The Myths and Magic of the Magnet

By Paul Fears | 06 May 2016

Magnetism is one of the most fundamental physical forces in the universe. The naturally produced force plays a huge part in everyone’s daily life featuring in electronics (such as mobile phones and computers), cars, wind turbines as well as a diverse range of other commonly unknown applications.

The Discovery of Magnetite

The Greeks are widely considered to be the first people to discover magnetic properties in a naturally occurring mineral called magnetite (lodestone or iron oxide).  There is a story about a Greek shepherd named Magnes whose shoe nails stuck to a rock containing magnetite and that he was the first to experience the force of magnetism.

Chondrodite Magnetite
Chondrodite Magnetite

There is an abundance of magnetite in Scandinavia and it was the Vikings who used this to develop one of the first forms of the compass which enabled them to sail through heavy sea fog.  The Chinese are also known to have developed compasses using the principle of magnetism, possibly even earlier than the Vikings and estimated to be around 4,500 years ago.

Due to the magnetic properties, Magnetite was believed to have magical powers and used by mystics, wizards, witches and even doctors.

However, it was not until 1600 that William Gilbert (1544-1603) discovered the largest magnet of all – planet Earth.  He was an English physician and scientist and the first man to research the properties of the lodestone (magnetic iron ore), publishing his findings in the influential ‘De Magnete’ (‘The Magnet’). He also invented the term ‘electricity’.

Magnets Driving Technological Development

Magnetic power is one of the cleanest and most natural energy forces and is playing a key role in the development of green technology. Neither Magnes the Shepherd or William Gilbert could have comprehended the global impact of magnetism. And there is no doubt that harnessing magnetic power will drive future technological advances that presently we have not even considered.

Related Technical Article

Magnet and Magnet Assembly Design

Bunting designs, manufactures and supplies a wide range of magnets, magnet setters, magnetisers, and magnetic assemblies.  Many are bespoke for specific applications.  For further information on any of the products mentioned in this article, or for bespoke magnet assemblies and magnet designs, please contact us via:

Phone:  +44 (0) 1442 875081


Via the Bunting-Berkhamsted website for specialist magnets, magnetic assemblies and magnetising equipment

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