Friedrich Wöhler

Friedrich Wöhler (German: [ˈvøːlɐ]; 31 July 1800 – 23 September 1882) was a German chemist, best known for his synthesis of urea, but also the first to isolate several chemical elements.

Friedrich Wöhler
Friedrich Wöhler Litho
Friedrich Wöhler c. 1856, age 56
Born31 July 1800
Died23 September 1882 (aged 82)
Known forWöhler synthesis of urea
AwardsCopley Medal (1872)
Scientific career
FieldsOrganic chemistry
InstitutionsPolytechnic School in Berlin
Polytechnic School at Kassel
University of Göttingen
Doctoral advisorLeopold Gmelin
Jöns Jakob Berzelius
Doctoral studentsHeinrich Limpricht
Rudolph Fittig
Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe
Georg Ludwig Carius
Albert Niemann
Vojtěch Šafařík
Carl Schmidt
Theodor Zincke
Other notable studentsAugustus Voelcker[1]
Wilhelm Kühne


He was born in Eschersheim, which belonged to Hanau at the time but is nowadays a district of Frankfurt am Main. In 1823 Wöhler finished his study of medicine in Heidelberg at the laboratory of Leopold Gmelin, who arranged for him to work under Jöns Jakob Berzelius in Stockholm, Sweden. He taught chemistry from 1826 to 1831 at the Polytechnic School in Berlin until 1839 when he was stationed at the Polytechnic School at Kassel. Afterwards, he became Ordinary Professor of Chemistry in the University of Göttingen, where he remained until his death in 1882. In 1834, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Contributions to chemistry

Wöhler is regarded as a pioneer in organic chemistry as a result of his (accidentally) synthesizing urea from ammonium cyanate in the Wöhler synthesis in 1828.[2] In a letter to Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius the same year, he wrote, 'In a manner of speaking, I can no longer hold my chemical water. I must tell you that I can make urea without the use of kidneys of any animal, be it man or dog.'[3]

This discovery has become celebrated as a refutation of vitalism, the hypothesis that living things are alive because of some special "vital force". However, contemporary accounts do not support that notion. This Wöhler Myth, as historian of science Peter J. Ramberg called it, originated from a popular history of chemistry published in 1931, which, "ignoring all pretense of historical accuracy, turned Wöhler into a crusader who made attempt after attempt to synthesize a natural product that would refute vitalism and lift the veil of ignorance, until 'one afternoon the miracle happened'".[4] Nevertheless, it was the beginning of the end of one popular vitalist hypothesis, that of Jöns Jakob Berzelius, that "organic" compounds could be made only by living things.

Major works, discoveries and research

Wöhler was also known for being a co-discoverer of beryllium, silicon and silicon nitride,[5] as well as the synthesis of calcium carbide, among others. In 1834, Wöhler and Justus Liebig published an investigation of the oil of bitter almonds. They proved by their experiments that a group of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms can behave like an element, take the place of an element, and be exchanged for elements in chemical compounds. Thus the foundation was laid of the doctrine of compound radicals, a doctrine which had a profound influence on the development of chemistry.

Since the discovery of potassium by Humphry Davy, it had been assumed that alumina, the basis of clay, contained a metal in combination with oxygen. Davy, Ørsted, and Berzelius attempted the extraction of this metal, but failed. Wöhler then worked on the same subject, and discovered the metal aluminium in 1827. To him also is due the isolation of the elements yttrium, beryllium, and titanium, the observation that "silicium" (silicon) can be obtained in crystals, and that some meteoric stones contain organic matter. He analyzed meteorites, and for many years wrote the digest on the literature of meteorites in the Jahresberichte über die Fortschritte der Chemie; he possessed the best private collection of meteoric stones and irons existing. Wöhler and Sainte Claire Deville discovered the crystalline form of boron, and Wöhler and Heinrich Buff discovered silane in 1856. Wöhler also prepared urea, a constituent of urine, from ammonium cyanate in the laboratory without the help of a living cell.

Final days and legacy

Wöhler's discoveries had great influence on the theory of chemistry. The journals of every year from 1820 to 1881 contain contributions from him. In the Scientific American supplement for 1882, it was remarked that "for two or three of his researches he deserves the highest honor a scientific man can obtain, but the sum of his work is absolutely overwhelming. Had he never lived, the aspect of chemistry would be very different from that it is now".[6]

Wöhler had several students who became notable chemists. Among them were Georg Ludwig Carius, Heinrich Limpricht, Rudolph Fittig, Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe, Albert Niemann, and Vojtěch Šafařík.

