The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Oersted, Hans Christian
OERSTED, Hans Christian, Danish physicist: b. Rudkjöbing, 14 Aug. 1777; d. Copenhagen, 9 March 1851. His father was an apothecary and the boy assisted him, studied at Copenhagen, where he became assistant in the medical faculty in 1800, traveled in Europe 1801-04 and again 1812-13 and in 1806 was appointed professor of physics at Copenhagen. In 1829 he became director of the new Polytechnic of the same city and in 1850 a privy councillor. His greatest work written in Berlin was the result of experiments on the magnetic needle with the electric current, which established the intimate interrelation of electricity, galvanism and magnetism and which were described in his ‘Experimenta circa Effectum Conflictus Electrici in Acum Magneticam’ (1820). In 1819 he discovered experimentally that a magnetic needle was deflected by a current in a wire passed over it or below it. This is the earliest recorded experiment in electric magnetism; and is of great importance because it opened the way to many brilliant experiments and finally led to the subjugation of electricity to industrial and other uses. As a reward for this and other experiments and discoveries in electricity Oersted was awarded the Copley medal by the Royal Society of England and the highest mathematical honors of the Institute of Paris. Oersted also wrote a valuable ‘Manual of Mechanical Physics’ (1844) and various studies in chemistry, physics, metaphysics, æsthetics and popular science, all pervaded with his predominating thought of the unity of sciences and their position as the servants of religion. His style is clear, picturesque and attractive and his works have been popular in the original and in German versions. Oersted endeavored to make scientific subjects popular, and with this end in view he wrote very many periodical articles and numerous books and his university lectures were thrown into popular form. Consult Alexander, C. A., ‘Memoir of Oersted’ (a translation of Beaumont's life of Oersted, published in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institute 1868 and in book form 1869); Hauch and Forchhammer, ‘Biography of Oersted’ (1853).