Henry, Scientist

Joseph Henry (1797–1878) was the most noted scientist in the United States when he was selected to serve as the first Secretary or chief executive officer of the new Smithsonian Institution in 1846. This section of the site will explore his contributions to science.

Career as Scientist

Joseph Henry Seated at a Desk, Henry Ulke

This page provides an overview of Henry's scientific contributions to American science during his long career.More


Thaddeus Lowe's Balloon Ascent

Learn about Joseph Henry's role in promoting aeronautics.More


Prehistoric Archaeology Exhibit, Upper Main Hall, Smithsonian Institution Building

Joseph Henry played a pivotal role in supporting the new field of anthropology in the mid-19th century, and setting standards for professional anthropological research and publication.More


Chalk Drawing of an Earthquake

Joseph Henry pioneered data collection about many natural phenomena, including earthquakes.More


Electromagnet Made by Joseph Henry, by Unknown, 1978, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 78-6063.

Joseph Henry is considered a pioneer in the field of electromagnetism for his research and his use of electromagnetism in technology.More


Charles Darwin, by Maull & Fox, c. 1854, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2008-0865.

Learn how Darwin's new theory of evolution by natural selection was received at the Smithsonian in the 1850s. More


Mealtime, Hayden Survey of the Territories, 1872

As Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry encouraged scientific studies as part of the great 19th century American expeditions, which amassed many of the collections that formed the basis of the US National Museum.More

Lightning & Lightning Rods

Drawing of Lightning Rod on a Church

Joseph Henry was fascinated by the electrical phenomenon of lightning and pioneered its study and the use of lightning rods to prevent strike damage. More


Louise Hoover's Painting of Joseph Henry

The systematic study of the weather was initiated by Joseph Henry at the Smithsonian in the 1840s, and eventually led to the creation of the National Weather Service.More

Record of Experiments Introduction

Joseph Henry's Record of Experiments Book 3

Joseph Henry kept a Record of Experiements, three books in total, from his tenure as a professor of natural philosophy, or physics, at Princeton University, to after he became the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Instiution in 1846. The records include notes on his experiments dealing with electromagnetism and other scientific other topics.More