Contributions to Electricity and Magnetism. No. III. - On Electro-Dynamic Induction. Read Novemb. 2, 1838. Extracted [i.e., offprint] from the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 6.

Philadelphia: Printed by James Kay, Jun. & Brothers, 1839.

First edition, author’s presentation offprint, of the third and most important part of Henry’s Contributions to Electricity and Magnetism. Following on from his discovery of electromagnetic self-induction in 1832, in the present paper Henry extends his results on ‘galvanic’ electricity (current produced by batteries) to the inductive effects of static electricity. Along the way, he established the principle of the electrical transformer, which was crucial to later nineteenth-century science and technology. Henry himself considered the findings reported in this paper “the most important I have ever made” (see below). OCLC lists only one copy of this offprint (Yale Medical Library).

Provenance: Presentation inscription in the author’s hand on the title page, “To the Rev. Professor Hitchcock with the respects of the author.” The recipient is probably Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864), ordained Congregationalist pastor, Professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Amherst College (1825-1845), of Natural Theology and Geology (1845-1864), and third President of the College (1845-1854). Like Henry himself, Hitchcock was a founding member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1830, when he was an instructor in mathematics at The Albany Academy (New York), Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was the first to observe the phenomena of electromagnetic mutual- and self-induction (the production of a voltage in a wire as a result of a varying current in another, or the same, wire). He failed to publish his results, however, until 1832, after he had seen Faraday’s own publication on mutual induction in the first series of his ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity.’ Henry’s paper, ‘On the production of currents and sparks of electricity from magnetism’ (American Journal of Science and Arts, Vol. 22, No. 2, July 1832), established his priority in the discovery of self-induction, although Faraday took the honour of being the first to publish the discovery of mutual induction. “Joseph Henry’s discovery of self induction in 1832 was the first appearance of a major US discovery in electricity since Benjamin Franklin” (

In the autumn of 1832 Henry took up a professorship at the College of New Jersey (later to become Princeton University). Initially lacking suitable equipment and with a heavy teaching load, Henry did not resume his experiments on electromagnetism until the late summer of 1834. He resolved to publish his new results in a series of papers in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society entitled ‘Contributions to Electricity and Magnetism,’ probably modeled on Faraday’s series of ‘Experimental Researches’ published in the Philosophical Transactions. The first two ‘Contributions’ appeared back-to-back in 1835 in Vol. V of the Transactions. The first described a new galvanic battery he had constructed in his Princeton laboratory. The second was prompted by Henry’s reading, early in 1835, of the ninth series of Faraday’s ‘Experimental Researches’ in which Faraday set out his own conclusions on self-induction. To ensure his priority in the discovery of self-induction, Henry hastily published ‘On the influence of a spiral conductor in increasing the intensity of electricity from a galvanic arrangement of a single pair, etc.’ (Contribution No. II), which essentially repeated the findings described in his 1832 paper.

After the publication of Contribution No. II, Henry wrote to a colleague that “many new suggestions were presented to my mind which required immediate testing by direct experiment. The result was that the subject grew very rapidly under my investigations and has opened quite a field of research.” Henry particularly wished to investigate “the inductive effects of static electricity – specifically, fleeting discharges of Leyden jars into various circuits. These experiments on “common” or “ordinary” electricity complemented his previous investigations involving “galvanic” currents from batteries” (Moyer, Joseph Henry (1997), p. 165). But his progress was again delayed – this time by the restoration of Princeton’s Philosopher’s Hall (which he had instigated) and an 1837 trip to Europe (when he first met Faraday) – and it was not until the spring of 1838 that he was able to resume his research. By early autumn “he wrote to American colleagues that he considered his findings “the most important I have ever made” and projected that his eventual report would contain “a greater number of new generic facts than any I have ever published”…

“Henry published his full findings on static electricity the next year, in 1839, as the third in his APS “Contributions to Electricity and Magnetism.” The lengthy, rambling article, which he distributed to a large circle of colleagues at home and abroad, enjoyed a generally positive reception by a wide readership and would be frequently translated and reprinted. The article even would provide incentive for Faraday and Wheatstone to nominate Henry for the most revered scientific prize in Great Britain, if not the world. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Henry would become one of five nominees in 1839 for the Royal Society’s Copley Medal [the eventual winner was Robert Brown, of Brownian motion].

