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Royal Institution of Great Britain

Faraday, Michael (1791-1867)


Reference code(s): GB 0116 Michael Faraday Collection

Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain

Title: Faraday, Michael (1791-1867)

Date(s): 1810-1868

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 4.572 metres

Name of creator(s): Faraday, Michael, 1791-1867. Chemist. Natural Philosopher.


Administrative/Biographical history:

Faraday was born the son of a blacksmith in Newington Butts, Southwark. It is not known where he was educated as a child, but the family moved north near Manchester Square. At 13, he worked as a newspaper boy for George Riebau of Blandford Street. He then became an apprentice for seven years in bookbinding under Riebau. In 1810 and 1811, he attended lectures on science given by silversmith John Tatum (1772-1858) in the city of London and took notes. These were shown to the son of a Member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) who in turn showed them to the Member who was so impressed he gave Faraday tickets to see Humphry Davy (1778-1829) lecture at the RI in 1812. After writing to Davy to ask for a job, he was appointed as a chemical assistant at the laboratory at the RI in 1813. In 1813 he travelled with Davy to France as an assistant, secretary and valet; subsequently visiting laboratories in Italy, Switzerland and Germany until April 1815. In 1816 he began his `Commonplace Book' and was elected Member of the City Philosophical Society from 1816 to 1819 giving lectures on chemical subjects. From 1816 to 1828, he published his work results in journals such as Quarterly Journal of Science, Philosophical Magazine and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. In 1821 he was appointed Superintendent of the RI to maintain the building. In 1825 he was appointed Director of the Laboratory and in 1833 he became Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the RI. In 1821 he discovered electro-magnetic rotations, the principle of the electric motor. In 1831 he discovered electro-magnetic induction; also in the early 1830s, he discovered the laws of electrolysis and coined words such as electrode, cathode, anode and ion. In 1845 he discovered the magneto-optical effect and diamagnetism developing the theory of the electromagnetic field. In 1824 he was elected to the Royal Society. He gave lectures at the RI between 1825 and 1862, establishing the Friday Evening Discourses and the Christmas Lectures for the young. In 1827 he delivered a course of lectures on chemical manipulation to the London Institution and he also gave lectures for medical students from St George's Hospital from the mid 1820s onwards. In 1829 he was appointed Scientific Adviser to the Admiralty. In 1830 he was Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich until 1851. In 1836 he was appointed Scientific Adviser to the Corporation of Trinity House, the English and Welsh lighthouse authority, until 1865. During the 1850s and 1860s, he introduced electricity to lighthouses under this position. In 1844 he conducted an enquiry with the geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875), into the Haswell Colliery, County Durham, explosion.

Faraday was a religious man of Sandemanian belief; he married Sarah Barnard, also of Sandemanian faith, in 1821. He was Deacon in the church between 1830 and 1840, an Elder between 1840 and 1844 and again between 1860 and 1864. He was given the Grace and Favour House at Hampton Court by Queen Victoria in 1858 where he retired to in 1861 and later died in 1867; he was buried in Highgate Cemetery.


Scope and content/abstract:

The papers are extensive covering Faraday's work in science. Details of his work on electro-magnetic induction, the laws of electrolysis and the theory of electro-magnetism are in the form of laboratory notebooks, lecture notes and various publications on experimental researchers in electricity. There are some administrative papers on the Royal Institution of Great Britain including cash books. The correspondence covers his work for the Admiralty and the Corporation of Trinity House whilst acting as Scientific Adviser; they also detail his general communication with people and other organisations. Other items include his book collection, scrapbooks, portfolio of portraits and apparatus. A few lacunae have been identified. There are no documents on his personal life or his work as Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: (F1/A-F1/N) Correspondence; (F2/A-F2/J) Experimental records; (F3/A-F3/H) Published works; (F4/A-F4K) Lectures attended by Faraday and Lectures given by Faraday; (F5/A-F5/H) Administration at the RI; (F6/1-F6/10) Bound Volumes by Michael Faraday containing papers of various authors; (F7/A-F7/E) Personal items of Michael Faraday; (F8/1-F8/12) Books belonging to Michael Faraday including the Life of Sir Humphry Davy by J. A. Paris (previous ref. HD30) ; (F9/1-F9/10) Books by Michael Faraday (one by James Faraday); (F10) Genealogical information; (F13/A-F13/F) Miscellaneous items including lectures and sermons; (F14) Photocopies and Photostats of letters held at other repositories;

Conditions governing access:

Access to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Keeper of Collections or the Assistant Archivist, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI).

