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Henry, Joseph

    Full Name: Henry, Joseph

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1797

    Date Died: 1878

    Place Born: Albany, NY, USA

    Place Died: Washington, DC, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): American (North American), architecture (object genre), and sculpture (visual works)


    Inventor and physicist; conducted the first classes in architectural history in the United States. Henry was the son of William and Ann Alexander (Henry). His grandparents had been immigrants from Scotland. Henry lived with his maternal grandmother at Galway, NY until he was thirteen when he returned to Albany to live with his widowed mother. He read much at the village library in Galway, particular drama. He joined a group of amateur actors, and there encountered a book on natural sciences. He attended advanced classes of the Albany Academy. He received an appointment to a surveying party for State of New York. In the spring of 1826 he was elected to the professorship of mathematics and natural philosophy in the Albany Academy. He married to Harriet L. Alexander of Schenectady, NY in 1830, his first cousin. In 1832 Henry was appointed professor of natural philosophy at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, N. J. (now Princeton University). That year he began teaching the college’s first fine arts course, a series of lectures on architecture. His course classified architecture by type (cival, military, naval), by the style or era (Greek, Roman, Italian, Chinese, Gothic) and building material (alabaster, white marble, variegated, etc.). He also taught courses in geology, mineralogy and astronomy. As an architectural “authority” he was responsible for a master plan of Princeton, much of which was followed. Henry turned over his courses to Albert B. Dod (1805-1845), a mathematician (and skillful lecturer), who focused more on spiritual development than an analysis of styles. In 1846 he was appointed the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washgington, D. C., but it was not fully realized until 1848. Henry diverted a large portion of the income of the Institution to support of the museum, art gallery, laboratory and library. He helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Science and acted as it second president. He was also a founding member of the Philosophical Society of Washington (1871). He died from nephritis at his home in Washgington, D. C. As an inventor, Henry is credited with building the first electromagnetic telegraph.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Papers of Joseph Henry. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press/Braziller,1972ff.; [numerous titles in the physical sciences].


    Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. The Eye of the Tiger: The Founding and Development of the Department of Art and Archaeology, 1883-1923, Princeton University. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology and Art Museum, 1983, p. 7; Magie, William Francis. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: C. Scribner’s sons, 1928-1936.


    "Henry, Joseph." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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