(Dec 17th 1797- May13th 1878)
Joseph Henry, physicist and first secretary of the Smithsonian
Institution was born to William Henry a teamster and Ann Alexander
in Albany NY on December 17th 1797. At the age of only 7 Joseph
went to live with his grandmother in the near by town of Galway
NY. Henry's father dies when he is only 13 years old. Henry started
apprenticeships with a watchmaker then as a silver smith. After
his failed apprenticeships he hit a turning point in his life
which happened to him at the age of 16 yearsold. Joseph read Gorge
Gregory's lectures on experimental philosophy astronomy and chemistry
published in 1808. We see this in Henry's book where he writes-
" This book opened me to a new world of thought and enjoyment, invested things before almost unnoticed with the highest interest, fixed my mind on the study of nature and caused me to resolve at the time of reading it that I would immediately commence to devote my life to the acquisition of knowledge."
From 1819 to 1822 Henry attended the Albany Academy. His academic performance was above average. Despite Henry 's formal education here at the academy he would later proclaimed him self to be "a self educated man". He worked for the next 4 years as a surveyor and a tutor after which he returned to the Albany Academy as a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. He then married his cousin, Harriet Alexander, in 1830 and had 4 children.
In1831 Henry announced his work on Electro magnetic phenoma.
He took many layers of insulated wire and produced and Electro magnet of unmatched power.
Several demonstrations proved that these hybrid magnets could be activated over long distances. This animates the concept of the telegraph. Henry also invents the first electric motor later that same year. It is important to note that Joseph Henry, independently of Michael Faraday in England, discovers Mutual electromagnetic induction, the generation of electric current by magnetism, and electro-magnetic self-induction. Joseph Henry explained the basic scientific principles of the Telegraph to Samuel Morse who would later claim to be the sole inventor of the device. Henry and Morse shared a close friendship up until the patent legal battles over the telegraph, which would turn them both into bitter enemies.
In 1832 Joseph Henry was named professor natural philosophy at the collage of New Jersey which we know today as Princeton University. He enjoyed a popular reputation with the students.
While there Henry also lectured on geology and architecture and informally discussed metaphysics and other subjects. His areas of research widened at the University. Although Henrys research maintained an ongoing theme of testing the relationships between electricity, magnetism, light, and heat. For example Henry used an thermoelectric apparatus to take the first factual measurements of the temperature differences between the solar surface and sunspots.
He proved that the sunspots where cooler than the surrounding surface. This experiment also revealed new clues about the phenomena of limb darkening, the apparent coolness of the sun at its limb. Other research projects at the University included but was not limited to geophysics, meteorology, terrestrial magnetism, and auroras.
In 1837 Henry spent most of the year in Europe mixing with the scientific community who welcomed him with open arms.
In1846 Joseph Henry was elected as the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and stayed there until his death. He also became head of the academy of sciences in 1868 and stayed on until his death in 1878.
In a letter from Bells Wife to her sister we gain insight into an interesting relationship between A.G. Bell and Joseph Henry-
Joseph Henry met with A.G.Bell in Washington DC at Smithsonian Institution a few months before the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia to discuss weather or not the Reis phone which Henry had in his position for sometime would be shown at the exhibition. Henry reassured Bell that no such thing would happen and reminded Bell that he was heading up the Judging committee. Henry stated that he thought that Bell's phone was a much better device then the Reis phone and no one needed to know about it.found harmony between religion and science
supported Darwins theory