Joseph Henry Constructs an Electric Motor




Date: April-July 1831


Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact
Download IIIF Manifest Request permissions Download image Print

Narrow Your Results


Filter Your Results

Smithsonian Secretaries Information

Close Browse records and papers of the Smithsonian Secretaries, from 1846 until today. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by individuals who have held that office.

Expeditions Information

Close Browse records and papers documenting scientific and collecting expeditions either affiliated with the Smithsonian, or with which Smithsonian researchers participated. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by geographic regions predominantly represented in expedition records.

Professional Societies Information

Close Browse records of professional societies closely associated with the Smithsonian, that focus on areas of scientific research and museum studies. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by major topics and disciplines.


Joseph Henry demonstrates an "electro-magnetic machine" powered by the continuous reversal of polarity through magnets connected to two batteries. The batteries are wired to two vertical magnets which alternately attract and repel the ends of an electromagnet positioned in between them, making the electromagnet rock back and forth at 75 vibrations per minute. He publishes this discovery in Silliman's American Journal of Science in July 1831. In 1846, Henry will become the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.


Henry, Joseph 1797-1878


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Image is of Joseph Henry's Oscillating Electromagnet Motor, 1830, Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number 46,797-E.
  • The article Henry published on this invention, including an illustration of it, can be found at Minutes of the Albany Institute's April 25, 1831, meeting, which appear in The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 1, p. 338, appear to reference a demonstration of Henry's motor.
  • "On a Reciprocating Motion Produced by Attraction and Repulsion." American Journal of Science, Vol. 20, July 1831, pp. 340-33. Reprinted in Scientific Writings of Joseph Henry. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 30. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1887, pp. 54-57.
  • Moyer, Albert. Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997, pp. 72-73.
  • Reingold, Nathan, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, The Albany Years, December 1797 - October 1832, Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972, p. 338.

Contact information

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


April-July 1831


  • Electric apparatus and appliances
  • Electricity
  • Inventors
  • Scientific apparatus and instruments
  • Inventions
  • Electrochemistry
  • Electromagnets
  • Motors
  • Magnetism
  • Electric power supplies to apparatus
  • Electric machinery
  • Experiments
  • Electromagnet
  • Electric motors
  • Electric batteries

Full Record

View Full Record