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Henry Rowland papers

Identifier: MS-0006

Scope and Contents

The collection spans the years 1793 to 1970, but the bulk of the material is that created by Rowland and dates from 1868 to 1901. The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, research notebooks, lab notes and calculations, patents and agreements, lectures, writings, bills and receipts, reprints, and newspaper clippings.

The collection is particularly strong in documenting Rowland's contributions to the history of technology. His student notebooks, writings and lab notes reveal much about the experimental processes of physics in the late nineteenth century.

The notebook series (Series 4) covers both Rowland's days as a student at RPI and his years as a professor at Hopkins. The RPI notebooks (Boxes 20-22) are useful for the information they provide about physics and engineering training in the late nineteenth century. Of particular interest are Rowland's notes on lectures he attended in mechanics and astronomy, and his technical drawing notebooks.

Three items in the writing series (Series 5) also illustrate Rowland's earliest work. They are "The Work Done on Unequal Masses by Equal Froces in Equal Times" (1868), "The Magnetic Electric Machine. Hints on the Improvement. September 1868," and his senior thesis, "Steam Engine with Variable Cut-off" (1870).

Before beginning his appointment at Hopkins, Rowland, at Daniel Coit Gilman's suggestion, took an extended trip to Europe. His aim was to study both experimental and teaching methods in university physics departments. He visited Kings College, Cambridge; University College, London; University of Edinburgh; University Glasgow; College of France; Leipzig and Gratz. Rowland kept a notebook with his impressions (Box 22). This, along with his letters to Gilman document the state of European science in the late nineteenth century.

Rowland depended on his graduate students to help him in his research. Two of the notebooks from the Hopkins period contain lab data collected by graduate fellows. An 1882 notebook (Box 25) contains experimental data on diffraction gratings compiled by Charles Herschel Koyl; "Experiments upon Roentgen's X-Rays" contains results obtained by other students.

The Johns Hopkins University series (Series 2) documents the codification of scientific research in the late nineteenth century. Rowland's reports on the work of the Physical Laboratory, lists of lab supplies and books purchased, and proposed floor plans indicate his desire to properly train a new generation of physicists. Rowland was interested in two significant scientific developments of the nineteenth century: the telegraph and hydroelectric power. He parlayed his expertise with electrical circuits into a business venture when he founded the Rowland Multiplex Printing Telegraph Company in 1898. Much of its success was due to the work of Joseph Penniman and Henry Wiegand. Former students of Rowland, the two set up and displayed the telegraph to the public. Letters from them to Rowland in the Rowland Multiplex Printing Telegraph Company series describe their efforts. The bulk of the correspondence covers public trials in Jersey City (1898-1899) and at the Paris Exhibition of 1900.

In 1892, the Cataract Construction Company of New York undertook a study to determine the best type of dynamo to use in the proposed hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls. They retained Henry Rowland as a consultant. Rowland reviewed proposals by competing companies: General Electric, Westinghouse, Atelier Oerlikon and Cie. l'Industrie; and evaluated the recommendations presented by another consulting engineer, George Forbes. When the company refused to pay Rowland's final bill, he sued. Correspondence, research notes, proposals and court transcripts form the Cataract Construction series.

Although both the Cataract Construction Company and the Rowland Multiplex Telegraphic Company series contain most of the correspondence relevent to their contents, additional material may be found in the general correspondence series. For example, Louis de Goll's (president of the Printing Telegraph Company) letters to Rowland and correspondence from William Marbury, who represented Rowland in the Cataract case, are filed alphabetically in the correspondence series. De Goll's letters illustrate the legal issues and increasing bureaucratization of the patent process.

The letters in the correspondence series comment mostly on scientific developments. John Brashear, the manufacturer in charge of the production of plates for Rowland's diffraction gratings, wrote extensively to Rowland. Colleagues and former students updated him on the status of their work.

The correspondence series also contains Rowland's letters to his family. Begun when he was a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic (1874), and continuing through his tenure at Hopkins, they illustrate academic and family life in the late nineteenth century.

Rowland kept informed of other scientific research through several collections of reprints. Among his papers were the first of three reprint collections. This was Rowland's personal reprint collection and is Series 8 of Rowland's papers.


  • Creation: 1793-1970


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Henry Augustus Rowland was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania on November 27, 1848, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York) in 1870 as a civil engineer and was engaged during 1871 in the surveying of a railroad in western New York state. For a time he taught at Wooster University, but in 1872 he returned to Rensselaer as instructor in physics, becoming Assistant Professor in 1874. Rowland spent a year abroad studying with Helmholtz in Berlin, and examining physical laboratories in Europe. In 1876 he accepted the Chair of Physics, with charge of the laboratory, in the newly founded Johns Hopkins University. He held this post until his death in 1901. He married Henrietta Harrison in 1890. They had three children, Harriet, Henry and Davidge.

