Joseph Henry Publishes "Atmospheric Electricity"




Date: 1859


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First Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry publishes "Atmospheric Electricity," the fifth installment in his series "Meteorology in Its Connection to Agriculture" for the Patent Office's annual reports. It includes a discussion of three effects of lightning: its sudden repulsive impact on air and objects, especially in the direction of its passage; its attraction to tall metallic objects due to the emission of static charges by storm clouds prior to lightning strikes; and the process of lateral discharge, allowing sparks to be drawn from lightning rods even when they are well-grounded. Henry's work draws upon observations made during his years in Princeton as a physics professor at the College of New Jersey, where he observed buildings struck by lightning and interviewed witnesses to lightning strikes.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • United States Patent Office
  • College of New Jersey (Princeton, N.J.)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • For complete text of this work, see
  • Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 30, Part II (1887), pp. 309-402.

Contact information

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




  • Publications
  • Electricity
  • Secretaries
  • Lightning
  • Science
  • Lightning rods
  • Physics
  • Meteorology
  • Atmospheric electricity


United States

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