Joseph Henry (1797-1878), Architect of Organized Science

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This article concerns the life and work of physicist and first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry. It begins with a biographical discussion of his early years and continues with an overview of his research and discoveries in electromagnetism and telegraphy during his years as a professor at the Albany Academy and at Princeton. The authors comment that Henry pursued research in other areas as well, and that his work would have benefited from a better command of advanced mathematics. They go on to discuss Henry's appointment as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian and the work he accomplished during his thirty-year tenure there. Henry's efforts to focus the Institution on supporting basic research is discussed. The authors also describe other ways in which Henry lent his scientific expertise to the federal government, including his service on the Light-House Board, his leadership of the National Academy of Sciences, and his participation in signaling experiments during the Civil War.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Princeton University


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Written as part of the commemoration of the Smithsonian Institution's 100th anniversary in 1946. Appears in William Thorp, ed., The Lives of Eighteen from Princeton (Princeton U. Press, 1946)

Contained within

American Scientist Vol. 34 (Journal)

Contact information

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


October, 1946


  • Anniversaries
  • Smithsonian influence
  • Science
  • Museums
  • Management
  • Government policy
  • Physics
  • Biography
  • Management--Museums
  • Science and state

Physical description

pp. 619-632

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