Michael Faraday (1791-1867)

Biography of Michael Faraday

  • Michael Faraday portrait.

    Michael Faraday.


Ri positions

  • Laboratory Assistant, 1813,1815-1826
  • Director of the Laboratory, 1825-1867
  • Fullerian Professor of Chemistry, 1833-1867
  • Superintendent of the House, 1852-1867
    (Acting 1821–1826)
    (Assistant 1826–1852)

Michael Faraday was born in Newington Butts, Southwark, the son of a Sandemanian blacksmith who had moved from the North West of England.

He served an apprenticeship with George Riebau as a bookbinder from 1805 to 1812. He was Assistant in the Royal Institution’s laboratory for part of 1813 and again from 1815 to 1826 (touring the Continent with Humphry Davy (qv) in the interim). He was appointed Assistant Superintendent of the House of the Royal Institution in 1821, Director of the Laboratory in 1825 and six years later the Fullerian Professorship of Chemistry was created for him. In the mid 1820s he founded both the Friday Evening Discourses and the CHRISTMAS LECTURES and delivered many lectures in both series himself. He was appointed Scientific Adviser to the Admiralty in 1829, was Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich between 1830 and 1851 and Scientific Adviser to Trinity House from 1836 to 1865.

His major discoveries include electro–magnetic rotations (1821), benzene (1825), electro-magnetic induction (1831), the laws of electrolysis and coining words such as electrode, cathode, ion (early 1830s) the magneto-optical effect and diamagnetism (both 1845) and thereafter formulating the field theory of electro-magnetism.

He was twice offered the Presidency of the Royal Society, but declined on both occasions. He publicly stated several times that he would not accept a knighthood, but no evidence has been found that he was ever offered one. He was, however, awarded a Civil List Pension in 1836 and in 1858 the Queen provided him with a Grace and Favour House at Hampton Court where he died.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


The Ri holds a large number of Faraday's papers and correspondence, including lecture notes and experimental notebooks. Also Faraday's magnetic laboratory is preserved at the Ri along with much of his scientific apparatus.

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