GLAZEBROOK, Sir Richard Tetley



18th September 1854 to 1st January 1970


Biographical Text

Glazebrook was a Cambridge-educated physician who was prominent in early research into electrical standards. He was the founder director of the National Physical Laboratory, serving in that post through the First World War.

Glazebrook was born in Liverpool on 18 September, 1854, the son of a surgeon. He was educated at Dulwich College and the from 1870-72 at Liverpool College. From 1872-6 he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was fifth wrangler in the mathematical tripos of 1876. He was elected a fellow of Trinity in 1877, and lectured at both the college and the university in mathematics. He also joined the Cavendish Laboratory where he studied physics, first under James Clerk Maxwell and then John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, the future Nobel Prize winner. Glazebrook married Frances Atkinson in 1883. 

Rayleigh had recommended that Glazebrook succeed him, but upon the former’s retirement in 1884, Glazebrook was passed over in favour of J.J. Thomson. However, he remained in Cambridge, becoming assistant director of the Cavendish Laboratory in 1891 and bursar of Trinity College in 1895. In 1898 he served as principal of Liverpool College, before being appointed in 1899 as director of the new National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, near London. He held this post until his retirement twenty years later in 1919. During the war, the NPL worked on a number of important war projects such as gauges for munitions production and the production of optical glass. This brought Glazebrook into contact with senior figures at the Ministry of Munitions. The NPL also worked on several crucial projects in aeronautics. 

After leaving NPL Glazebrook returned to Cambridge briefly before settling in London once more as Zaharoff Professor of Aviation at Imperial College in 1920. In 1924 he retired again, though he continued to write and lecture up until the time of his death. He died at his home in Limpsfield, Surrey on 15 December 1935. 

Glazebrook received numerous honours. He was awarded the CB in 1910, became a knight bachelor in 1917, was knighted KCB in 1920 and again as KCVO in 1924. Other awards included the Hughes Medal and Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1882, and twice served as the society’s vice-president, from 1919-20 and 1924-8. He served as president of the Physical Society, the Optical Society, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the Institute of Physics and the Faraday Society. 

Glazebrook’s books and numerous papers were devoted to scientific subject, but he also had a practical mind and was interested in the application of science to industry. His Rede Lecture at Cambridge in 1917 on this subject may be one of the reasons why he was invited to lecture at a Rowntree conference six years later. 

Glazebrook’s lecture is a fairly simple one, not much different in content from his Rede Lecture. He asserts that industry, and indeed all of civilisation, depends upon science for progress: ‘industry is, to a large extent, dependent on science; it is also a fact that the more we recognise that inter-dependence, the more rapid will be our advance and the less our waste.’ He also argues that without scientific advancement, Britain is likely to fall behind in the competitive race with other countries. 


The bulk of the paper is taken up with examples of how scientific advances have led to industrial progress, including the work of Watt and Carnot on steam engines, Faraday and Maxwell on electricity, and the experience of the NPL and Ministry of Munitions during the First World War (to a modern reader, the idea of more efficient production of munitions of war might not necessarily represent progress, but to people at the time, only five years after the end of the war, the situation would have appeared rather different). Glazebrook ends by calling upon industry to do more to support science.  

Major works 

Practical Physics, 1899. 

Laws and Properties of Matter, 1893. 

James Clerk Maxwell and Modern Physics, 1896. 

Mechanics Dynamics, 1911. 

Mechanics Hydrostatics, 1916. 

Science and Industry: The Rede Lecture, 1917. 

A Dictionary of Applied Physics, 5 vols, 1922-3. 



MoseleyR., ‘Glazebrook, Sir Richard Tetley’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Rayleigh, Lord and Selby, F.J., ‘Richard Tetley Glazebrook, 1854-1935’, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 2(5), p. 28, 1936. 

University of Cambridge alumni database,  



Original Source

Lecture: ‘Potential waste, industrial research and the application of science to industry’, 21 April 1923, Balliol College


“GLAZEBROOK, Sir Richard Tetley,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed May 27, 2020,