The development of electrical technology in the 19th century

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  • This series traces the early history of electrical invention. The first paper addresses the electrochemical cell and the electromagnet, which provided the foundation for further advances in the field. The author begins with the research of Luigi Galvani and Allesandro Volta in the late 1700's and highlights developments during the period that culminated in the invention of various electric motors in the mid-nineteenth century. Among the devices described and illustrated is the electromagnet created in 1831 by Joseph Henry, who would become the Smithsonian's first Secretary in 1846.
  • The second paper discusses the evolution of the telegraph and later the telephone. It describes and illustrates the telegraph created by Joseph Henry in 1830 and mentions Henry's role in advising Alexander Graham Bell, who is popularly credited with inventing the telephone. The third paper discusses European developments in electric illumination and power generation during the nineteenth century.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Morse, Samuel Finley Breese 1791-1872
  • Edison, Thomas A (Thomas Alva) 1847-1931
  • Bell, Alexander Graham 1847-1922


Smithsonian History Bibliography


This three-part publication is comprised of Papers 28, 29, and 30 from Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology. They are titled as follows: 1. The electrochemical cell and the electromagnet -- 2. The telegraph and the telephone -- 3. The early arc light and generator. The author was a curator of electricity at the Smithsonian, and some of the devices he describes and illustrates can be found in the Smithsonian's collections.

Contained within

United States National Museum Bulletin 228 (Journal)

Contact information

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




  • Electric apparatus and appliances
  • Telegraph
  • Electricity
  • Telephone
  • Inventions

Physical description

Number of pages: 189; Page numbers: 231-271; 273-332; 333-407

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