Mayer's failure to secure recognition from the scientific public found its counterpart on a smaller scale with Joule and Helmholtz.
Joule was the son of a wealthy brewer. In 1830 he saw the first trains which traveled between Liverpool and Manchester. One of the happy circumstances of his boyhood life was his connection with John Dalton and Dalton's laboratory containing effective home apparatus. His association with Dalton gave direction to his constructive genius. Joule's father fixed up a room for a chemical laboratory. Before the boy was of age he began experimentation in chemistry and electricity.
After laborious tests he succeeded in showing that the heat developed by the union of two chemical elements effected in a battery is the same as that developed by combustion, and that the heat has a definite equivalent in the electromotive force between these elements.0 He studied the relations between electrical, chemical and mechanical effects and was led to the great discovery of the mechanical equivalent of heat. In a paper read before the British Association in 1843 he gave the number as 460 kilogrammeters. This was only one year after Mayer had published his first paper. Friends who recognized the physicist in the young brewer persuaded him to become a candidate for the professorship of natural philosophy at St. Andrews, Scotland, but his slight personal deformity was an objection in the eyes of one of the electors and he did not receive the appointment.
The early papers of Joule attracted little attention. His facts were so novel, so apparently heterodox, and the language in which they were conveyed so unfamiliar, that the older physicists permitted them to remain without due consideration. Faraday was then busy with his experimental researches. Graham was studying the diffusion of gases. Wheatstone, Whewell, Herschel, Forbes, Airy were engrossed with problems of their own. Those who were first to applaud Joule a few years later were still pupils. William Thomson and Gabriel Stokes were at Cambridge; Bankine, a youth of 22, was studying engineering; Tait was a boy at school; Clerk Maxwell had just acquired the nickname of "Dafty" at Edinburgh Academy. In 1844 a paper of Joule, "On the Changes of Temperature produced by the Rarefaction and Condensation of Air," was rejected for publication by the Royal Society, but was printed in the Philosophical Magazine the year following.
In April, 1847, Joule gave a popular lecture in Manchester, delivering the first full and clear exposition in England of the universal conservation of that principle now called energy.
- "Memoir of James Prescott Joule," by Osborne Reynolds, 1892, p. 50.
- Reynolds, op. cit., p. 78.
- Reynolds, op. cit., pp. 104, 105.