A magnet is an object that produces a magnetic field. It attracts certain other objects to it, and repels other magnets Because magnets have been known to man for so long, it is inevitable that legends have formed regarding its discovery. The word “magnet” is from a Greek term meaning “Magnesian rock.”
Legends of the Discovery of Magnets
One story tells how a shepherd named Magnes discovered magnet about 2,000 BC. He was guiding his sheep along the pastures of Magnesia in northern Greece. Now Magnes was carrying a shepherd’s rod with a metal tip, and his shoes had nails in them. He stepped on a big black rock and next thing he knew, both his rod and shoes got stuck on the rock by their metallic parts. Perplexed, the shepherd got out of his shoes and dug up the ground. He found loadstones underneath. Loadstones are naturally magnetic due to a substanc3e known as FE304. The Greeks later renamed the stone magnesia after its founder or the area where it was discovered.
Even dismissing such stories, it’s still likely the Greeks were among the first to know about magnets. The classical writers Pliny and Lucretius mentioned them. Because of their ability to attract other objects, magnets were thought to be magical. The Greeks and Romans used them to cure diseases, drive away bad spirits and more.
Some even though they could destroy iron-cast ships. Whenever a ship vanished at sea, the Greeks believed it got sucked in by a mountain of iron. In wartime, they used loadstones to try to sink or disarm enemy vessels.
An important discovery about magnets was their ability to orient themselves. If formed like a needle and placed on water, the magnet would consistently face in a north-south axis. This is said to be the origin of the name “loadstone” = “stone that leads.” Realizing the importance of this discovery, the Chinese invented a marine compass some 4,000 years ago.
In modern times, scientists focused on demystifying magnets. Peter Pregrinus made it the subject of his papers in 1269. In 1600 William Gilbert made a major breakthrough when he discovered that Earth itself is one huge magnet. He made other discoveries such as how to make artificial magnets from wrought iron, and how heat can take away artificial magnetism. Later in the 19th century, Hans Christien Oersted and Clerk Maxwell made a connection between electricity and magnets. When a compass is placed near an electric current, the magnetic needle repositions itself. If the compass is moved around the current, the needle adjusts itself accordingly, as if “obeying” the current.