Papers and correspondence of Francis Thomas Bacon 1904-1992

Scope and Content

Biographical material 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 NRDC and ECL and his honours and awards by the election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1973 and the NASA 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. Fuel cell research and development papers are exceptional in extent and comprehensiveness and document the successive stages of Bacon's involvement: Parsons and early fuel cell research, Electrical Research Association/Cambridge University, NRDC/Marshalls of Cambridge, Energy Conversion Ltd, and his continuing interest in fuel cell research and development after his formal retirement. There are also a relatively few papers from the 1930s which relate to his work at Parsons and are not concerned with fuel cells. Bacon's publications, lectures and broadcasts are represented by a chronological sequence of drafts, 1953-1984 and his publications correspondence files, 1952-1991. There is also material relating to patent applications, 1949-1967. There is documentation of eight societies and organisations with which Bacon was associated including the Electrochemical Society and the Royal Society. 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. There is visits and conferences material, 1956-1984, which record Bacon's participation as speaker at a number of international conferences and a series of visits to the USA which included visits to centres of fuel cell research and development. Bacon's fuel cell correspondence covers an exceptionally extended period 1933-1991. 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 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. Although for long periods Bacon wrote most of his letters by hand, 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. There are photographs of Bacon himself, 1950s-1991, photographs of fuel cell equipment from the late 1950s and a film relating to the demonstration of the 6kW forty cell battery in August 1959.

Administrative / Biographical History

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, setting himself the task of carrying out the practical engineering to prepare the way for the fuel cell to be considered for commercial application. In 1940-1941 he was able to start 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 (ERA). 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 to Energy Conversion Ltd (ECL), the first British effort to manufacture fuel cells. From 1971 to 1973 he was Consultant on Fuel Cells to Fuel Cells Ltd, at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell. 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 life time. 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 space applications, providing electricity for the functioning of systems and the production of drinking water, so that Bacon's pioneering work may be considered an essential prerequisite of the Apollo programme.

Bacon was elected FRS in 1973 and became an initial Fellow of the Fellowship of Engineering in 1976. He died in 1992.

See K.R. Williams, 'Francis Thomas Bacon', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 39, 3-18 (1994).


By section as follows: Biographical, Research and development, Lectures and publications, Patents, Societies and organisations, Visits and conferences, Correspondence, Non-print material. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

Readers intending to use the Archives Centre must write in advance to the Keeper of the Archives giving details of their research subject and listing the collections they will wish to consult. New readers should also provide a letter of introduction and some form of identification (such as a passport or driving licence).

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Francis Thomas Bacon: NCUACS catalogue no. 68/6/97, 207 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

The papers were received for cataloguing in 1994 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Churchill Archives Centre. Returned to Churchill Archives Centre in 1997.