Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Truman, Edwin Thomas

TRUMAN, EDWIN THOMAS (1818–1905), dentist and inventor, born on 20 Dec. 1818, was the son of Thomas Truman, a descendant of Sir Benjamin Truman, the founder of the firm of brewers, Truman, Hanbury and Buxton. He was educated at King's College School, London, and King's College Hospital. On 28 Feb. 1855 he was appointed dentist to the royal household, holding this appointment until his death, a period of fifty years. He became M.R.C.S. England in 1859. His dental work led him to study the varied properties and uses of gutta-percha. His chief claim to notice is his invention of an improved method of preparing gutta-percha as the protective covering for the Atlantic cable. The failure of the first cable of 1858 and those subsequently laid was due to imperfect insulation, which a committee of inquiry appointed by the privy council attributed to the improper preparation of the gutta-percha employed. Truman discovered that gutta-percha could be purified in any quantity by mechanical means without injury, and after his discovery had been satisfactorily tested by the committee, the invention was patented, on 25 Aug. 1860, the rights were sold to the Gutta-Percha Company, and all subsequent cables which were laid were covered with gutta-percha prepared by Truman's process. In 1860 he invented a machine for the preparation of crude gutta-percha, and established a factory at Vauxhall Cross, and between that year and 1889 took out many patents for perfecting processes connected with the use of gutta-percha. He pursued his investigations with a view to expediting the making of the insulating material and to reducing its porosity and cost; after thirty years of experiment he succeeded in producing a perfectly insulated conductor possessing, according to Lord Kelvin, ten times the insulation of the French Atlantic cable. The general post office adopted Truman's process, and he received until shortly before his death a minimum annual royalty of 500l. In his profession as a dentist he acquired a wide repute by his success in correcting cleft palate. He was the inventor of gutta-percha stoppings for dental work, receiving royalty from every dentist making use of his patent.

From the age of fifteen he was an enthusiastic collector of books and prints, and an habitue of Sotheby's sale rooms. The intimate friend of George Cruikshank, he made a special hobby of collecting Cruikshank's satirical prints and caricatures as well as books illustrated by him, eventually forming the largest collection known. This collection, with his general literary and historical and other portraits, was dispersed by Messrs. Sotheby in 1906, the sale occupying twenty-one days and realising nearly 15,000l. Truman also busied himself with religious and social questions, on which he wrote with sense and conviction. He died at Home Field, Putney, on 8 April 1905.

Truman married in 1845 Mary Ann, daughter of Robert Cooper of Eastbourne, and at his death was succeeded as dentist to the royal household by his only son, Charles Edwin Truman.

Truman was author of:

  1. 'On the Construction of Artificial Teeth with Gutta-percha,' 1848.
  2. 'The Necessity of Plasticity in Mechanical Dentistry,' 1861.
  3. 'The Strength and Beauty of Mineral Teeth,' 1862.

He also contributed to the 'Archives of Dentistry,' of which he was editor, 'On the Importance of Dental Knowledge to the Medical Profession,' and 'Papers on Mechanical Dentistry.'

[Information supplied by Mr. Charles Edwin Truman; The Times, 18 April 1881 and 10 April 1905; Lancet, 22 April 1905; Sotheby's Sale Catalogues of the Truman Collections; personal knowledge.]

H. W. B.