Francis Robbins Upton

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Francis Robbins Upton (1852 in Peabody, Massachusetts – March 10, 1921 in Orange, New Jersey) was an American physicist and mathematician.


Upton graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover in 1870. He studied at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, at Princeton University where he received his M.S., and in Berlin, where he worked together with Hermann von Helmholtz.

Francis Upton[edit]

Francis Thomas Upton was a mathematician/physicist who had been one of Thomas Edison’s main partners. Responsible for one of the most important inventions used today he is but not a recognized inventor. Upton managed to create a sensor with an alarm that would ring if the temperature of the room would climb. He later called this the “smoke-detector.”

Early life[edit]

Francis Upton was the son of Elijah Wood Upton and Lucy Elizabeth Winchester. Elijah was well educated and after, he did European travel. Later he was forced to take over his fathers glue business due to his fathers illness. Francis was 16 by this time and studying at Phillips Academy in Andover,[1] after he received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1877 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME.[2] There he met and married his wife, Elizabeth F. Perry.

Francis Upton also attended Berlin University and Princeton University. Francis was the first ever to officially receive his degree from Princeton University. Upton was then hired by Thomas Edison, of whom Upton later became a great associate.

Work life[edit]

Upton was hired by Edison in 1878 on the recommendation of the world famous "scientist-sage" Hermann von Helmholtz. Upton had just finished a year of graduate studies with Helmholtz in Germany after obtaining his M.S. from Princeton. Helmholtz had recommended Upton to Edison as a man with good theoretical skills who might be just the type of assistant Edison was seeking. Edison was largely self-educated. He was brimming over with ideas but needed someone with advanced mathematical skills who could do calculations and research the scientific literature to help solve intractable problems. Despite his inveterate suspicion of academic scientists, Edison found Upton highly engaging and quite useful. They worked together on many key inventions such as the incandescent lamp, the watt-hour meter, the parallel circuit distribution grid and the new constant voltage dynamo. Upton was of crucial importance to Edison in the design of Edison's power plant and distribution system put into service at the Pearl Street generating station in Lower Manhattan on September 4, 1882. Upton published articles in Scribner's Monthly and Scientific American. Since 1958, the Princeton University has had the Francis Upton Graduate Fellowships. In 1890, Upton patented the first electric fire alarm and detector along with a Mr. Fernando J. Dibble, an accomplishment of his which is often overlooked, stemming most probably from a typographical error that labels the device a "Portable Electric Tire-Alarm." (Google Books; U.S. Congressional Serial Set).

Later life[edit]

In 1894 Francis Robbins Upton left Edison‘s business which he had managed up to his departure. Upton returned after four years. He and Thomas started working on Ore milling sand that Upton sold and made profitable amounts of money by selling it to cement manufactures. Upton eventually left the business in 1911 but still continued to sell bricks and cement. Francis Robbins Upton died ten years later in Orange, New Jersey, on March 10, 1921.


  1. ^ "Upton biography". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  2. ^ "Francis Robbins Upton". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 

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