Joseph Henry's Meteorological Crusade


Creator: Millikan, Frank R


Date: 1997

Citation: Weatherwise Oct/Nov 1997 (Journal)

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  • This article describes the pioneering work of 19th century scientist Joseph Henry in researching and forecasting the weather. Shortly after being appointed Secretary of the newly established Smithsonian Institution in 1846, Henry began developing a network of volunteer weather observers throughout the country. The data that was collected resulted in the ability to plot the paths of storms and show that local storms were part of major weather systems. It also informed influential studies on the earth's major wind currents authored by mathematics and natural history professor James H. Coffin. Statistician Charles A. Schott used observer data to refute the long held theory that deforestation had resulted in climatic change. Henry drew upon the data for a 300-page series of articles, "Meteorology in its Connection with Agriculture," published in 1859.
  • By 1857, Joseph Henry had arranged for telegraph companies in major cities across the United States to provide daily weather data to the Smithsonian. A map was displayed for Smithsonian visitors, and evening lectures were postponed if rain appeared to be on its way. Henry shared weather dispatches with the Washington Evening Star, which began publishing daily weather conditions for nearly twenty cities.
  • A shorter article on pages 16-17, also by Frank Millikan, describes Joseph Henry's early years, his discoveries in electromagnetic induction, and his development of a telegraph by 1831 that he used for classroom demonstrations. This article also discusses Henry's interest in lightning and his communication with other pioneering meteorologists.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Coffin, J. H. C
  • Schott, Charles A (Charles Anthony) 1826-1901
  • Meteorological Project
  • Smithsonian Institution General History


Smithsonian History Bibliography

Contained within

Weatherwise Oct/Nov 1997 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Weather
  • Secretaries
  • Weather forecasting
  • Meteorology
  • Meteorologists

Physical description

Number of pages : 5; Page numbers : 14-18

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