Joseph Henry QuotationsCompiled by the staff of the Joseph Henry Papers Project
Joseph Henry was a scientist, not a wordsmith. But his passion for pursuing and communicating scientific truths often imparted a universal meaning and timelessness to his words. Henry felt that science had profoundly shaped his own life, turning an uncertain adolescent from a humble background into a nationally respected educator and researcher. Science also helped Henry appreciate and understand the natural world, and allowed him to contribute to society by making discoveries that led to inventions such as the telegraph, the electric motor, and the telephone. (To learn more about Henry, please go to our introductory page.)
Many of the selected quotations concern the power of science to reveal nature's secrets. Others concern Henry's beloved Smithsonian Institution, which he directed from its inception in 1846 until his death in 1878, and which embodied his research vision. Also included are some of Henry's more memorable observations of the nation's capital, Congress, and American society.
Where possible we have cited published sources for the quotations, primarily The Papers of Joseph Henry (abbreviated as Henry Papers), for which more complete information is available at this link. As in the volumes of the Henry Papers, we have generally retained Henry's original spelling and punctuation. But to aid readability we have here eliminated indications of where Henry crossed out or inserted words.
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