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The Father of Electricity: Michael Faraday (1791–1867)

The invention of electricity has been of paramount importance to mankind, and it is indispensable to the functioning of modern society. Without electricity, cars would not run, escalators would not operate, lights would not turn on, and computers would not work—to name just a few of the many conveniences we depend on today. Yet the reputation of Michael Faraday, the "Father of Electricity," is based not on his achievements in the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry but on his faith in Christ. The man who invented electricity proclaimed at the end of his life: “My entire life has been to serve my God through science.”

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Faraday was born in 1791 near London, England. His father, a blacksmith, was often ill and unable to work. Because the family was poor, Faraday never received a complete, formal education. After graduating from primary school, he got a job as an apprentice in a small print shop. This job provided him the opportunity to read, and the print shop gave him access to books about many different subjects. Fortunately for young Faraday, his boss at the print shop nurtured him as an apprentice, much like an attentive teacher would teach his students.

He developed a love for books about physics and chemistry and began to regularly attend lectures of a scientific nature. When he finished his apprenticeship training at the print shop in 1812, Faraday decided to devote himself full-time to a career in science. He started auditing lectures given by the English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy (1778–1829) and by John Tatum (1772–1858), the founder of the British Municipal Philosophy Association. He attended lectures, absorbing the information and meticulously taking notes. He soon handed over a bound copy of his 300-page notebook to Davy for his inspection. Immediately, Sir Davy recognized his efforts with encouraging words, followed not long afterwards with an offer for Faraday to become his lab assistant. Thus, Faraday could work and learn at the same time under Sir Davy, thereby opening a wide perspective for him in the realm of science.


Invited by Davy to accompany him and his wife on an 18-month European lecture tour, Faraday was privileged to meet many influential scientists. On their return in 1815, he assisted Professor Davy in conducting many chemistry experiments while engaging in experiments independently on his own. In 1842, he was elected to the professional London Royal Society. A year later, he discovered an important essential hydrocarbon compound known as “benzene,” and thus invented the benzene lamp. The same year, he was placed in charge of the professional British Royal Laboratory and soon afterwards became professor of chemistry, taking over the post left after the death of Professor Davy.

In 1831, Faraday made a crucial discovery, the “electric power response phenomenon,” which laid the foundation for subsequent developments in electronic industry innovations. At the same time, he discovered “fixed laws of magnetic resistance and Faraday electrolysis.” In addition, he developed the “magnetic rotation machine,” a prototype for the invention of the electric motor which was to come later.


Faraday, a superb empirical scientist, could convey his thoughts in clear, simple language. Yet his mastery of mathematics was limited to only fundamental algebra, being unfamiliar with more advanced mathematics like calculus. Even so, Scottish physicist James Maxwell summarized the findings of Faraday and other scholars to converge into the Maxwell Equations, which have become the foundation of present electric magnetism theories. To commemorate Faraday, the unit of electricity storage has been termed a “Faraday unit,” which is part of the corresponding international unit system. Faraday’s place in the realm of science is further attested to by Einstein, who kept a picture of Faraday on his office wall, along with ones of Maxwell and Isaac Newton.

Faraday’s accomplishments brought him praise and appreciation from all sectors of society. But the lure of hefty salaries, offers to be honored with lordship, and an invitation to become the chairman of the professional British Royal College did not tempt him. Faraday declined all of these offers graciously. He responded: “Arrogance is a vice; and when a person brags, God leaves him to choose his own destiny, which may be eternal death.”


Faraday, a devout Christian, attended Sunday services at his church every week with his wife. Elected twice as an elder of his church, he also preached, considering it his service to God. Over 150 of his sermon notes have been preserved, as well as the Bible he read and preached from. The underlining and detailed markings in his Bible clearly indicate that Faraday worked hard to understand the Bible in depth.

Faraday credits his father with having the greatest impact on his life. He saw his father as emblematic of God, commenting: “I was brought up in a blacksmith’s home. I was the son of a blacksmith. My entire life has been lived under edifying trials by the giant living blacksmith—God Himself.”

Modern psychologists often emphasize the negative influences a faulty upbringing can have on an individual, and many people want to believe they are unfortunate victims of their circumstances. Faraday, however, was not of this opinion. He stated: “My family's poverty did not leave any trace of suffering on me. On the contrary, our entire family has always been dear to the hearts of my parents. My family’s poverty was a blessing bestowed by God. It was by no means a curse!” Faraday further pointed out: “The reason I was so adamant in persevering my relentless efforts devoted to science was because of the parallel positive—the fathomlessly loving, nurturing, and shaping influences from my Heavenly Father, as well as my earthly father.” Faraday insisted on believing the truth of the Bible. He remarked: “Since mankind is provided with guidelines from this splendid Bible, why still walk on wayward paths and go astray? The Bible is the only proficient pilot to guide every person under all circumstances.” He further remarked: “Believing in Jesus’ godliness and redemption is a gift from God. Obeying the great mission of Jesus is the assurance of faith.”

Approaching his death, Faraday stated: “My soul is very peaceful, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).


The life of Michael Faraday was full of humility and devotional piety. He loved to do kindly deeds and help the poor and desperate, always praying and reading the Bible with them. He also shared his money with the church, to which he remained faithful throughout his life. He faced scientific accomplishments and their limitations honestly, and through them, he came face to face with the mystery and infinity of God.

Faraday is honored as one of the greatest empirical scientists of all times. He could have been buried in Westminster Cemetery together with other famous and great people, yet he declined, choosing instead to be buried next to his wife in Highgate Cemetery. Despite this, his admirers erected a memorial stone to commemorate him, next to the tomb of Isaac Newton.

Dr. Tai L. Chow is a retired university physics professor who lives in Monterey Park, California. This article first appeared in Chinese in the January 2016 issue of Chinese Today. It was translated into English by Philip Yu, a violin teacher in New Jersey.

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