Skip to main content

The Dayside : In search of Joules

By: Charles Day
14 March 2014

Two weeks ago, while on vacation in England, my wife Jan and I visited the town of Market Drayton. Accompanying us were my sister Sara and her two daughters: Miriam, aged 13, and Daisy, aged 10.

Our goal was to hike along the Shropshire Union Canal, which passes by the town and was built in the 18th and 19th centuries to connect three centers of the industrial revolution: Liverpool, Manchester, and Wolverhampton. Unfortunately, although the day was warm and sunny, the canal's tow path was slick and muddy. After walking half a mile, we turned back.

When we reentered Market Drayton, a sign painted on a red brick building caught my eye. It read "Joule's Brewery." Knowing that James Prescott Joule, the 19th-century physicist who first demonstrated the mechanical equivalence of heat, was a brewer, I was excited. But I was also puzzled. Joule's brewery was in Manchester, I thought.


The mystery was cleared up when I whipped out my iPhone and Googled "Joules Market Drayton." From the brewery's website, I learned that two branches of the Joule family were brewers. The branch that James Joule belonged to operated in Salford, a borough of Manchester and James Joule's birthplace. The other branch operated from Stone, a town 17 miles East of Market Drayton.

Neither branch survived the wave of consolidation that swept over the British brewing industry in the 1970s. Joule's was extinguished as a brand in 1974. The sign that had attracted my attention was put up by a new company that had revived the brand four years ago. Although the barmaid who poured me half a pint of Joule's Slumbering Monk ale hadn't heard of James Joule, I'm happy to report that the famous physicist does feature on the brewery's website.

I can imagine that the beer that James Joule drank in Salford was similar to the sample I enjoyed in Market Drayton, but the world of physics that he inhabited was far different from ours. In his memoir of Joule, Osborne Reynolds pointed out that when Joule embarked on his experiments, the concepts of work and energy "did not exist in the language of science in their present significance."

Joule is not a common surname. According to its phone directory, Washington, DC, where I live, is devoid of Joules. Wikipedia deems just two Joules besides the physicist to be worthy of inclusion: John Joule, a chemist at the University of Manchester who specializes in the synthesis of heterocyclic compounds, and Reggie Joule, the current mayor of Alaska's Northwest Arctic Borough.

Reggie Joule represented Alaska's 40th District from 1997 until 2012. Now that he's no longer a member of the Alaska House of Representatives, the link from his Wikipedia page to his House page defaults to a search box. Out of curiosity, I entered "Joule."

As I expected, the search returned records of Joule's activity in the House. But, to my great delight, it also brought up one of James Joule's scientific achievements. Chapter 43 of Alaska's tax code contains this definition of "gas processing":

(A) means processing a gaseous mixture of hydrocarbons
(i) by means of absorption, adsorption, externally applied refrigeration, artificial compression followed by adiabatic expansion using the Joule-Thomson effect, or another physical process that is not mechanical separation; and
(ii) for the purpose of extracting and recovering liquid hydrocarbons;
(B) does not include gas treatment.

Submit comment
Comment moderation successfully completed
632fc4064c2120686ad139879e7bbc09 weblog.blogpostsparsezxybnytfddd