Rowland's original work was extensive and his findings drew on numerous researches made under his supervision at Johns Hopkins. Among his achievements were his discoveries in the determination of the mechanical equivalent of heat, and his determination of the standard Ohm. He gained a world-wide reputation by his large diffraction gratings. These were exhibited at the National Academy of Sciences in 1883 and subsequently at various international exhibitions. He served as an engineering consultant for the harnessing of the water power of Niagara Falls to create electricity. The last years of his life were devoted to refining and marketing his version of the multiplex telegraph.

Numerous degrees and honors were conferred upon Rowland for his scientific work. He received the degree of Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1880 and that of the LLD from Yale in 1895 and from Princeton in 1896. He became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1881 for service on the jury of the electrical exhibition at the Electrical Congress in Paris that year, and in 1896 he was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor.


23.35 Cubic Feet (2 letter size document boxes, 45 legal size document boxes, 2 legal half-size document boxes, 3 flat boxes (15.5 x 12 x 3 inches))

Language of Materials



Henry Augustus Rowland (November 27, 1848 – April 16, 1901) was an American physicist. Between 1899 and 1901 he served as the first president of the American Physical Society. The collection spans the years 1793 to 1970, but the bulk of the material is that created by Rowland and dates from 1868 to 1901. The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, research notebooks, lab notes and calculations, patents and agreements, lectures, writings, bills and receipts, reprints, and newspaper clippings.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated at different times: approximately 100 items by Mrs. Henry A. Rowland in 1943; the notebooks by Dr. John Whitehead in 1943; and the bulk of the manuscripts by Rowland's children, Harriet and Davidge Rowland, in about 1950.

In July 1991, Mrs. Elizabeth Rowland Mayor, Henry Rowland's granddaughter, donated approximately 100 items including correspondence, awards, reprints, and a diary.


Includes accession number 91-92.1.

Related Materials

Additional information about Rowland's work in the University may be found in his letters to Daniel Coit Gilman (MS.0001: The Daniel Coit Gilman papers, Series 1).

Henry Wiegand's student and research notebooks make up MS.0127: Henry Hazlehurst Wiegand notebooks.

The David Sterrett Pindell notebook makes up MS.0207, which, along with those kept by W. J. A. Bliss (MS.0110), provide the best record of Rowland's classroom lectures.

The American Philosophical Society Library owns microfilm of a scrapbook about Rowland. See PAAV88-A427.

Separated Materials

Rowland kept informed of other scientific research through several collections of reprints. Among his papers were the first of three reprint collections. This was Rowland's personal reprint collection and is Series 8 of Rowland's papers.

Rowland also owned a separate reprint collection which had been gathered by George G. Stokes of the Royal Society. These reprints were bound topically as were Rowland's and were cataloged in the Eisenhower general stacks. The largest number of the Stokes Collection volumes have the call number QC 3 S87 vol. 1-52. There are other volumes of Stokes reprints under other call numbers.

The third collection of reprints formed the Henry A. Rowland Memorial Library. These too were bound topically and have various call numbers beginning QC 3 in the Eisenhower general stacks. There are 128 volumes on topics such as absorption, metallic reflection, electrical discharges in gases, ionization, magneto-optics, spectra of the elements, spectrum memoirs, physics of the stars, and the papers of William Wallace Campbell, A. Crova, Elster, Julius Geitel, Julius Fenyi, George Hale, W.N. Hartley, Angelo Secchi, Samuel Pierpont Langley, Eugen Cornelius Joseph von Lommel, Ch. Montigny, Henri Poincare, Charles Piazzi Smyth, George G. Stokes, Peter Guthrie Tait, Emilio Villari, H.C. Vogel, F.L.O. Wadsworth, Weidemann and Schmidt, R. Wolf, and R.W. Wood.

Separated Materials

Nine notebooks were transferred to the W.J.A. Bliss papers (MS.0110) in 1988.

2,000 reprints, which were bound by Rowland into topics, were removed from MS.0006 in November 1995 and processed as a separate collection (MS.0377). Photocopies of the titles of the reprints in each volume are in Box 44.

Twenty additional volumes of this Reprint Series have been alienated from the collection. These volumes are labeled "Light" and are in the Eisenhower Stacks (call # QC3.L72v.1-20).

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Margaret N. Burri. Liz Beckman revised the biographical note and scope and content notes for series 1 and series 5 in this finding aid in July 2023 to bring them into compliance with Johns Hopkins guidelines for inclusive and conscientious description (2023). The previous version of the finding aid is available upon request.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA