William Lawrence Balls

William Lawrence "W.L." Balls, FRS[1] (3 September 1882 – 18 July 1960) was a British botanist who specialised in cotton technology. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1923.[2]



Education and early career

Born in Norfolk, the only son of William Balls and Emma Lawrence, W. L. Balls was educated at King Edward Middle School, Norwich, and at St John's College, Cambridge. After university, he applied for and was appointed to the new post of 'Cryptogamic Botanist' to the Khedivial Agricultural Society of Egypt in Cairo, which he took up in November 1904. He worked for the Society until 1910 when he was transferred to the newly founded Department of Agriculture of the Egyptian government as Botanist.

Beginning in 1905 with 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land, he was able to observe nine successive cotton crops in great detail, studying genetics, physiology and textile technology. In this period, he published 45 papers and the book, The Cotton Plant in Egypt, in which he summarised and added to his studies in genetics and physiology. The book became a botanical classic. Balls was elected a Fellow of St John's College in 1908.


Balls returned to England in 1914, where he settled in Cambridgeshire and wrote The development and properties of raw cotton (1915) and Egypt and the Egyptians (1915). He was invited to start an Experimental Department for the Fine Cotton Spinners' and Doublers' Association and, beginning with two rooms in Manchester and then a large house in Bollington, Cheshire three years later, he continued his studies of cotton fibre quality for the next ten years, mastering the art of cotton spinning and conducting research into cotton spinning technology.

During this period, he became chairman for the Joint Standing Committee of the Board of Trade Committee, which grew into the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation, and the Shirley Institute of the British Cotton Industry Research Association. He became a member of the Textiles Institute, Manchester, in 1916 and published the book, Handbook of cotton spinning tests (1920). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May 1923.

He resigned from his post with the Fine Cotton Spinners' and Doublers' Association at the end of 1925 in order to change his occupation. He returned to Cambridge and outlined his work of ten years in the book, Studies of quality in cotton (1928). The cotton quality reports published by Balls between 1912 and 1928 were to be cited by fibre physiologists and textile technologists for more than seventy years.[3]


Soon afterwards, he was invited to return to Egypt as the head of all cotton work and was to remain there for the remainder of his working life. Personal research was limited but he was able to make great practical achievements using his administrative skills and to co-ordinate the work on cotton botany, agronomy and entomology. He studied the movement of water movement across all of the 70-acre (280,000 m2) farm for more than 25 years and used this information when writing The yields of a crop (1953) after his retirement. He established the concept of pure-line seed supply and a plant for the actual spinning of small samples. He discovered that deliberate genetical selection could be done for yarn strength, which was the most important discovery made in cotton breeding at that time. He gave the annual 'Mather Lecture', a lecture hosted by the Textiles Institute, and attended by the prominent figures in the industry with the object of the furtherance of knowledge in the textiles industries. 'Dr. Balls' was supposed to present his famous paper but it was presented by his assistant, 'Mr. Hancock'. This paper on the research aspects of Egyptian cotton, Current Changes in Technology of Cotton Spinning and Cultivation, was published in The Journal of the Textile Institute XXII:5 (1931).[4] Dr. Balls was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1934.

During World War II Dr. Balls's services were used by the forces and he became Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Commander-in-Chief at Middle East Headquarters, where he devoted much time to the invention of a mine detector.


He was given Honorary Fellowship of the Textile Institute in 1943 and appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1944.


He retired in 1947 and returned to Cambridgeshire, where he wrote his final book, The yield of a crop (1953), which defined the responsibility of the high water table for the decline in the Egyptian crop. He was awarded an Honorary DSc from the University of Manchester in 1952.


Dr.Balls died on July 18, 1960, aged 77.

Publications by Balls


  1. ^ Harland, S. C. (1961). "William Lawrence Balls. 1882-1960". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 7: 1–0. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1961.0001.  edit
  2. ^ "Balls; William Lawrence (1882–1960)". Library and Archive catalogue. The Royal Society. http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Persons&dsqPos=0&dsqSearch=((Gender='Male')AND(Surname='Balls')). Retrieved 2007-09-23. [dead link]
  3. ^ Bradow, J. M.; Bauer, P. J.; Murray, A. K.; Johnson, R. M. (1998). "Cotton Quality Measurements from Lawrence Balls to Present". 1998 EFSSystems Conference Presentations. Cotton Incorporated. http://www.cottoninc.com/1998EFSConferencePresentations/CottonQualityMeasurements/. Retrieved 2007-09-23. 
  4. ^ Balls, W. L. (1931). "Current changes in the technology of cotton spinning and cultivation". The Mather Lecture (The Journal of the Textile Institute). http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0275%2FBalls%2FE14. Retrieved 2007-09-23. 


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