Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair

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Lord Playfair
Lord Playfair

Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair, GCB, FRS, PC (May 1, 1818) – (May 29, 1898) was a Scottish scientist and Parliamentarian.

Born at Chunar, Bengal, son of the Inspector General of Hospitals in that region, Playfair was educated at St Andrews University, the Andersonian Institute in Glasgow, and Edinburgh University. After going to Calcutta at the end of 1837, he became private laboratory assistant to Thomas Graham at University College, London, and in 1839 went to work under Justus Liebig at the University of Giessen.

After returning to Britain, Playfair became manager of a calico works in Primrose, near Clitheroe, and in 1843 was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Manchester Institution, where he was assisted by Robert Angus Smith. Two years later, he was made chemist to the Geological Survey, and subsequently became Professor in the new School of Mines. In 1848, he was elected to the Royal Society, and three years later was made Special Commissioner and a member of the executive committee of the Great Exhibition.

Appointed CB that same year, Playfair also became Gentleman Usher to Prince Albert, and in 1853 was appointed Secretary of the Department of Science, in which capacity he advocated the use of poison gas against the Russians in the Crimean War. In 1855, he was a commissioner of the Exposition Universelle, and two years later became President of the Chemical Society, finally returning to Edinburgh University in 1858 as Professor of Chemistry there.

In 1868, Playfair was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews, being made Postmaster General in Gladstone's government in 1873. On the Liberals' return to power in 1880, he was appointed Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, holding these posts until 1883, when he was knighted as KCB. He was subsequently President of the British Association in 1885, and the following year became Vice President of the Committee of the Privy Council for Education, finally being made a member of the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall in 1889.

Having represented Leeds (South) since 1885, Sir Lyon Playfair left the House of Commons in 1892 and was ennobled as Baron Playfair, of St Andrews in the County of Fife. He became a Lord in Waiting to Queen Victoria that same year, and in 1895 added the GCB to his many domestic and foreign honours.

Lord Playfair's last honour came when he received the Harben Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of Public Health in 1897. He died a year later at his home in South Kensington, and was buried in St Andrews.

Playfair promoted a new cipher system invented by Charles Wheatstone, and the name stuck: the Playfair cipher.

Preceded by:
William Monsell
Postmaster General
Succeeded by:
The Lord John Manners

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Baron Playfair Succeeded by:
George James Playfair

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