Family Science Club

Pointing to the Author of Science


Books, wool and amber

Image: Amber, wool, and books - things that Michael Faraday had on hand as a child; 2016, taken by Kevin Weaver

Some Things from the Childhood of Michael Faraday, 1791-1867

Michael Faraday was born on September 22, 1791. He faced many difficulties as a child, growing up during the Industrial Revolution in London. The following information was gleaned from Michael Faraday, written by Charles Ludwig, Jr.

His father was a blacksmith and was ill much of the time. The family lived in poverty. Many people regarded Michael as of the lower class even into his adulthood.

In his early childhood Michael had a speech impediment. He could not pronounce the 'r' sound. He mispronounced his name Fawaday. People treated him roughly. He met an old man from Cockney. (They have a very unique way of speaking.) The man suggested that he observe where his tongue was when he spoke. (This is one technique that speech therapists still use.)

His parents, James and Margaret Faraday, followed the Sandemanian view of the Bible. They attended a congregation that met in a part of the city that most people preferred to avoid. Michael continued to be involved with this specific church even after becoming a respected scientist.

Michael received a rudimentary education. His parents could not afford to send him to school. However, he was a very curious young man. He enjoyed reading and would get books to read whenever he had the opportunity. He wanted to know how things worked.

Since he was not attending school, however, he was expected to find work to help support the family. His only prospect, being poor, seemed to be a chimney sweep or another equally disfiguring job.

Providentially, he was given a job as a delivery boy by George Riebau, a local bookbinder. When Riebau saw his potential, Riebau took Michael on as an apprentice bookbinder. He later used his experience as a bookbinder to neatly bind his own scientific notes.

His interest in science grew from his reading of the books he bound. He was especially interested in the subjects of electricity and magnetism. The Encyclopedia Britannica illustrated the experiments of famous scientists.

From this reading, Michael learned about the works of scientists such a Galvani and Volta. He tried his hand at repeating the experiments he read about. He tested static electricity, for example, with the amber Riebau kept in his shop.

Michael got his first taste of the scientific community when a frequent customer, Mr. Dance, gave him tickets to attend public lectures at the Royal Institution. The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 to encourage scientific study.

Sir Humphrey Davy performed experiments before the audience. Michael, captivated, took extensive notes of what he learned. He determined then that, despite the odds, he would become a scientist.