Conditions governing reproduction:

Reproduction of material is permitted at the discretion of the Keeper of Collections, RI.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

general catalogue at the RI; guide to microfilm copy at the RI.


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Sarah Faraday, wife of Michael Faraday, gave papers to friends and family after Faraday's death, including Thomas John Fuller Deacon who married her niece, Caroline Reid.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in Royal Institution as a bequest from Michael Faraday in 1867; bequest from Thomas John Fuller Deacon in around 1901. Some material donated and purchased during the twentieth century.


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

The RI holds a microfilm copy of the bulk of the collection with the exception of the correspondence, book collection, scrapbooks, portfolio of portraits and apparatus (Ref: RI Reels 97583/1-17).

Related material:

The RI holds a microfilm copy of the bulk of the collection with the exception of the correspondence, book collection, scrapbooks, portfolio of portraits and apparatus - RI Reels 97583/1-17. This also has a copy of Faraday material deposited at the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) including travel diaries, the Commonplace Book and Philosophical Miscellany (reference: IEE MS SC 2) - RI Reels 97583/18-19; other Faraday correspondence are also at the IEE. The microfilm contains a copy of material deposited at the Guildhall Library on his work for the Corporation of Trinity House (reference: GL MS 30108/1, f. 1-281; GL MS 30108/2, f. 1-255; GL MS 30108/3, f. 1-275; GL MS 30108/4, f. 1-332; GL MS 30108/5; GL MS 30108A/1, p. 1-390; GL MS 30108A/2, p. 1-144; GL MS 30108B, p. 1-63) - RI Reels 97583/20-23.

Major deposits of Faraday's letters are located at: Trinity College, Cambridge; the University of Basle; the Royal Society; the British Library; the National Research Council, Canada; the Public Record Office; the Wellcome Institute Library. The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds portraits, busts, photographs, a large number of apparatus including the first electric transformer and generator, the first sample of Benzene and watercolours by Harriet Moore, of Michael Faraday.

Publication note:

The correspondence has been and is being published in six volumes, The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, edited by Dr Frank A. J. L James; IEE, London, 1991 to date. Faraday's Diary. Being the various philosophical notes of experimental investigations made by Michael Faraday, DCL, FRS, during the years 1820-1862 and bequeathed by him to the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Thomas Martin, 7 volumes and index, London, 1932-1936. Michael Faraday: A list of his lectures and published writings, Alan E. Jeffreys, London, 1960.



Archivist's note: Sources: general catalogue at the RI; guide to microfilm copy at the RI. Other useful published sources on Michael Faraday: Faraday Rediscovered: Essays on the Life and Work of Michael Faraday, 1791-1867, David Gooding and Frank A. J. L. James, Macmillan, London, 1985 (paperback 1989); Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist. A Study of Science and Religion in the Nineteenth Century, Geoffrey Cantor, Macmillan, London, 1991; Faraday (Macmillan, London, 1991) reprinted as Michael Faraday, Geoffrey Cantor, David Gooding and Frank A. J. L. James, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1996. The Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution of Great Britain is open weekdays during office hours. Description based on that created by NCUACS, University of Bath. Description compiled by Miss Ivone Martins, Assistant Archivist, RI.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: January 2001.

Electromagnetism | Magnetism
Natural philosophy x Science philosophy

Personal names
Barlow | John | 1798-1869 | Secretary of the Royal Institution of Great Britain
Brayley | Edward William | 1802-1870 | writer on science
Chance | James Timmins | 1814-1902 | glass manufacturer
Faraday | Michael | 1791-1867 | chemist and natural philosopher
Jones | Henry | Bence | 1813-1873 | physician x Bence Jones | Henry
Magrath | Edward | 1799-1856 | Secretary of the Athenaeum Club
Vincent | Benjamin | 1818-1899 | Sandemanian | Assistant Secretary of The Royal Institution of Great Britain

Corporate names
Royal Institution of Great Britain

London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe