The Discovery of the Hall Effect: Edwin Hall’s Hitherto Unpublished Account

  • Katherine Russell Sopka


An annotated transcript of Edwin Hall’s notebook account of his 1879 laboratory investigations of the transverse effect of a magnetic field applied at right angle to the direction of electric current in a conductor.


Electric Current Hall Effect Electromotive Force Magnet Circuit Gold Foil 
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  1. 1.
    Amer. Jour. Math. 2:287 (1879). The exact date when this publication reached the hands of readers is not clear since it was in the “September” issue, but Hall’s paper and appended note are dated November 19 and 22, respectively.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Phil. Mag.(Series 5) 9:225 (1880). This was in the March issue and bore the notation “From a separate impression from the American Journal of Mathematics’ 1879, communicated by the Author.”.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On the new action of magnetism on a permanent electric current, Amer. Jour. Sci. 20:161 (1880) and Phil. Mag.(Series 5) 10:301 (1880).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The notebook described here is the only one presently known to exist from among those used by Hall during his years at the Johns Hopkins University. It is clear, however, from references made by Hall in this notebook that he did keep at least one other “Experiment Book”.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    J. Clerk Maxwell Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism was published for the first time in 1873 by the Clarendon Press of Oxford University.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Charles Sheldon Hastings, Associate in Physics at the Johns Hopkins University 1876–1883.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bunsen’s cells were zinc carbon batteries, invented by Robert Wilhelm Bunsen in 1843. These double fluid cells (sulfuric and nitric acids) yield an emf of 1.9 volts.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Spencer Hedden Freeman was a fellow graduate student of Hall.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    William White Jacques received his Ph.D. in physics at the Johns Hopkins University in 1879 and was a “Fellow by Courtesy” in the Physics Department during the academic year 1879–80.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Brown Ayres was a Fellow in Mathematics, 1879–80, who also studied physics with H. A. Rowland.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    While working in Helmholtz’ laboratory in Berlin during the year 1875–6 H. A. Rowland successfully demonstrated the magnetic effect of a rotating charged disk. For further discussion of this work see J. D. Miller, op. cit. pp. 114-135.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Edward Leamington Nichols was a Fellow in the Physics Department in 1879–81. Later, 1887–1919, he taught at Cornell University and was a founding editor of The Physical Review.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The significance of the thickness of the metallic strip is now understood with the recognition that a crucial element in the Hall Effect is the current density rather than the total current.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Note 1.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    “Ganot” is Hall’s shortened version of the title Elementary Treatise on Physics Experimental and Applied: For the Use of Colleges and Schools, translated and edited from Ganot’s Elements de Physique by E. Atkinson and published in New York by William Wood and Company. This work went through many editions in French and English and was widely used as a college text in the United States. Presumably the Faraday experiment referred to by Hall is one in which a metallic conductor shaped in a double loop and carrying a current can be mounted in such a way that it rotates in the presence of a suitably oriented magnetic field. Such an apparatus is pictured and described on page 817 of the 1886 edition of Ganot’s Physics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Russell Sopka
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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