Michael Faraday, the discoverer of electro-magnetic induction, electro-magnetic rotations, the magneto-optical effect, diamagnetism, field theory and much else besides, was born in Newington Butts (the area of London now known as the Elephant and Castle) on 22 September 1791. His father, James, was a blacksmith and a member of the Sandemanian sect of Christianity. James Faraday had come to London a year or so earlier from North-West England. Very little is known of the first few years of Faraday's life. In an autobiographical note Faraday recalled that he had attended a day school and had learnt the "rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic".

In 1805 at the age of fourteen Faraday was apprenticed as a bookbinder to George Riebau of Blandford Street. During his seven year apprenticeship Faraday developed his interest in science and in particular chemistry. He read Jane Marcet's "Conversations on Chemistry" and the scientific entries from the "Encyclopedia Britannica". He was also able to perform chemical experiments and he built his own electro-static machine. But, more importantly, Faraday joined the City Philosophical Society in 1810. In this society, which was devoted to self-improvement, a group of (youngish) men met every week to hear lectures on scientific topics and to discuss scientific matters. It was here that Faraday would give his first scientific lectures.

Towards the end of his apprenticeship, in 1812, Faraday was given, by one of Riebau's customers, William Dance (one of founders of the Royal Philharmonic Society), four tickets to hear Humphry Davy's last four lectures at the Royal Institution. Faraday attended these lectures took notes and later in the year presented them to Davy asking for a position in science. Davy interviewed Faraday, but said that he had no position available. Early in 1813 there was a fight in the main lecture theatre of the Royal Institution between the Instrument Maker and the Chemical Assistant which resulted in the dismissal of the latter. Davy was asked to find a replacement for him; he remembered Faraday and called him for a second interview the result of which was that Faraday was appointed Chemical Assistant at the Royal Institution on 1 March 1813.

Faraday, in effect, started a second apprenticeship in chemistry. For most of the 1810s and 1820s he worked under Davy's replacement as Professor of Chemistry, William Thomas Brande. However, between October 1813 and April 1815, he accompanied Davy, as his assistant, on a scientific tour of the Continent. Davy had been given a passport by Napoleon for himself, his wife, her maid and a valet. Faraday, very reluctantly, agreed to also perform this latter role. This led to tension between Faraday and Jane Davy who regarded him as a servant which he assuredly was not. What is interesting is that Davy sought to keep the peace between his relative new wife. This says something about the state of the Davys' marriage, but also about Davy's high opinion of Faraday's abilities. On the tour they visited Paris (where Faraday witnessed his first piece of original scientific research when Davy confounded the French chemists by demonstrating electro-chemically the elementary nature of iodine), Italy (where they met the aged Volta, visited Vesuvius and Davy was able to decompose a diamond into carbon by using the Duke of Tuscany's great lens), Switzerland (where they met the De La Rives) and Southern Germany. Davy had intended to continue into the Turkish Empire to visit Athens and Constantinople, but whether due to the tensions in the party or to Napoleon's escape from Elba, they returned to England in April 1815.