Further works

Further works from Wöhler:

See also


  1. ^ Goddard, Nicholas (2004). "Voelcker, (John Christopher) Augustus (1822–1884)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28345. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) The first edition of this text is available at Wikisource:  "Voelcker, John Christopher Augustus" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. ^ Wöhler, Friedrich (1828). "Ueber künstliche Bildung des Harnstoffs". Annalen der Physik und Chemie. 88 (2): 253–256. Bibcode:1828AnP....88..253W. doi:10.1002/andp.18280880206. — Available in English at: "Chem Team".
  3. ^ Chemie heute, Schroedel Verlag, Klasse 9/10. Chapter 3: Chemie der Kohlenwasserstoffe. Excursus pg. 64, ISBN 978-3-507-86192-3. Translated from original: „Ich kann, so zu sagen, mein chemisches Wasser nicht halten und muss ihnen sagen, daß ich Harnstoff machen kann, ohne dazu Nieren oder überhaupt ein Thier, sey es Mensch oder Hund, nöthig zu haben.“
  4. ^ "Ramberg (2000), following Rocke (1993), pp. 239–241, traced back the origin to H. Kopp’s Geschichte der Chemie, Vol. 1 (1843), p. 442; vol. 4 (1847), p. 244. The myth was unmasked by McKie in 1944, followed by a series of papers quoted by Ramberg" (Schummer 2003, p. 718).
  5. ^ Deville, H.; Wohler, F. (1857). "Erstmalige Erwähnung von Si3N4". Liebigs Ann. Chem. 104: 256.
  6. ^ Scientific American Supplement No. 362, 9 Dec 1882. Retrieved on 28 May 2014.


Further reading

  • Uray, Johannes (2009). "Mythos Harnstoffsynthese". Nachrichten aus der Chemie. 57: 943–944. doi:10.1002/nadc.200966159.
  • Johannes Uray: Die Wöhlersche Harnstoffsynthese und das wissenschaftliche Weltbild. Graz, Leykam, 2009.
  • Robin Keen: The Life and Work of Friedrich Wöhler. Bautz 2005.
    • Hoppe, Brigitte (2007). "Review of The life and work of Friedrich Wohler (1800–1882) by Robin Keen, edited by Johannes Buttner". Isis. 98 (1): 195–196. doi:10.1086/519116.
  • Johannes Valentin: Friedrich Wöhler. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft Stuttgart ("Grosse Naturforscher" 7) 1949.
  • Georg Schwedt: Der Chemiker Friedrich Wöhler. Hischymia 2000.
  • Brooke, John H. (1968). "Wöhler's Urea and its Vital Force – a verdict from the Chemists". Ambix. 15: 84–114. doi:10.1179/000269868791519757.
  • Kauffman, George B.; Chooljian, Steven H. (2001). "Friedrich Wöhler (1800–1882), on the Bicentennial of His Birth". The Chemical Educator. 6 (2): 121–133. doi:10.1007/s00897010444a.
  • McKie, Douglas (1944). "Wöhler's syntethic Urea and the rejection of Vitalism: a chemical Legend". Nature. 153: 608–610. Bibcode:1944Natur.153..608M. doi:10.1038/153608a0.
  • Ramberg, Peter J. (2000). "The Death of Vitalism and the Birth of organic Chemistry. Wöhler's Urea Synthesis and the disciplinary Identity of organic Chemistry". Ambix. 47: 170–215. doi:10.1179/000269800790987401.
  • Uray, Johannes (2010). "Die Wöhlersche Harnstoffsynhtese und das Wissenschaftliche Weltbild – Analyse eines Mythos". Mensch, Wissenschaft, Magie. 27: 121–152.

External links

1825 in science

The year 1825 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

1828 in science

The year 1828 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

1832 in science

The year 1832 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

Emanuel Merck Lectureship

The Emanuel Merck Lectureship was founded in 1992 by Technische Universität Darmstadt and Merck KGaA located in Darmstadt, Germany. The lectureship aspires to enlighten scientists and students at Technische Universität Darmstadt, as well as Merck KGaA employees and interested public with leading scientific research in chemistry.The award honors Heinrich Emanuel Merck (1794 – 1855) the founder of Merck, an entrepreneur, an original experimenter and a successful scientist.

