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Lyon Playfair

(1818—1898) politician and chemist


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(1818–98). Playfair was a chemist and statesman, and one of the organizers of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Educated at Edinburgh and then at Giessen, where Justus Liebig had built up a great research school, Playfair worked in textiles in Manchester, and met John Dalton. In 1845 he moved to London, to the School of Mines, an ancestor of Imperial College; he realized that although the Crystal Palace seemed to show Britain as the workshop of the world, in fact other countries were overtaking her. In lectures, and from 1868 as a Liberal MP and minister, and after 1892 as Baron Playfair, he promoted awareness of the importance of science for the prosperity of the country. He became a great spokesman for technical and scientific education; with his wide circle of friends in high places, including Prince Albert, he has been compared to Joseph Banks as an influential figure.

From The Oxford Companion to British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.


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