Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of FRANCIS THOMAS BACON (1904-1992)

This record is held by Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre

Details of NCUACS 68.6.97
Reference: NCUACS 68.6.97
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of FRANCIS THOMAS BACON (1904-1992)



















The collection provides comprehensive documentation of Bacon's role in fuel cell research and development. It covers the period 1917-1993.


Section A, Biographical, includes obituaries, curricula vitae, articles about Bacon and press-cuttings. His fuel cell career is represented by agreements between Bacon and Merz and McLellan, the National Research Development Corporation and Energy Conversion Ltd and his honours and awards by letters of congratulation on the appointment to the Order of the British Empire in 1967 and the Election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1973, and correspondence re the award of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Award for Scientific and Technical Contribution in 1976. Also of interest are school notebooks from Eton College including a 'Science Notes' notebook used by his elder brother A.W. Bacon in 1917 and subsequently by Bacon for notes of work at C.A. Parsons Ltd 1930-1931.


Section B, Research and development, is exceptional in extent and comprehensiveness, documenting the successive stages of Bacon's involvement with fuel cell research and development: Parsons and early fuel cell research, ERA/Cambridge University, NRDC/Marshalls of Cambridge, Energy Conversion Ltd, and his continuing interest in fuel cell research and development after his formal retirement. The documentation takes many forms including a numbered sequence of Bacon's fuel cell notebooks and the notebooks of his colleagues, manuscript notes, drafts, calculations and test data, reports prepared for and correspondence with principal sponsoring bodies such as the ERA and the NRDC, correspondence and papers relating to the fuel cell interests of other organisations such as government departments in the UK and companies like General Electric and Pratt and Whitney in the USA, correspondence and papers assembled by Bacon on research and development topics such as hydrogen storage and the underwater use of fuel cells, and technical drawings.


There are also a relatively few papers from the 1930s which relate to Bacon's work at Parsons and are not concerned with fuel cells.


Section C, Lectures and publications, is extensive. There is a chronological sequence of drafts for Bacon's lectures and publications, 1953-1984 and his publications correspondence files, 1952-1991. Bacon's publications correspondence files include invitations for Bacon to write, lecture and broadcast and also to advise authors, editors and publishers on publications in the fuel cell area. The files also contained a number of drafts by Bacon or sent to him for comment which have been retained in the sequence with the related correspondence.


Section D, Patents, presents Bacon's papers relating to patent applications, 1949-1967. The papers were found in a numbered sequence of binders whose contents included manuscript notes, typescript drafts of applications, specifications and related correspondence.


Section E, Societies and organisations, provides documentation of eight societies and organisations with which Bacon was associated. The Electrochemical Society which Bacon joined about 1960 and the Royal Society to whose Fellowship he was elected in 1973 are represented by the most extensive material. The Electrochemical Society papers principally relate to its Spring meeting in Seattle 1978 at which Bacon received the Society's Vittorio de Nora - Diamond Shamrock Award and delivered the Award Address. Much of the Royal Society material relates to Bacon's 1973 Review Lecture on the Development and Practical Application of Fuel Cells. Also represented in this section is the Aeronautical Research Council which invited Bacon to a number of its committee meetings in 1959 and 1963.


Section F, Visits and conferences, covers the period 1956-1984. Al-though not extensive it provides a record of Bacon's participation as speaker at a number of international conferences such as the Fifth World Energy Conference in Vienna, Austria, in 1956 and the Fifth World Hydrogen Energy


Conference in Toronto, Canada, in 1984, and of a series of visits to the USA, 1959-1971, to attend and speak at meetings and visit centres of fuel cell research and development.


Section G, Correspondence, includes much of Bacon's most important fuel cell correspondence and covers an exceptionally extended period 1933-1993. Although Bacon kept correspondence files for a small number of named individuals such as the Cambridge University authority on metallic corrosion U.R. Evans and fuel cell associates T.M. Fry and R.G.H. Watson, most of the correspondence presented in this section was kept in three major chronological sequences: 'fuel cell' correspondence 1933-1991, 'personal' correspondence, 1952-1991, and 'miscellaneous' correspondence, 1953-1975. The 'personal' and 'miscellaneous' correspondence sequences also relate to Bacon's fuel cell interests.


