Andrew Ure bigraphy, stories - Scottish doctor and chemist

Andrew Ure : biography

18 May 1778 - 2 January 1857

Andrew UrePronounced to rhyme with "pure". (18 May 1778 – 2 January 1857) was a Scottish doctor, scholar and chemist.


  • (1821)
  • (1829)
  • (1835)
  • (1836)
  • (1837)



Ure was a scriptural geologist and in 1829 published A New System of Geology, for which "he received 500 guineas (worth about $15,000 in 2010) and was elected an original member of the Geological Society." Ure promoted the study of geology, that "magnificent field of knowledge." However some criticized the book severely, and "The New System of Geology was not a success, even among readers who might have been expected to be sympathetic, and it was soon forgotten." because "the New System of Geology ... came just too late, at a time when the positions it so noisily defended were being quietly abandoned, leaving the author in slightly ridiculous isolation."


Andrew Ure was born in Glasgow, the son of Alexander Ure, a cheesemonger and his wife, Anne. He received an M.D. from Glasgow University in 1801, and served briefly as an army surgeon before settling in Glasgow, where he became a member of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in 1803. He replaced Dr. George Birkbeck as Professor of Natural Philosophy (specializing in chemistry and physics) at the recently formed Andersonian Institution in 1804. His evening lectures on chemistry and mechanics enjoyed considerable success and inspired the foundation of a number of mechanical institutions in Britain and the École des Arts et Métiers in Paris. He married Catherine Monteath in 1807.

Ure founded the Garnet Hill observatory in 1808. He was put in charge and resided in it for several years, leaving it second only to Greenwich in reputation at that time. Whilst in residence he was visited by Sir William Herschel, the Astronomer Royal, who gave some lectures to the local Astronomical Society and helped him to install a fourteen-foot reflecting telescope of his own [Ure's] design and manufacture. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1811. Herschel's second son, many years later (in 1866), came to occupy Dr. Ure's Chair in Natural Philosophy.

In 1814, while giving guest lectures in Belfast, he did consulting work for the Irish linen board, devising an 'alkalimeter' which gave volumetric estimates of the alkali contents of industrial substances. This in turn led him to the concept of normality in volumetric analysis. He achieved considerable reputation for his practical chemistry.

In 1818 Ure revealed experiments he had been carrying out on a murderer/thief named Matthew Clydesdale, after the man's execution by hanging. He claimed that, by stimulating the phrenic nerve, life could be restored in cases of suffocation, drowning or hanging.

In 1819 he divorced his wife, who had become the mistress of an Anderson's Institution colleague. In 1821 he published his first major book, Dictionary of Chemistry, a replacement for William Nicholson's outdated Dictionary. In 1822 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

By 1830, Ure's outside interests led him to resign first from his chair and then from the Institution. He moved to London and set himself up as a consulting chemist (probably the first such in Britain). His work included acting as an expert witness, government commissions and industrial tours of England, Belgium and France. His visits to English textile mills led to his publication of The Philosophy of Manufactures (1835) and Account of the Cotton Industry (1836), dealing with the textile industry. In 1840 he helped found the Pharmaceutical Society.

The great Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines, Ure's chief and most encyclopedic work, was published in 1837 for which he received 1,000 guineas (worth about $30,000 in 2010). Further enlarged editions were rapidly called for in 1840, 1843 and 1853. After his death four further editions appeared, the last in 1878. This work was translated into almost every European language, including Russian and Spanish. The Times review said: "This is a book of vast research, and the variety of subjects embraced in it may be estimated by the fact that on the French translation it was thought advisable to employ nineteen collaborators, all regarded as experts in their special subjects."

Ure died in 1857 in London. Michael Faraday's posthumous description of him was:

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Living octopus

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