which he developed largely on his own. By the age of 20 he had fitted up the best bedroom in his house as a fully equipped chemical laboratory. His first interest was in the making of drugs; it was said that he knew the Pharmacopoeia, by heart. He did, however, receive some instruction from Anthony Todd Thomson of University College, London. His father having died in 1822, Lawes entered into possession of the Rothamsted estate when he came of age in 1834. He began experiments with plants with uses as drugs, but following an observation by a neighbouring farmer of the effect of bones on the growth of certain crops Lawes turned to experiments with bones dissolved in sulphuric acid on his turnip crop. The results were so promising that he took out a patent in 1842 for converting mineral and fossil phosphates into a powerful manure by the action of sulphuric acid. The manufacture of these superphosphates became a major industry of tremendous benefit to agriculture. Lawes himself set up a factory at Deptford in 1842 and a larger one in 1857 at Barking Creek, both near London. The profits from these and other chemical manufacturing concerns earned Lawes profits which funded his experimental work at Rothamsted. In 1843, Lawes set up the world's first agricultural experiment station. Later in the same year he was joined by Joseph Henry Gilbert, and together they carried out a considerable number of experiments of great benefit to agriculture, many of the results of which were published in the leading scientific journals of the day, including the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. In all, 132 papers were published, most of them jointly with Gilbert. A main theme of the work on plants was the effect of various chemical fertilizers on the growth of different crops, compared with the effects of farm manure and of no treatment at all. On animal rearing, they studied particularly the economical feeding of animals.
The work at Rothamsted soon brought Lawes into prominence; he joined the Royal Agricultural Society in 1846 and became a member of its governing body two years later, a position he retained for over fifty years. Numerous distinctions followed and Rothamsted became a place of pilgrimage for people from many parts of the world who were concerned with the application of science to agriculture. Rothamsted's jubilee in 1893 was marked by a public commemoration headed by the Prince of Wales.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Baronet 1882. FRS 1854. Royal Society Royal Medal (jointly with Gilbert) 1867.
Further Reading
Memoir with portrait published in J. Roy. Agric. Soc. Memoranda of the origin, plan and results of the field and other experiments at Rothamsted, issued annually by the Lawes Agricultural Trust Committee, with a list of Lawes's scientific papers.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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