Percy, John

Percy, John
SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
b. 23 March 1817 Nottingham, England
d. 19 June 1889 London, England
English metallurgist, first Professor of Metallurgy at the School of Mines, London.
After a private education, Percy went to Paris in 1834 to study medicine and to attend lectures on chemistry by Gay-Lussac and Thenard. After 1838 he studied medicine at Edinburgh, obtaining his MD in 1839. In that year he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at Queen's College, Birmingham, moving to Queen's Hospital at Birmingham in 1843. During his time at Birmingham, Percy became well known for his analysis of blast furnace slags, and was involved in the manufacture of optical glass. On 7 June 1851 Percy was appointed Metallurgical Professor and Teacher at the Museum of Practical Geology established in Jermyn Street, London, and opened in May 1851. In November of 1851, when the Museum became the Government (later Royal) School of Mines, Percy was appointed Lecturer in Metallurgy. In addition to his work at Jermyn Street, Percy lectured on metallurgy to the Advanced Class of Artillery at Woolwich from 1864 until his death, and from 1866 he was Superintendent of Ventilation at the Houses of Parliament. He served from 1861 to 1864 on the Special Committee on Iron set up to examine the performance of armour-plate in relation to its purity, composition and structure.
Percy is best known for his metallurgical text books, published by John Murray. Volume I of Metallurgy, published in 1861, dealt with fuels, fireclays, copper, zinc and brass; Volume II, in 1864, dealt with iron and steel; a volume on lead appeared in 1870, followed by one on fuels and refractories in 1875, and the first volume on gold and silver in 1880. Further projected volumes on iron and steel, noble metals, and on copper, did not materialize. In 1879 Percy resigned from his School of Mines appointment in protest at the proposed move from Jermyn Street to South Kensington. The rapid growth of Percy's metallurgical collection, started in 1839, eventually forced him to move to a larger house. After his death, the collection was bought by the South Kensington (later Science) Museum. Now comprising 3,709 items, it provides a comprehensive if unselective record of nineteenth-century metallurgy, the most interesting specimens being those of the first sodium-reduced aluminium made in Britain and some of the first steel produced by Bessemer in Baxter House. Metallurgy for Percy was a technique of chemical extraction, and he has been criticized for basing his system of metallurgical instruction on this assumption. He stood strangely aloof from new processes of steel making such as that of Gilchrist and Thomas, and tended to neglect early developments in physical metallurgy, but he was the first in Britain to teach metallurgy as a discipline in its own right.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1847. President, Iron and Steel Institute 1885, 1886.
1861–80, Metallurgy, 5 vols, London: John Murray.
Further Reading
S.J.Cackett, 1989, "Dr Percy and his metallurgical collection", Journal of the Hist. Met. Society 23(2):92–8.

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

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