Joseph Henry Appointed Chair of Franklin Institute Committee to Investigate Explosion of the "Peacemaker"




Date: April 1, 1844


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Joseph Henry (1797-1878), physicist and professor at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), is appointed to chair a Franklin Institute committee to investigate the explosion of the "Peacemaker," a wrought-iron cannon on the experimental steam frigate, the U.S.S. Princeton. The accident occurred during a demonstration cruise on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and killed six men, including the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy. The committee concluded that the metal used to construct the gun was of poor quality, that the strength of the iron had been compromised by the welding process, and that the welding had been imperfect. The Navy undertook its own research on the cast and wrought iron used in making cannon, and on the fabrication of large guns. As a result, a moratorium was declared on wrought iron guns and thereafter, weapons were made of cast iron or steel. The Franklin Institute committee was discharged after its report was approved on August 8, 1844. In 1846, Joseph Henry would become the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • United States Dept. of the Navy
  • Franklin Institute


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Engraving of Peacemaker explosion, 1844. Library of Congress, negative number LC-USZC2-3201.
  • Marc Rothenberg, et al., eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, The Princeton Years, January 1844 - December 1846, vol. 6. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, pp. 47, 66-67, 115-18, 650 (index entry).

Contact information

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


April 1, 1844


  • Boats and boating
  • Firearms
  • Accidents
  • Ships

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