21st April 1856. Genius!

‘From a long view of the history of mankind…there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19thc will be judged as Maxwell’s discovery of the Laws of Electro-magnetism.(1)

Today in 1856 James Clerk Maxwell was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at the age of 24. His greatest feat was the formation of equations which unified electro-magnetism and light-the basis of modern physics.

One of the delights in writing these Posts is to discover the many unknown natural philosophers, physicians, clergymen and the like, who have contributed to the work in various fields including that of magnetism, which culminated in the great theories of Maxwell and others.

One such was William Gilbert (Gilbard), physician to Queen Elizabeth I, whose works included ‘On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies’ and ‘The Great Magnet of Earth’ (1600).

Then in 1750 John Michell, clergyman and natural philosopher, wrote a treatise on ‘Artificial Magnets and Magnetism’, discovering its Inverse Square Law, where the Magnetic Force exerted by each Pole decreases in proportion to the square of the distance between them.

He also wrote a Treatise of Artificial Magnetism, a practical manual for seamen and instrument makers.


Another to find a practical use was Dr. Gowin Knight, a physicist and physician who discovered a process to strongly magnetize steel, an idea taken up by the Royal Navy.

Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory, where electricity and magnetism are mutually dependent (see Diagram), was the discovery of the second great unification force in physics after Newton’s on Gravity.

It was to be the foundation of electrodynamics, optics, electric circuits, radio, television, telephones and IT.

Many were to make their names later, such as Marconi in his pioneering work on wireless, after Maxwell had proposed the idea, in the 1860’s, of the generation of electromagnetic waves travelling at the speed of light.

(1) Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard P Feynman.


Mechanical waves can’t travel through a vacuum and require a medium such as air to travel through.

Photons are particles of electromagnetic energy which we see as light, but can cause sunburn.

Ref: wikipedia.org/james_clerk_maxwell.

Ref: khanacademy.org/physics/magnetic-field.

Ref: engineeringhalloffame.org/profile. Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.





Tags: ,

About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: