New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Joseph Henry’s Electrical Experiments

Around the year 1830, Albany Academy professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, Joseph Henry, began conducting experiments with electromagnetism using the objects shown here. His experiment included a mile of insulated copper wire wrapped around the second floor of the original Albany Academy building (located across from the New York State Capitol in Lafayette Park). Through this wire the circuit from the battery attached at one end caused the magnet at the other end to ring the bell. His was the first successful experiment with the electromagnetic telegraph anywhere in the world, and it had international implications since it laid the groundwork for the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the electric motor, and even television and computers.

Henry was born in Albany in 1797 to a poor Scottish immigrant family. Not able to afford the tuition, he was only able to attend Albany Academy through a full-scholarship. Henry excelled in all his subjects to the extent that the Academy eventually offered him a position in 1826. Throughout his scientific career, Henry believed that scientific discoveries were public property for the benefit of every citizen and, as such, he never patented any of his inventions. Both Samuel F. B. Morse and Alexander Graham Bell took what they had learned from Henry and applied the knowledge to commercial inventions that transformed the world.

On December 3, 1846, Henry accepted a position with the newly founded Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, as its first Secretary, a position bestowed on him because of his recognition as one of the era’s leading scientists.

Joseph Henry’s Electrical Apparatus


Copper, various metal

Courtesy of the New York State Museum, XX.466.1

Albany Academy

Drawn by D. S. Peirce

Engraved by J. E. Gavit & Co., Albany, New York

c. 1850

Engraving and etching on paper

Albany Institute of History & Art, gift of Ledyard Cogwell, Jr., 1944.68.63.2

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