The Popular and Scientific Reception of the Foucault Pendulum in the United States

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  • In the months following Jean Bernard Leon Foucault's early 1851 demonstration in Paris of the earth's diurnal rotation with a vibrating pendulum, members of the entire scientific community, as well as the general public, participated in "pendulum mania" demonstrations held throughout Europe and the United States to imitate Foucault. Demonstrations were held in each region of the U.S., but were particularly numerous and well-received in New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, with the South showing more enthusiasm for the demonstrations than the Western part of the U.S., most probably due to the scientific community being more established in the eastern area of the country.
  • These experiments to demonstrate the earth's rotation were understood in varying degrees by the public and by some of the individuals who conducted the demonstrations. The author notes that several eminent scientists of the time, including Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, did not participate in any public demonstrations, nor did Henry make public comment on the Foucault pendulum. Henry's silence perhaps stemmed from the fact that he disliked charlatanism and popular science, and may have regarded pendulum mania as unseemly and not in keeping with the dignity of scientists.


  • Foucault, Jean Bernard Leon
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Article includes four figures and illustrations.

Contained within

Isis Vol. 90, No. 2 (Journal)

Contact information

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


June 1999


  • Secretaries
  • Physical sciences
  • Science
  • Foucault's pendulum
  • Experiments
  • Physics
  • Science--Experiments

Physical description

p. 180 - 204

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