The History of Magnetism

The History of Magnetism

Magnets were discovered independently of ancient cultures in China, Egypt and Greece.


They discovered that magnetite (the magnetic iron stone) attracted iron and always pointed in a north-south direction when rotated freely. The first mention of magnetism can be found in the “Book of the Yellow Emperor on Internal Medicine”, which dates backto 2000 BC.

Until 1200 BC, the properties of magnetite were used in China and Europe in a wide range of ways in navigation, construction and healing.

The Greek poet Homer referred to magnetite in his works around the 9th century BC.

The Greek physicians Hippocrates (460-377 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) described the benefits of magnetite in their writings and Cleopatra (69-30 BC) she is said to have worn a magnetite on her foreheadbecause she believed that its properties worked against aging.

Galen (130-200 A.D.), the Greek physician who concretized the work of those who represented the foundations of modern medicine, refers in his works to magnetism.

The Persian physician Ali Abbas (930-994 A.D.) describes the use of magnets in his “Royal Book” – a publication that was to be used by doctors for the next 100 years.

In the late 13th century, the French scientist Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt (1220-1270) recorded the magnetic field of a magnetic iron stone with the help of a compass and reported on his findings in the “Epistola de Magnete”(Letters on Magnetism).

The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1543) promoted the use of magnets throughout Europe.

The English scientist William Gilbert (1544-1603) was the court physician of Queen Elizabeth I and wrote six volumes entitled “De Magnete” (About the Magnet). In his work, Gilbert made the astonishing claim that the Earth is a gigantic spherical magnet with north and south poles.

In this section of history, significant new lands were discovered and many battles were won at sea. It is therefore no coincidence that scientists were very stunned in the 17th century when they noticed that the direction of the compass needle was slowly shifting for decades.

Edmund Halley (1656-1742), an English astronomer famous for his theory on the orbits of comets, suspected that the Earth consists of layers, each of which is independently magnetized and slowly rotates in conjunction with the others.

The Austrian physicist Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) claimed that“all bodies are magnets capable of communicating this magnetic principle”. His theories made the use of magnets popular in therapeutic medicine of the 18th century.

In 1795, the American physician Elisha Perkins was awarded a US patent for a magnetic apparatus, which he had developed for use in humans and horses.

The Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) was the first to discover in 1820 that electricity and magnetism are related. Oersted confirmed Gilbert’s theories on the subject and laid the foundations for the more complex developments on electromagnetism of the French scientist André Marie Ampere (1775-1836).

The English physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was the first to start interpreting the theories of Oersted and Ampere and used his knowledge to build the first electric motor. This was to lead to a variety of inventions that changed the modern world, from hydroelectric power plants to modest washing machines.

the German researcher Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) – who is named as one of the founders of modern geography – beat his German colleague and one of the greatest mathematicians of his time, Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) at about the same time to use his talent to solve the riddles of magnetism. Until this time, only the direction of magnetic force had been measured. Gauss found a method that allowed him to measure the magnetic strength using another magnet he used.

In 1886, the American physician C.J. Thacher advertised a range of magnetic garments in his catalogue. Around the same time, the American Robert Bartholow made some interesting observations on magnets placed directly on the skin,and noted them in his book “Medical Electricity”.

In 1929, the Japanese geophysicist Motonori Matuyama (1884-1958) made an important discovery when he examined the traces of the Earth’s magnetic field in volcanic rock. He concluded that the Earth’s magnetic field must have reversed its polarity several times over the past two million years.

In 1976, the Japanese physician Kyoichi Nakagawa, based on his research on the consequences of modern life, developed a theory that he called “magnetic field deficiency syndrome”.

In the course of the 20th century, new and stronger magnets were developed, including rare earth metal magnets in the 70s and 80s. These new magnets are important for the technology and industrial sectors and spark new interest in the use of magnets in the areas of comfort and support.

In 1997, Dr. Carlos Vallbona conducted a study of magnets at the Baylor Institute of Rehabilitation Research, known as the Baylor Study.

In 2003, Nikken launched the PalmMag™ — a revolutionary product using a new type of magnetic technology called two-axis magnetic rotation.

This is followed by many further advances in the development of magnetic technology at NIKKEN as well as its conversion into products for everyday use.

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