Royal Institution to mark 200 years of the electric motor

The Royal Institution will mark the 200th anniversary of Michael Faraday’s development of the world’s first electric motor.

Michael Faraday presenting one of his CHRISTMAS LECTURES, in the Ri theatre in 1855.
Royal Institution

Royal Institution to mark 200 years of the electric motor

The Royal Institution will begin a year-long series of activities from September, to mark the 200th anniversary of Michael Faraday’s development of the world’s first electric motor, the science charity announced today.

Activities will begin on Friday 3 September – 200 years to the day since Faraday’s world-shaping breakthrough – with an opportunity to name one of 200 seats in the very same theatre in which Faraday lectured on many occasions to an audience of Ri Members and the general public. The ‘200 seats for 200 years’ fundraising campaign is designed to help secure the future of the Ri, after it’s income was severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also planned from September 2021 onwards are a series of talks in the Ri’s theatre focusing on the many significant discoveries made by Michael Faraday, and their modern-day application, and a series of videos and short films, available anywhere in the world via the Ri’s 1 million+ subscriber YouTube channel, both of which are generously supported by the Faraday Institution. A Family Fun Day will give the scientists of tomorrow the opportunity to enjoy hands-on, Faraday-themed science, together with their families.

The accredited Faraday collection held by the Ri – the largest in the world – is already part of the UNESCO Memory of the World register and the Ri will be seeking to further enhance the collection’s national and international significance. In addition, a special exhibition at the Ri is planned to showcase rare items that are not usually on display, or are previously unseen by the public. 

Lucinda Hunt, Director of the Ri, said: “Michael Faraday is internationally recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time. His development of the world’s first electric motor fundamentally changed important principles of science 200 years ago and continues to shape our world today.

“We are pleased to be marking this milestone anniversary through activities to engage everyone with science; another vitally important area where Faraday was ahead of his time.”

Daniel Glaser, Director of Science Engagement at the Ri, said: “Faraday was a self-taught scientist, a relatively lowly educated blacksmith’s son, who didn’t even have the education to be able to explain his world-shaping discovery in mathematical terms. Yet he became one of the greatest experimental scientists of all time.

“So his is an inspirational story, and one which is as relevant today as it was 200 years ago. Science is for all and anyone can make their mark, whatever their background.”

In 1820 Hans Christian Ørsted announced his discovery that the flow of an electric current through a wire produced a magnetic field around the wire. André-Marie Ampère then showed that the magnetic force was apparently a circular one, producing in effect a cylinder of magnetism around the wire. 

But it was self-taught British scientist Michael Faraday (1791–1867) who was the first to understand what these discoveries implied: if a magnetic pole could be isolated, it ought to move constantly in a circle around a current-carrying wire.

In 1821 Faraday, while Superintendent of the House at the Royal Institution, set about devising his own experiment using a small mercury bath. This device, which transformed electrical energy into mechanical energy, was the world’s first electric motor.

Its development was the foundation of Faraday’s work on electro-magnetism which subsequently led to his construction of the electric dynamo, ancestor of modern power generators, and the first time it was made possible to harness electricity for the practical benefit of society. 


For more information please contact Robert Davies in the Ri press office: +44 (0)20 7670 2991 /