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John Bennet Lawes

"Sir John Lawes" redirects here. Distinguish from Sir John Lawes (School).
Caricature from Vanity Fair, 8 July 1882

Sir John Bennet Lawes, 1st Baronet FRS (28 December 181431 August 1900) was an English entrepreneur and agricultural scientist. He founded an experimental farm at Rothamsted, where he developed a superphosphate that would mark the beginnings of the chemical fertilizer industry.

John Bennet Lawes was born at Rothamsted in modern-day Harpenden near St Albans, Hertfordshire, the only son of John Bennet Lawes, owner of the Rothamsted estate of somewhat more than 1000 acres (4 km²) and lord of the manor of Rothamsted. He was educated at Eton College and at Brasenose College, Oxford. Even before leaving Oxford in 1832, Lawes had begun to interest himself in growing various medicinal plants on the Rothamsted estates, which he inherited on his father's death in 1822. About 1837 he began to experiment on the effects of various manures on plants growing in pots, and a year or two later the experiments were extended to crops in the field. One immediate consequence was that in 1842 he patented a manure formed by treating phosphates with sulphuric acid, and thus initiated the artificial manure industry. In the succeeding year he enlisted the services of Joseph Henry Gilbert, with whom he carried on for more than half a century those experiments in raising crops and feeding animals which have rendered Rothamsted famous in the eyes of scientific agriculturists all over the world. In 1854 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, which in 1867 bestowed a Royal Medal on Lawes and Gilbert jointly, and in 1882 he was created a baronet.

In the year before his death Lawes took measures to ensure the continued existence of the Rothamsted experimental farm by setting aside £100,000 for that purpose and constituting the Lawes Agricultural Trust.

In Harpenden, Sir John Lawes School is named after him.


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Antonio Saltini, Storia delle scienze agrarie, vol. III, L'età della macchina a vapore e dei concimi industriali, Edagricole, Bologna 1989, 67-97

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