Emanuel Merck maintained membership in many scientific associations and held many personal relationships with leading researchers of his era, including Justus von Liebig, Friedrich Wöhler, Max von Pettenkofer and Louis Pasteur. The Emanuel Merck Lectureship attempts to continue this tradition of international exchange between researchers.

The lectures are open to the public. The invitation includes travel and a cash prize for speakers.

Ethyl group

In chemistry, an ethyl group is an alkyl substituent derived from ethane (C2H6). It has the formula –CH2CH3 and is very often abbreviated Et. Ethyl is used in the IUPAC nomenclature of organic chemistry for a saturated two-carbon moiety in a molecule, whilst the prefix "eth-" is used to indicate the presence of two carbon atoms in the molecule.

Georg Ludwig Carius

Georg Ludwig Carius (August 24, 1829 – April 24, 1875) was a German chemist born in Barbis, in the Kingdom of Hanover. He studied under Friedrich Wöhler and was assistant to Robert Bunsen for 6 years. He was Director of the Marburger Chemical Institute (Marburger Chemischen Instituts) of Philipps University of Marburg from 1865. He is noted for the studies of oxidation for which he developed a method involving high temperature digestion in a sealed tube. Heavy wall sealed tubes, as used for digestion or thermolysis are referred to as "Carius tubes". He also wrote a textbook on polybasic acids.

Georg Städeler

Georg Andreas Karl Städeler (25 March 1821, Hanover – 11 January 1871, Hanover) was a German chemist.

He studied chemistry and botany at the Göttingen, where his influences included Friedrich Wöhler. In 1851 he became an associate professor of physiological chemistry at Göttingen, and later on, he relocated to the University of Zürich, where from 1853 to 1870, he worked as a professor of general chemistry. During this time period (1855–70), he was also a professor of chemistry at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich.He made contributions in his research of uric acid and in his extensive studies of tyrosine and bile pigments. Städeler's book on the chemical analysis of inorganic bodies was published over numerous editions.

Hans Hübner

Hans Hübner (13 October 1837, in Düsseldorf – 4 July 1884, in Göttingen) was a German chemist. He was the son of painter Julius Hübner (1806–1882).

He studied chemistry at the University of Göttingen, receiving his doctorate in 1859 with a dissertation on acrolein. Following graduation, he continued his education at the University of Heidelberg with Robert Bunsen and at the University of Ghent under August Kekulé. In 1863 he obtained his habilitation at Göttingen, where from 1864 he worked as an assistant at the institute of chemistry under Friedrich Wöhler. In 1870 he became an associate professor, followed by a full professorship in 1874. In 1882 he succeeded Wöhler as director of the chemistry institute at the university.With Friedrich Konrad Beilstein and Rudolph Fittig, he was editor of the journal Zeitschrift für Chemie (1865–71).

Heinrich August Ludwig Wiggers

Heinrich August Ludwig Wiggers (12 June 1803 – 13 February 1880) was a German pharmacist born in Altenhagen (today part of the city of Springe).

Trained as a pharmacist, in 1827 he relocated to the University of Göttingen, where he served as a laboratory assistant under chemist Friedrich Stromeyer (1776–1835), and later as an assistant to Friedrich Wöhler (1800–1882) until 1849.

In the meantime he earned his doctorate in 1835, later becoming a private lecturer (1837) and an associate professor of pharmacy (1848) at the university. From 1836 to 1850 he served as deputy inspector-general, later associate inspector-general, of all pharmacies in the Kingdom of Hanover (after 1860 this included the Principality of Lippe).

Heinrich Limpricht

Heinrich Limpricht (21 April 1827 – 13 May 1909) was a German chemist. Limpricht was a pupil of Friedrich Wöhler; he worked on the chemistry of furans and pyrroles, discovering furan in 1870.In 1852 he became lecturer and in 1855 extraordinary professor at the University of Göttingen. In 1860, he became ordinary professor at the Institute for Organic Chemistry at the University of Greifswald. His oldest daughter Marie (1856-1925) married in 1875 to Protestant theologian Julius Wellhausen.

Rudolph Fittig and Hans von Pechmann were two of Limpricht's notable pupils.


