1. Faraday had a tough childhood.
Born Sept. 22, 1791, in London, Michael Faraday was the child of a blacksmith who suffered from ill health. His mother had worked as a servant before her marriage. Due to the elder Faraday’s inability to earn a steady income, the family lived in poverty. Faraday said he was once given a loaf of bread that he had to make do with for a week.
2. Faraday was mostly self-educated.
Faraday’s basic education ended at the age of 13 when he went to work as an errand boy. A year later, he became an apprentice to a local bookbinder and bookseller. Although Faraday didn’t particularly care for the job, it gave him access to books. For seven years, he educated himself in his free time. Conversations on Chemistry and the Encyclopedia Britannica are said to have been his two favorites.
3. Faraday was deeply religious
Faraday belonged to a small Christian sect called the Sandemanians, which strongly influenced him throughout his life. He believed it was unscriptural and improper to accumulate wealth and accolades. Therefore, he declined knighthood and twice refused to become president of the Royal Society.
4. Faraday really lucked out.
When Faraday was 20, he was given tickets to attend the lectures of famed British chemist Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Faraday wrote a 300-page book based on notes he’d taken during these lectures and sent it to Davy. The following year, Davy damaged his eyesight during an experiment and hired Faraday as his temporary assistant. A short time later, an assistant was fired for brawling and Davy offered Faraday a permanent job, which he accepted.
5. Faraday almost ended his career due to prejudice.
In 1813, Sir Davy invited Faraday to accompany him as his scientific assistant on a tour of the European continent. In exchange, Faraday was required to act as a personal servant to Davy and his wife. Davy’s wife refused to treat Faraday as an equal and made him travel outside the coach and eat with the servants. Faraday was upset by this and thought about quitting his position, but luckily he decided against it.
6. Faraday invented the toy balloon.
Birthday parties and other celebrations just wouldn’t be the same without balloons, and we have Faraday to thank for them. He used small rubber balloons in experiments with hydrogen at the Royal Institution in London. Faraday also discovered benzene (one of the most important substances in chemistry) and provided proof that all gases could be liquefied by the use of low temperatures and/or high pressures, which ultimately led to the invention of the refrigerator.
7. Faraday was Albert Einstein’s scientific hero.
Photograph by Orren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J
Einstein kept pictures of only three scientists on his study wall — one of whom was Faraday. The other two photos were of Isaac Newton James Clerk Maxwell. Not surprisingly, rumor has it Faraday was one of Thomas Edison’s heroes as well.
8. Faraday turned down the opportunity to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
Faraday was offered a burial spot at Westminster Abbey but, due to his religious beliefs, he declined. Instead, there’s a plaque at Westminster Abbey dedicated to Faraday.