“Early in his new article, Henry summarized the distinction between two types of induction that Faraday had recognized in 1831; he then justified his commitment to exploring, in not only galvanic but also ordinary electricity, the lesser known type. On the one hand, many researchers were developing what he credited as Faraday’s (not his own) discovery of the magnetic induction of currents. These researchers were striving particularly to perfect the associated “magneto-electrical machine” – a popular, embryonic electric generator, nicknamed a “magneto,” that produced a series of alternating bursts of current. On the other hand, he was alone in extending “the purely electrical part of Dr. Faraday’s admirable discovery.” By this “purely electrical part” Henry meant Faraday’s ancillary finding that a changing galvanic current in a wire induces an oppositely flowing current in a parallel wire. Henry believed that this “Volta-electric induction” helped explain self-induction, the action of a current on itself rather than solely on a parallel wire … Moreover, although he devoted most ink to examples involving galvanic rather than static electricity, he established that Volta-electric induction in galvanic electricity had a counterpart in ordinary electricity. That is, he found that, in analogy to the galvanic case, the discharge of a Leyden jar’s ordinary electricity into a wire induced a current in a parallel wire. Since it was common practice to speak of “statical” induction in ordinary electricity and of “dynamic” induction in galvanic currents, Henry would dub this new area of study the “dynamic induction of ordinary electricity.” He considered the induction of currents using static electricity an important finding because – as he remarked in his article, and then emphasized to his Princeton students – Faraday had cast doubt on the possibility. Indeed, Henry’s results caught Faraday’s attention; in the fall of 1839, about when he nominated Henry for the Copley Medal, he mentioned in his diary his intention “to work on Henry’s late dynamic induction experiments.”

“Henry also showed the existence of induced currents of third, fourth and fifth orders. That is, whereas Faraday had established that a changing galvanic current in one wire induces an opposite flowing current in a separate, parallel wire – a second order effect – Henry used successive, adjacent, freestanding coils of metal ribbon and spools of wire to trace the inductive effect through multiple stages. He did this for both galvanic and ordinary electricity, noticing that the direction of the current flow alternated in each consecutive stage…

“While studying arrays of coils for his third article, Henry also found that by varying the makeup of two adjacent coils, he could modify the character of the original current. In particular, using a primary and secondary coil, he could employ an initial “intensity” current (a weak current associated with what later became known as high potential difference) to induce a “quantity” current (a strong current associated with a low potential difference), and vice versa … Henry’s techniques for self-consciously altering currents would contribute to the development of electrical transformers – devices to “step up” and “step down” currents, crucial capabilities in later nineteenth-century science and technology” (ibid., pp. 165-7).

This important paper first appeared in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. VI, 1839, pp. 303-337 (the offered paper with separate pagination). It subsequently appeared in Silliman's American Journal of Science and Arts, Vol. XXXVIII, January 1840, pp. 209-243; Sturgeon's Annals of Electricity, Vol. IV, 1840, pp. 281-310; Philosophical Magazine, 3rd Series, Vol. XVI, March 1840, pp. 200-210, 254-265 & 551-562; Annales de Chimie et de Physique, 3ième Série, Tom. III, December 1841, pp. 394-407; and Poggendorff's Annalen der Physik und Chemie. Supplement Bd. I, 1842, pp. 282-312.

4to (278 x 225 mm), pp. [iv], [17] 18-51 [52:blank], illustrations in text. Some very light spotting trhoughout. Modern paper wrappers, preserved in a quarter-morocco custom clamshell box.

Item #4282

Price: $4,500.00

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