FRIEDRICH WÖHLERby@scientificamerican


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No one but a chemist can appreciate the full significance of the brief message which came to us a month ago without warning—"Wöhler is dead!" What need be added to it? No chemist was better known or more honored than Wöhler, and none ever deserved distinction and honor more than he. His life was made up of a series of brilliant successes, which not only compelled the admiration of the world at large, but directed the thoughts of his fellow workers, and led to results of the highest importance to science. It is impossible in a few words to give a correct account of the work of Wöhler, and to show in what way his life and work have been of such great value to chemistry. Could he himself direct the preparation of this notice, the writer knows that his advice would be, "Keep to the facts." So far as any one phrase can characterize the teachings of Wöhler, that one does it; and though enthusiasm prompts to eulogy, let us rather recall the plain facts of his life, and let them, in the main, speak for themselves.1 He was born in the year 1800 at Eschersheim, a village near Frankfort-on-the-Main. From his earliest years the study of nature appears to have been attractive to him. He took great delight in collecting minerals and in performing chemical and physical experiments. While still a boy, he associated with a Dr. Buch, of Frankfort, and was aided by this gentleman, who did what he could to encourage in the young student his inclination toward the natural sciences. The first paper which bears the name of Wöhler dates from this period, and is upon the presence of selenium in the iron pyrites from Kraslitz. In 1820 he went to the University of Marburg to study medicine. While there he did not, however, neglect the study of chemistry. He was at that time particularly interested in an investigation on certain cyanogen compounds. In 1821 he went to Heidelberg, and in 1823 he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine. L. Gmelin became interested in him, and it was largely due to Gmelin's influence that Wöhler gave up his intention of practicing medicine, and concluded to devote himself entirely to chemistry. For further instruction in his chosen science, Wöhler went to Stockholm to receive instruction from Berzelius, in whose laboratory he continued to work from the fall of 1823 until the middle of the following year. Only a few years since, in a communication entitled "Jugenderinnerungen eines Chemikers," he gave a fascinating account of his journey to Stockholm and his experiences while working with Berzelius. On his return to Germany, he was called to teach chemistry in the recently founded municipal trade school (Gewerbschule) at Berlin. He accepted the call, and remained in Berlin until 1832, when he went to Cassel to live. In a short time he was called upon to take part in the direction of the higher trade school at Cassel. He continued to teach and work in Cassel until 1836, when he was appointed Professor of Chemistry in Göttingen. This office he held at the time of his death, September 23, 1882.
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