Lunar Society, Birmingham, England
Kier was a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham c. 1768.
Royal Society, London, England
Keir was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London on December 8, 1785.
Ediburgh University, Edinburgh, Scotland
Keir was educated at Edinburgh University’s medical school; at the latter, during the session of 1754-1755, he met Erasmus Darwin and became his lifelong friend. Wishing to travel, he left without taking a degree.
Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland
Keir was educated in Edinburgh at the Royal High School.
Keir was educated in Edinburgh at the Royal High School and Edinburgh University’s medical school; at the latter, during the session of 1754-1755, he met Erasmus Darwin and became his lifelong friend. Wishing to travel, he left without taking a degree.
Keir first purchased a commission in the army, and served during and after the Seven Years’ War; he resigned with the rank of captain; in 1768.
He had retained an interest in chemistry acquired at Edinburgh and had corresponded with Darwin on scientific matters; through the latter, who had settled in practice at Lichfield, near Birmingham, he was soon drawn into the group (which included Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, and later Joseph Priestley) which constituted the Lunar Society and exercised such a profound influence on the course of the industrial revolution.
In 1770, Keir had begun translating P. J. Macquer’s Dictionnaire de chymie (1766), adding notes and new articles, particularly on the recent work of Black and Cavendish. He also translated the second edition, adding an appendix (later published separately) that summarized recent work on gases. To keep with the rapidly accelerating development of the science, he prepared a new dictionary of his own, of which only the first part was published.
From 1771 to 1778 Keir managed a glass factory at Stourbridge. The first and most important of his three papers read to the Royal Society was based on his observations of the crystallization of glass during slow cooling; it included an early and reasoned suggestion that basalt was of volcanic origin.
At least as early as 1771 Keir had, in common with many others, begun to experiment on the production of soda from common salt. The course of his experiments is not known because of the destruction of most of his papers in a fire in 1845; but in 1780, in partnership with a former fellow officer, Alexander Blair, he founded the Tipton Chemical Works, where (more than forty years before the establishment of the Leblanc process in Britain) alkalies were manufactured from sodium and potassium sulfates, waste products from the manufacture of hydrochloric acid. The process was never published but has recently been elucidated by a descendant of Keir. The sinking of a coal mine in 1794 to supply the Tipton works led to a paper on the geology of Staffordshire.
Liberal in politics like many of his associates, Keir supported the French Revolution - until dismayed by its excesses.
Keir was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London on December 8, 1785. He also became a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham c. 1768.
A well-informed man of great common sense, Keir's advice was frequently sought; his tact and diplomacy were valuable attributes in keeping the Lunar Society together.
He was interested in poetry.
In 1770 Kier married Susanna Harvey. The couple had a daughter Amelia.