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William Gilbert
The father of the science of electricity and magnetism was William Gilbert.
William Gilbert
William Gilbert
 William Gilbert
Review of "De Magnete" by William Gilbert 
"On the Magnet" by William Gilbert of Colchester
Related Innovations
By Mary Bellis

The accredited father of the science of electricity and magnetism was the English scientist, William Gilbert, who was a physician and man of learning at the court of Elizabeth. Prior to him, all that was known of electricity and magnetism was what the ancients knew, that the lodestone possessed magnetic properties and that amber and jet, when rubbed, would attract bits of paper or other substances of small specific gravity. William Gilbert's great treatise De magnete, magneticisique corporibus" or "On the Magnet", printed in Latin in 1600, containing the fruits of his researches and experiments for many years, indeed provided the basis for a new science.

William Gilbert's De magnete, magneticisique corporibusWilliam Gilbert first coined the term "electricity" from the Greek word for amber. Gilbert wrote about the electrification of many substances  in his "De magnete, magneticisique corporibus". He was also the first person to use the terms electric force, magnetic pole, and electric attraction. William Gilbert was a pioneer of the experimental method and the first to explain the magnetic compass.

According to Dr. David P. Stern of NASA: "William Gilbert was fascinated by magnets. Britain was a major seafaring nation in 1588 when the Spanish Armada was defeated, opening the way to British settlement of America. British ships depended on the magnetic compass, yet no one understood why it worked. Did the pole star attract it (as Columbus once speculated), or was there a magnetic mountain at the pole, which ships should would never approach, because the sailors thought its pull would yank out all their iron nails and fittings? Did the smell of garlic interfere with the action of the compass, which is why helmsmen were forbidden to eat it near a ship's compass? For nearly 20 years William Gilbert conducted ingenious experiments (among others, making sure that garlic had no effect on compasses) to understand magnetism. Until then, scientific experiments were not in fashion: instead, books relied on quotes of ancient authorities that was where the myth about garlic started."

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