James Prescott Joule was born at Salford, near Manchester, England, on December 24, 1818. He was the second of five children born to a wealthy brewery owner. As a child, James was weak and shy, and suffered from a spinal disorder. Because of these limitations, he preferred studies to physical activity. Although his spinal problem later improved, it affected him throughout his life.
James was educated at home until he was 15. He then went to work in the family brewery. However, he and his older brother continued their education part-time with private tutors in Manchester.
From 1834 until 1837, they were taught chemistry, physics, the scientific method, and mathematics by the famous English chemist John Dalton. (Like James Joule, Dalton was a Bible-believing Christian.) James gratefully acknowledged the key role that Dalton played in his becoming a scientist. 'It was from his instruction that I first formed a desire to increase my knowledge by original researches', Joule said.1
When their father became ill, James and his brother took over running the brewery. James therefore did not have the opportunity to attend university. However, his great desire was to continue to study science, so he set up a laboratory in his home and began experimenting before and after work each day. James saw this desire to study science as a natural consequence of his Christian faith. As he later wrote, 'it is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.