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Discovery Magazine 2/1/2007

Who Invented Magnets?

by  Digger Doug

Dear Nicholas,

     I am happy to answer your fine question. Humans didn’t really “invent” magnets at all. God did! Magnets come from a naturally occurring mineral called magnetite (also known as lodestone, an iron oxide). Tradition suggests that the ancient Greeks were the first to discover magnetite (Greek philosophers described it). They noticed that these stones had the power to attract iron. There’s even a story about a shepherd named Magnes whose shoe nails stuck to a rock containing magnetite.

     The Chinese probably were the first to use magnetic energy to develop a compass. And with a large supply of magnetite in Scandinavia, the Vikings also used the compass in their travels to colonize and wage war. Magnetic compasses allowed the Vikings to cross oceans and invade countries even in the fog.

     Until 1821, the only known magnetism was the one produced by iron magnetite. Then a Danish scientist, Hans Christian Oersted, noticed that the electric current in a wire caused a nearby compass needle to move. André-Marie Ampere studied this phenomenon in France and concluded that magnetism was different from what people generally believed. It is a force between electric currents. This understanding allows us to use magnets in many ways today.

     James Clerk Maxwell, a brilliant scientist who believed in God and Creation, made important discoveries in the area of magnetism (you can read about him at In creating our wonderful world, God provided us with many tools that help us (Genesis 4:21-22; James 1:17). Magnetism is one such tool. 

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