E. H. Hall and Physics at Hopkins: The Background to Discovery

  • O. Hannaway


Edwin Hall’s experiment, performed almost exactly one hundred years ago, had an elegant simplicity to it. A current from a carbon-zinc battery was passed through a strip of gold foil (2 cm. × 9 cm.) fixed firmly on a glass plate by means of brass clamps. The plate bearing the gold leaf was placed between the poles of an electromagnet is such a way that the lines of magnetic force passed perpendicularly through the horizontal plane of the foil. Opposite edges at the mid-point of the gold foil strip were tapped to a high-resistance galvanometer in order to detect any influence of the strong magnetic field on the current flowing through the gold foil. The results indicated the existence of an electromotive force at right angles to the direction of the primary current and perpendicular to the magnetic field. It was this transverse potential, produced by the action of an external magnetic field on a permanent current, which became known as “the Hall effect.”


Hall Effect Magnetic Permeability Journal Club Silver Wire Gold Foil 
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  1. 1.
    E. H. Hall, On a New Action of the Magnet on Electric Current, Amer. J. Math. 2:287 (1879). The account of Hall’s experiment given above is from this paper, p. 290.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    E. H. Hall, On the New Action of Magnetism on a permanent Electric Current, Amer. J. Sci. ser. 3, 20:161 (1880).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    idem, Phil. Mag. ser. 5, 10:301 (1880).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The original version of Hall’s thesis does not appear to have survived at Hopkins. The first Ph.D. in physics at Hopkins was awarded in 1879 to William White Jacques (1855–1932) for a thesis published as “distribution of Heat in the Spectra of Various Sources of Radiation,” John Wilson & Son, University Press, Cambridge (1879); see also, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts and Scis. 14: 142 (1879).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The Nation, Dec. 25, 1879, p. 44.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    John David Miller, “Henry Augustus Rowland and his Electromagnetic Researches,” Ph.D. thesis, Oregon State University (1970). See also the following articles by Miller, based upon his thesis: Rowland and the Nature of Electric Currents, Isis 63: 5 (1972).Google Scholar
  7. Rowland’s Magnetic Analogy to Ohm’s Law, Isis 66:230 (1975); and Rowland’s Physics, Physics Today 29:39 (July, 1976).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Robert Rosenberg is making a study of electrical engineering at Hopkins and its relationship to the Physics Department. His knowledge of the newly accessioned Presidential Papers in the Archives of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins was valuable to me on a number of points.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    The fullest and best account of Hall’s life remains P. W. Bridgman’s obituary notice, Edwin Herbert Hall 1855–1938, in “Nat. Acad. Biogr. Mem.,” vol. XXI (1939-40).Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Miller, Thesis (1970), pp. 189-190. See also, Hugh Hawkins, “Pioneer: A History of The Johns Hopkins University,” Cornell University Press, Ithaca (1960), pp. 45-46.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Miller, Thesis (1970), p. 282.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Quoted by Bridgman (ref. 8), pp. 74-75.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    The best indications of these sentiments are the occasional addresses of the individuals involved. For Gilman see D. C. Gilman, “University Problems in the United States,” New York (1898), for Rowland see the nontechnical papers in. “The Physical Papers of Henry Augustus Rowland,” The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (1902). No such collection exists for Remsen, but see 0. Hannaway, The German Model of Chemical Education in America: Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins (1876–1913), Ambix 23: 145 (1976).Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    The following account of Rowland’s education as a physicist is based largely on Miller, Thesis (1970), pp. 6-75.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    See, for instance, Rowland’s famous address before the AAAS in 1883, A plea for pure science, Proc. AAAS 32:105 (1883). The significance of this address is discussed in Daniel J. Kevles, “The Physicists: the History of a Scientific Community in Modern America,” Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York (1977), pp. 43-44.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Michael Faraday, “Experimental Researches in Electricity,” 3 vols., London, (1839–1855).Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    J. Clerk Maxwell, “A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism,” 2 vols., Oxford (1873).Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    H. A. Rowland, On Magnetic permeability, and the maximum of magnetism of iron, steel, and nickel, Phil. Mag. ser. 4, 46:140 (1873); and idem, On the magnetic permeability and maximum of magnetism of nickel and cobalt, Phil. Mag. ser. 4, 48:321 (1874).Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Rowland’s trip to Europe is discussed in Miller, Thesis (1970), pp. 90-102.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    Quoted in Miller, Thesis (1970), p. 97.Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    The “Berlin” experiment itself is described in H. A. Rowland, On the Magnetic Effect of Electric Convection, Amer. J. Sci. and Arts 15:30 (1878). The context and subsequent history of the experiment is fully discussed in Miller, Thesis (1970), pp. 114-182, and also in the same author’s article in Isis 63:6 (1972).Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    Miller, Thesis (1970), pp. 183-205. For testimony on the instrumentation at Hopkins, see ibid., pp. 293-295.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    This information can be gleaned from the class lists published in the University Circulars. See The Johns Hopkins University Circulars December 1879 — September 1882 (1882).Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    Hall, Amer. J. Math. 2:287 (1879). The passage from Maxwell is to be found in “A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism,” vol. 2 (1873), pp. 144-145.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 24.
    E. Edlund, Unipolar Induction, Phil. Mag., ser. 5, 6:289 (1878).Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    All three experimental procedures are described in Hall, Amer. J. Math. 2:287 (1879). More detail concerning the second unsuccessful procedure using the gilded disc is given in Hall, Phil. Mag. ser. 5, 10:301 (1880), where no mention is made of the silver wire experiment. The fact that the silver wire was drawn through a triangular die is a detail provided by Miller, Thesis (1970), p. 253, who obtained it from Hall’s laboratory notebook of the period which survives in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 26.
    Miller has also drawn attention to the relationship of Hall’s experiments to the “Berlin” experiment of Rowland. See esp. his article in Isis 63:19 (1972). He overlooks, however, the important clue provided by the second unsuccessful experimental procedure described by Hall.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • O. Hannaway
    • 1
  1. 1.History of Science DepartmentThe Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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