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Who is Michael Faraday?

Updated on May 22, 2013

Michael Faraday, the Father of Electricity

English chemist, natural philosopher and physicist Michael Faraday (b. September 22, 1791, d. August 25, 1867) known as the greatest experimental scientist ever in the 19th century.

He made a lot of contribution in the fields of physics and mostly in chemistry when he discovered electromagnetic induction led to the development of electric motors and power generation, diamagnetism, and laws of electrolysis. He lectured extensively on chemistry and physics at the Royal Institution in London. He received numerous accolades in his written manuscripts in practical chemistry to help the young generation to grasp complicated concepts.

Michael Faraday was born September 22, 1791 in the country village of Newington Butts now part of South London, England. His family is not well off. His father, James, was a member of the Sandemanian sect of Christianity. James Faraday had come to London ca 1790 from Outhgill in Westmorland, where he had been the village blacksmith. The young Michael Faraday, one of four children, having only the most basic of school educations, had to largely educate himself. At fourteen he became apprenticed to a local bookbinder and bookseller George Riebau and, during his seven-year apprenticeship, he read many books, including Isaac Watts' The Improvement of the Mind, and he enthusiastically implemented the principles and suggestions contained therein. He developed an interest in science and specifically in electricity. In particular, he was inspired by the book Conversations in Chemistry by Jane Marcet.

At the age of twenty, in 1812, at the end of his apprenticeship, Faraday attended lectures by the eminent English chemist Humphry Davy of the Royal Institution and Royal Society, and John Tatum, founder of the City Philosophical Society. Many tickets for these lectures were given to Faraday by William Dance (one of the founders of the Royal Philharmonic Society). Afterwards, Faraday sent Davy a three hundred page book based on notes taken during the lectures. Davy's reply was immediate, kind, and favorable. When Davy damaged his eyesight in an accident with nitrogen trichloride, he decided to employ Faraday as a secretary. When John Payne, one of the Royal Institution's assistants, was fired, Sir Humphry Davy was asked to find a replacement. He appointed Faraday as Chemical Assistant at the Royal Institution on March 1.

In the class-based English society of the time, Faraday was not considered a gentleman. When Davy went on a long tour to the continent in 1813-5, his valet did not wish to go. Faraday was going as Davy's scientific assistant, and was asked to act as Davy's valet until a replacement could be found in Paris. Faraday was forced to fill the role of valet as well as assistant throughout the trip. Davy's wife, Jane Apreece, refused to treat Faraday as an equal (making him travel outside the coach, eat with the servants, etc.) and generally made Faraday so miserable that he contemplated returning to England alone and giving up science altogether. The trip did, however, give him access to the European scientific elite and a host of stimulating ideas.

Faraday was a devout Christian and a member of the small Sandemanian denomination, an offshoot of the Church of Scotland. He later served two terms as an elder in the group's church. Faraday married Sarah Barnard (1800-1879) on June 2, 1821, although they would never have children. They met through attending the Sandemanian church.He was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1824, appointed director of the laboratory in 1825; and in 1833 he was appointed Fullerian professor of chemistry in the institution for life, without the obligation to deliver lectures.

Faraday died at his house at Hampton Court on August 25, 1867. He turned down burial in Westminster Abbey, but he has a memorial plaque there, near Isaac Newton's tomb. Faraday was interred in the Sandemanian plot in Highgate Cemetery. (read more Wikipedia, Brittanica)

But still try for who knows what is possible...

-Michael Faraday

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Reader's Review:

A man with little formal education, Michael Faraday is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time and is also regarded as the Father of electrical engineering. During the Christmas Holidays of 1860 and 1861, Michael Faraday presented a series of six lectures before a Juvenile Auditory at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

Albert Einstein stated that he considered Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell as three of the most influential people in the history of science.

So what about the title of the book - "The Chemical History of a Candle". Does this mean that Michael Faraday is going to teach you how to put Yankee Candle out of business? No, but he does delve into chemical theory about how candles function, details of combustion, and how flames are categorized. He does all this with a rare enthusiasm and excitement about the often overlooked chemical nature of a so called "simple process".

The Electric Life of Michael Faraday
The Electric Life of Michael Faraday

Nineteenth-century English scientist Faraday, who made the revolutionary discovery that electricity, magnetism and light are all related, personified the self-made man. Son of a blacksmith, Faraday (1791-1867) was apprenticed at an early age to a bookbinder, who encouraged him to pursue the interest in science that he'd gained from reading the books that crossed his workbench. By a great stroke of luck, he went to work for the eminent scientist Sir Humphry Davy. As physicist Hirshfeld (Parallax) relates, from that point on, Faraday proved unstoppable as he made important discoveries in every field he applied himself to. His breakthrough came when he discovered that he could induce an electric current by moving a magnet inside a coil of wire. This led to his development of the dynamo, precursor to the electric motor.


Michael Faraday's Discoveries | Inventions

Michael Faraday was best known for his discoveries of electromagnetic induction and of the laws of electrolysis. His biggest breakthrough in electricity was his invention of the electric motor.

He built two devices to produce what he called electromagnetic rotation: that is a continuous circular motion from the circular magnetic force around a wire. Ten years later, in 1831, he began his great series of experiments in which he discovered electromagnetic induction. These experiments form the basis of modern electromagnetic technology.

In 1831, using his "induction ring", Michael Faraday made one of his greatest discoveries - electromagnetic induction: the "induction" or generation of electricity in a wire by means of the electromagnetic effect of a current in another wire. The induction ring was the first electric transformer. In a second series of experiments in September he discovered magneto-electric induction: the production of a steady electric current. To do this, Faraday attached two wires through a sliding contact to a copper disc. By rotating the disc between the poles of a horseshoe magnet he obtained a continuous direct current. This was the first generator. From his experiments came devices that led to the modern electric motor, generator and transformer.


Michael Faraday statue in Savoy Place, London

Michael Faraday statue in Savoy Place, London
Michael Faraday statue in Savoy Place, London

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      cmadden 4 years ago

      A wonderfully interesting read!

    • jmchaconne profile image

      jmchaconne 5 years ago

      Michael Faraday do not get the credit he deserves. Next to Leonardo Da Vinci, he is one of my favorite historical figures. You do have a wide variety of interests. I love it!

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      anonymous 5 years ago


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      Jennifer P Tanabe 7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Fascinating! Always interesting to read about the lives of famous inventors - good job.