Henry, Joseph

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  • This article by Marc Rothenberg discusses the life and career of 19th century American scientist Joseph Henry. Henry served as Secretary of the Smithsonian from the time of its founding in 1846 until his death in 1878. The author edited volumes 10 and 11 of The Papers of Joseph Henry.
  • Joseph Henry was born in 1797 in Albany, New York, where he and studied and later taught at the Albany Academy. In 1832 he was appointed to the faculty of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). Henry developed the most powerful electromagnet to date in 1831, which is what initially brought him attention from other scientists. He went on to develop the first telegraph and to independently discover the process of electromagnetic induction. During his years at Princeton, Henry engaged in a wide range of research related to his core interests in electricity, magnetism, light, and heat.
  • Throughout his tenure as Secretary, Henry continually worked to shape the Smithsonian in accordance with his belief that its primary mission should be to support original scientific research. His publications program provided a means for scholars to share their work with others in their field, provided it met the high standards of Henry's careful refereeing process. Through the Smithsonian's meteorology project, Henry laid the groundwork for the National Weather Service by developing a national network of weather observers. Henry also served as president of the National Academy of Sciences and was a founding member and chair of the Light-House Board.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Albany Academy
  • College of New Jersey (Princeton, N.J.)
  • United States Light House Board
  • Smithsonian Institution General History
  • National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)


Smithsonian History Bibliography


A narrative bibliography of works about Joseph Henry follows the article.

Contained within

American National Biography 10 (Book)

Contact information

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




  • American science
  • Biography


  • Albany (N.Y.)
  • Princeton (N.J.)
  • Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

Number of pages : 3; Page numbers : 613-615

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