11. Sir Humphrey Davy might have been a chemistry genius, but his famous curls and dress sense meant he was often dismissed as a dandy
Sir Humphrey Davy was one of the great scientific minds of his age – and he knew it. Not only was he a genius in chemistry, he was also a natural-born show off, bringing an element of show business to the world of science. By the beginning of the 19th century, Davy had established himself as a pioneering chemist, with a string of notable discoveries to his name. To his detractors, however, he was little more than a dandy.
Born in 1778, Davy was largely self-taught as a child, though family friends allowed him to make use of the laboratory of a Cornish hospital. It was here he fell in love with science and got to work. In 1802, he presented the world’s most powerful electrical battery to the Royal Institution in London, with an incandescent bulb following soon after. Davy would also carry out pioneering experiments with nitrous oxide, discovering âlaughing gas’ and making significant contributions to the field of anaesthetics.
In London, Davy also gained a reputation as a showman and a man of fashion. He loved performing public demonstrations, with his âshows’ particularly focused on any young ladies that might be in the audience. Unlike Lord Byron, who was famous for his long, flowing hair, Davy adopted his signature âAugustan curl’, styling his hair after busts of the Emperor Augustus he had seen. Both the ladies and men of London loved him, and many tried to copy his style.
According to George Ticknor, an American visitor who wrote extensively on London in the Regency era, Davy was “one of the handsomest men I have yet seen in England”. However, his dashing good looks and status as a style icon gave Davy’s critics plenty of ammunition. Some argued he was a simple dandy rather than a true scientist. Thankfully, he is now regarded as both a scientific pioneer as well as an impeccably-dressed and coiffured gentleman.