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James Pollard Espy

Born: 9-May-1785
Birthplace: Westmoreland County, PA
Died: 24-Jan-1860
Location of death: Cincinnati, OH
Cause of death: Stroke
Remains: Buried, Harrisburg Cemetery, Harrisburg, PA

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The Philosophy of Storms

Military service: US Army (War of 1812)

The youngest of ten children, James Pollard Espy trained as an attorney and worked as a school teacher, but gained recognition as an early student and forecaster of weather. He used buckets of water and thermometers to determine the "dew point", established a volunteer network of weather watchers in Pennsylvania, and oversaw the network's expansion and adoption of the telegraph in 1855. He prepared weather forecasts for the US Navy, and his book The Philosophy of Storms provided a landmark scientific description of how thunderstorms form, and earned him the nickname "Storm King" in media accounts of his work.

A member of Philadelphia's Franklin Kite Club, Espy used kites to determine the height of cumulus clouds, and detected updrafts below the cloud bases. From data collected in kite flights, he was able to establish a relationship between cloud base heights and surface temperatures and dew points. He was named the federal government's first official meteorologist in 1842, twenty-eight years before the establishment of the US Weather Bureau. He was the first scientist to accurately describe how clouds form. He also noted that prairie fires or forest fires often preceded thunderstorms, and proposed that droughts could be ended by lighting forty acres of woodlands aflame once weekly at twenty mile intervals.

At the age of 37 he married his 16-year-old cousin. They had no children. In January 1860, he suffered a stroke at his niece's home; paralyzed, he died a week later.

Father: Josiah Espy (attorney, b. 1787, d. 1801)
Mother: Elizabeth Patterson Espy (b. 1735, m. 1758, d. 1809)
Brother: George Espy (captain, b. 1759, d. 1835)
Brother: John Espy (b. 1761, d. 1836)
Sister: Mary Espy Stevenson Caldwell Scott (b. 1763, d. 1833)
Brother: Thomas Espy (b. 1767, d. 1833)
Sister: Anna Espy Simpson (b. 1769, d. 1831)
Brother: Josiah Espy, Jr. (attorney, b. 1771, d. 1847)
Brother: Hugh Espy (b. 1774, d. 1832 cholera)
Sister: Martha Espy Mitchell (b. 1777, d. 1864)
Brother: David Espy (b. 1779, d. 1863)
Wife: Margaret Pollard Espy (b. 1795, m. 26-May-1812, d. 30-May-1850, no children)

    University: Transylvania University (1808)
    Teacher: Cumberland Academy, Cumberland, MD (1810-12)

    American Philosophical Society
    Franklin Institute
    Smithsonian Institution Weather researcher (1852-60)
    US Official National Meteorologist (1842-52)
    Stroke 17-Jan-1860
    Paralyzed
    Huguenot Ancestry

Author of books:
The Philosophy of Storms (1841)
The Human Will: A Series of Posthumous Essays on Moral Accountability, the Legitimate Object of Punishment, and the Powers of the Will (1860)


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