|November 1, 1997|
Joseph Henry, overlooked inventor responsible for development of telephone, featured in Union College exhibit
The contributions of an uncelebrated 19th-century scientist whose discoveries were instrumental in advancing the work of inventors like Edison, Bell and Morse will be featured in a unique exhibit at Union College's Nott Memorial Nov. 6 through Jan. 18.
Albany native Joseph Henry, a scientist who eventually became the first head of the Smithsonian Institution, never sought the fame or fortune that so drove the careers of some of his contemporaries. Instead, he was content to revel in pure science while others used his discoveries and his encouragement to develop and commercialize inventions like the telephone, telegraph and electric motor.
The exhibit will include, among many other artifacts, the world's first commercial telephone, invented and built by Alexander Graham Bell, on loan from the Smithsonian. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Hours are noon to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and noon to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday. (Between Nov. 22 and Jan. 3, hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily except holidays.)
There will be an opening reception and gallery talk on Thursday, Nov. 13, at 4 p.m. in the Nott Memorial. Frank Wicks, Union professor of mechanical engineering and curator of the exhibit, will give a talk titled "Joseph Henry: An Enduring Legacy." The exhibit is on display in the Nott Memorial's second-floor Mandeville Gallery.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Henry's birth.
The University at Albany and the Albany Academy also have planned events to commemorate the occasion. On Dec. 2, the University at Albany will host a daylong conference on Henry, featuring Mark Rothenberg from the Smithsonian and Frank A. J. L. James from the Royal Institute. (For information, call 442-4500 or http://www.albany.edu/physics/jhenry.html On Dec. 17 (Henry's birthday), at 7:30 p.m., Albany Academy will hold an evening program at the Joseph Henry Memorial at the old Albany Academy building in Albany. (For more information, call 766-3875.)
Henry, who grew up in Galway, taught physics at Albany Academy and Princeton University, helped found the Dudley Observatory in Schenectady, and became the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
He was the inventor of the electric magnet, the electric transformer, and many other electrical devices. He was the first person to send a message over an electric wire (nearly 20 years before Samuel F. B. Morse), and he mentored both Morse on his telegraph and Alexander Graham Bell on the telephone. In fact, without Henry's encouragement, Bell might have halted his research. The later work of such giants as Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and Steinmetz owed much to Henry.
Union College, the nation's first institution to recognize Henry's genius in a formal way, granted him an honorary degree in 1829. The Union College exhibit marks the first time these Henry artifacts have been on exhibit together.
The scientific community has recognized Henry by naming the international unit of electric induction after him. Along with the watt, the volt, and the amp is the henry, an integral component of the modern conceptual apparatus of electricity.
The exhibit at Union on Henry's life and scientific contributions will include:
The world's first telephone developed for commercial use invented and produced by Alexander Graham Bell, on loan from the Smithsonian;
The world's first device for sending a message over an electric wire, the forerunner of the telegraph, on loan from the New York State Museum.
A working 1888 Edison electric motor, whose design was based on the discoveries of Joseph Henry;
The relay device based on Henry's design which made Samuel F. B. Morse's telegraph a practical commercial possibility, on loan from the Smithsonian;
A working replica of the world's first electric magnet used for commercial purposes, designed by Joseph Henry, on loan from the Penfield Museum in Ironville, N.Y. This magnet inspired Thomas Davenport to invent the first patentable electric motor. (This replica was made by General Electric engineers in 1959 in recognition of the world's first industrial use of electricity, which took place in the Adirondack community of Ironville in 1830.)
Additional important Henry inventions and artifacts from the Smithsonian and other museums will be displayed, together with documents, photographs, and other archival materials.