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Joseph Henry collection


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was an American scientist and professor who served as the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, from 1846 to 1878. One of the most highly-regarded American scientists during his lifetime, he is known for his pioneering work on electromagnetism. Henry discovered the phenomenon of self-induction and, independent of Michael Faraday, the phenomenon of mutual induction. His inventions include a precursor to the modern doorbell and the electric relay. In the International System of Units, the unit for induction (the henry) is named in his honor.

Born in Albany, New York to William and Ann Henry, Henry attended Albany Academy, where, in addition to his studies, he worked as a chemical assistant and lecture preparer. It was at this school, following an appointment in 1826 to the position of professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, that he began his research on electromagnetism. In 1832 he took an appointment as professor of natural philosophy at the College of New Jersey (present-day Princeton University).

After being voted secretary of the Smithsonian in 1846, Henry focused the institution on fostering relationships abroad, as well as publishing original research. He created a program that studied weather patterns that would eventually develop into the National Weather Service. Over 600 volunteers across the country participated in the Smithsonian Meteorological Project, providing the institution with monthly reports on temperature, humidity, air pressure and more.

After a paralytic attack in December of 1877, Henry's health rapidly deteriorated, and on May 13, 1878 he died in his quarters in the Smithsonian Castle. A statue of him stands outside the Castle today.

The collection is comprised of correspondences between Henry and his collegues in the scientific and academic communities. The majority of letters are addressed to Henry, though there are a small number which he composed himself. Subjects range from a letter of recommendation for the appointment of a friend to the faculty of William and Mary College to administrative affairs. There is a set of nineteen letters to and from Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867), a prominent contemporary who served as the superintendent of the United States Coast Survey.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Justin A. Bortnick
Finding Aid Date
2014 June 24
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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Bache, A. D. (Alexander Dallas), 1833-1853.
Box 1 Folder 1
Beck, Lewis Caleb, 15 March 1848, 15 September 1848.
Box 1 Folder 2
Bullions, Peter, 1842-1848.
Box 1 Folder 3
Cady, Daniel, 1831-1832.
Box 1 Folder 4
Crane? Capt., 5 July 1848.
Box 1 Folder 5
Cochran, James, 7 May 1832.
Box 1 Folder 6
Espy, Mrs. [James Pollard], 24 August 1848.
Box 1 Folder 7
Frazier, John Fries, 28 March 1869.
Box 1 Folder 8
Hopkins, William Fenn, 22 July 1848.
Box 1 Folder 9
Jewett, Charles Coffin, 1847-1848.
Box 1 Folder 10
Lieber, Francis, 1847-1848.
Box 1 Folder 11
Locke, John, 1847-1848.
Box 1 Folder 12
Loomis, Elias, 6 April 1844.
Box 1 Folder 13
New York University, Chancellor, 14 September 1848.
Box 1 Folder 14
Seaton, W. W. [William Winston], 11 October 1847.
Box 1 Folder 15
Stevenson, A[ndrew], 10 June 1848.
Box 1 Folder 16
Stockton, R[obert] F[ield], 1838.
Box 1 Folder 17
Torrey, John, 4 January 1848, 8 August 1948.
Box 1 Folder 18
William and Mary College Board of Visitors, 11 February 1848.
Box 1 Folder 19

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