For long periods Bacon wrote most of his letters by hand. Nevertheless, even when writing by hand he made carbon copies and thus his correspondence is unusually complete. Bacon's correspondence files also often include notes of telephone calls and meetings including those with visitors to his private home. There is other important fuel cell correspondence in Section B, Research.


Section H, Non-print material, is principally photographs. There are photographs of Bacon himself at a number of conferences and awards ceremonies etc., 1950s - 1991, photographs of equipment from the late 1950s, photographs used as illustrative material for Bacon's publications and lectures, 1956-1978 and publicity photographs relating to fuel cell developments sent to Bacon by the US General Electric Company, Shell Research Ltd and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, 1963-1968. In addition to the photographs there are photographic slides, a film relating to the fuel cell demonstration at Marshalls in 1959 and a card index box containing metal or treated metal samples and film strips which may record test results on the samples. The samples and film strips are in envelopes with manuscript inscriptions, some including dates in 1955 and 1956.


Compiled by Peter Harper and Alan Hayward


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Biochemical Society


The Geological Society


The Higher Education Funding Council for England


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Wellcome Trust

Date: 1917 - 1993

The material is presented in the order given in the List of Contents.

Held by: Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Bacon, Francis Thomas, 1904-1992, scientist, engineer and fuel cell pioneer

Physical description: 2041 files
Access conditions:








Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received from Churchill College Archives Centre, Cambridge in 1994.

  • Engineering
  • Fuel technology
Administrative / biographical background:

Francis Thomas Bacon was born at Ramsden Hall, Billericay, Essex on 21 December 1904. He was educated at Eton College, 1918-1922, specialising in science and winning the Moseley Physics Prize in 1922, and at Trinity College, Cambridge obtaining a third class in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos in 1925. He served an apprenticeship at C.A. Parsons & Co. Ltd, Heaton Works, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1925-1928, subsequently working in the Searchlight Reflector and Research and Development Departments at Parsons, 1928-1940. It was while at Parsons in 1932 that he first came to appreciate the potential of the fuel cell and set himself the task of carrying out the practical engineering to prepare the way for it to be considered for commercial application. In 1940-1941 he started full-time work on the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell at King's College London with the financial support of the consulting engineers Merz and McLellan. From 1941 to 1946 he was temporary experimental officer at H.M. Anti-Submarine Experimental Establishment, Fairlie, Ayrshire, working on ASDIC, the underwater submarine detection system.


In 1946 he resumed experimental work on the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell at Cambridge University, first in the Department of Colloid Science, then in the Department of Metallurgy and from 1951 to 1956 in the Department of Chemical Engineering. This work was supported financially by the Electrical Research Association. In 1956 Bacon became consultant to the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) undertaking fuel cell development work at the Cambridge engineering firm Marshalls where a 6kW forty cell battery unit was demonstrated in August 1959. From 1962 to 1971 he was principal consultant on fuel cells to Energy Conversion Ltd, the first British effort to manufacture fuel cells, first at the BP Research Centre, Sunbury on Thames, Surrey and then at Basingstoke, Hampshire. From 1971 to 1973 he was consultant on fuel cells to Fuel Cells Ltd, at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, Oxfordshire. In 1973 he retired though he continued to follow the development of fuel cells very closely for the rest of his life.


Although Bacon hoped to see the adoption of a high efficiency/low pollution fuel cell in everyday applications such as transport, it was in the unforeseen application of space exploration that the Bacon cell achieved its most notable success in his lifetime. In the USA the Pratt and Whitney Division of United Aircraft took out a licence on the Bacon patents and used the concept of the Bacon cell in a successful bid to provide electrical power for the Apollo moonshot. The fuel cells operated successfully in the manned moon flights and subsequent space applications, providing electricity for the functioning of systems and the production of drinking water. Thus Bacon's pioneering work may be considered essential to the Apollo programme


Bacon was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1967. He was elected FRS in 1973 and became an initial Fellow of the Fellowship of Engineering in 1976. Amongst other honours and awards of note are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Award for Scientific and Technical Contribution in 1976, the Electrochemical Society's Vittorio de Nora - Diamond Shamrock Award in 1978, an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1980 and the first Grove medal commemorating the work of Sir William Grove in 1991. He married Barbara Papillon in 1933 (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased). He died on 24 May 1992.

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