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Henry Andrews Bumstead

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Henry Andrews Bumstead

Henry Andrews Bumstead
Born March 12, 1870
Pekin, Illinois, USA
Died December 31, 1920
On a train between Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Residence USA, Austria
Nationality American
Fields Physicist
Institutions Yale University
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
Yale University
Doctoral advisor Josiah Willard Gibbs
Henry Augustus Rowland
Doctoral students Leigh Page
Harry Nyquist
John Stuart Foster

Henry Andrews Bumstead (1870–1920) was an American physicist known for his research into electromagnetism.[1]


Bumstead graduated from the Decatur High School (Illinois). He then went to Johns Hopkins University in 1887, expecting to study medicine and to enter his father's profession. Courses taken under Fabian Franklin, however, turned his attention to mathematics. The influence of Rowland so stimulated the interest that he decided to switch to physics. After receiving his BA degree in 1891, he remained in Baltimore for two years as an assistant in the physics laboratory, taking as much graduate work as time would allow. Notebooks found among his effects show that he took a course in thermodynamics under Rowland in 1891 which included, in addition to the classical thermodynamics, a considerable amount of the material contained in Josiah Willard Gibbs' great work On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances. The following year he attended Rowland's lectures on Electrostatics and on the Electromagnetic Theory of Light.

In 1893 Bumstead was brought to Yale University by Professor Charles S. Hastings as an instructor in the Sheffield Scientific School. What time he could spare from his teaching duties he devoted to continuing his study of physics in the Yale Graduate School. He took courses with Gibbs in Vector Analysis, Multiple Algebra, Thermodynamics, and Electromagnetic Theory of Light. Bumstead obtained his PhD in 1897, submitting as thesis a paper entitled A Comparison of Electrodynamic Theories. Unfortunately it does not seem to have been published, the only copy in existence being the manuscript in the author's own handwriting which has been preserved in the archives of the Yale library.

Personal life

The year before receiving his doctor's degree he married Luetta Ullrich, daughter of John Ullrich, a banker of Decatur, Illinois. A son, John Henry, was born in 1897 and a daughter, Eleanor, in 1902. The son has adopted the profession of his grandfather, having obtained his MD at Johns Hopkins University in 1923 and being at present connected with the Yale Medical School.


In 1900 Bumstead was promoted to an assistant professorship, and six years later he left the Sheffield Scientific School to succeed Arthur Williams Wright as Professor of Physics in Yale College and Director of the Sloane Physics Laboratory. In 1902 he published a short paper in which he showed how Maxwell's equations completely accounted for an anomaly in the reflection of electric waves which had been causing controversy. If standing waves are set up on a pair of parallel guide wires terminating in a conducting plane at right angles to their length, the node in electric intensity found at the end of the wires is at a distance from the nearest node on the wires agreeing with the distance between other adjacent nodes. If, however, the conducting plane is removed, the loop to be expected at the free end of the wires is found to be at a distance from the nearest node somewhat less than a quarter wavelength. Bumstead showed that the introduction of a fictitious magnetic conductivity into Maxwell's equations established a close correspondence between this case and the well-understood arrangement in which the ends of the parallel conductors are united by a short connecting wire.


The day after Christmas, 1920, he boarded a train for Chicago to attend the annual meeting of the American Physical Society. During the first two days of the session there were high gales and bitter cold. On the Wednesday evening he attended a meeting of the National Research committee of which he had been chairman, and contributed to the discussion until almost midnight. The morning of Friday, December 31, he spent with Robert Andrews Millikan, at whose home he had been staying, in going over the research work of the Ryerson Laboratory. He left Millikan about 11:30 am and started on the return trip to Washington in the early afternoon. During the evening he mentioned a feeling of fatigue to friends on the train and decided to retire early. The next morning his friends were surprised at his absence from breakfast in the dining car, and Vernon Kellogg went back to his berth to ascertain if he had been taken ill during the night. The curtains before the berth were still closed; on pulling them apart Kellogg found him dead. Apparently he had died from heart failure during his sleep.

See also


External links

  • Bumstead archives
  • The Bumstead memoirs
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir

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