Hydroquinone, also known as benzene-1,4-diol or quinol, is an aromatic organic compound that is a type of phenol, a derivative of benzene, having the chemical formula C6H4(OH)2. It has two hydroxyl groups bonded to a benzene ring in a para position. It is a white granular solid. Substituted derivatives of this parent compound are also referred to as hydroquinones. The name "hydroquinone" was coined by Friedrich Wöhler in 1843.

Liebigs Annalen

Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie (often cited as just Liebigs Annalen) was one of the oldest and historically most important journals in the field of organic chemistry worldwide. It was established in 1832 and edited by Justus von Liebig with Friedrich Wöhler until Liebig's death in 1873.

In 1997 the journal merged with Recueil des Travaux Chimiques des Pays-Bas to form Liebigs Annalen/Recueil. In 1998 it was absorbed by European Journal of Organic Chemistry by merger of a number of other leading national European chemistry journals.

Mellitic anhydride

Mellitic anhydride, the anhydride of mellitic acid, is an organic compound with the formula C12O9.

Mellitic anhydride is an oxide of carbon (oxocarbon), like CO2, CO, and C3O2. It is a white sublimable solid, apparently obtained by Justus Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler in 1830 in their study of mellite ("honey stone") and has the empirical formula C4O3. The substance was properly characterized in 1913 by H. Meyer and K. Steiner. It retains the aromatic character of the benzene ring.

Nils Gabriel Sefström

Nils Gabriel Sefström (2 June 1787 – 30 November 1845) was a Swedish chemist. Sefström was a student of Berzelius and, when studying the brittleness of steel in 1830, he rediscovered a new chemical element, to which he gave the name vanadium.Vanadium was first discovered by the Spanish-Mexican mineralogist Andrés Manuel del Río in 1801. He named it erythronium. Friedrich Wöhler later confirmed that vanadium and erythronium were the same substance.Sefström was member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences from 1815.

The Spitzbergen glacier Sefströmbreen, and the mountain ridge of Sefströmkammen, are named after him.

Radical theory

Radical theory is an obsolete scientific theory in chemistry describing the structure of organic compounds. The theory was pioneered by Justus von Liebig, Friedrich Wöhler and Auguste Laurent around 1830 and is not related to the modern understanding of free radicals. In this theory, organic compounds were thought to exist as combinations of radicals that could be exchanged in chemical reactions just as chemical elements could be interchanged in inorganic compounds.

Wilhelm Lossen

Wilhelm Clemens Lossen (8 May 1838 in Kreuznach – 29 October 1906 in Aachen) was a German chemist. He was the brother of geologist Karl August Lossen.From 1857 he studied chemistry at the University of Giessen, then continued his education at Göttingen as a pupil of Friedrich Wöhler. After graduation, he worked as an assistant to Karl Weltzien at the polytechnic in Karlsruhe and as an assistant under Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz at the University of Halle. In 1870 he became an associate professor at Heidelberg, then in 1877 accepted a position as professor of chemistry at the University of Königsberg.He is largely known for his work with hydroxylamines; their preparations, properties and derivatives. The eponymous Lossen rearrangement, refers to the decomposition of hydroxamic acids or their derivatives to yield isocyanates.

While a student at Göttingen, he conducted research of cocaine with Albert Niemann. After the untimely death of Niemann in 1861, he continued research of the drug and was able to determine its proper chemical formula. The two scientists also performed studies on the effect of cocaine on mucous membranes.


Wöhler may refer to:

PeopleAugust Wöhler (1819–1914), German engineer

Friedrich Wöhler (1800–1882), German chemist

Otto Wöhler (1894 in Burgwedel – 1987 in Burgwedel), German general

Jürgen (Otto) Wöhler (born 1950 in Oberlahnstein), German lawyer and managerOtherWöhler (crater), a crater on Earth's moon

Wöhler curves used in mechanical fatigue analysis

Wöhler process, a chemical process used in the production of aluminum

Wöhler synthesis, the chemical reaction in which ammonium cyanate is converted into urea

Wöhler (crater)

Wöhler is a small lunar impact crater that lies to the south of the crater Stiborius, in the rugged southeastern highlands of the Moon. It was named after German chemist Friedrich Wöhler. To the west-northwest is the battered remnant of Riccius. This is a generally circular crater formation with a slightly eroded outer rim. There is a small crater attached to the western rim. The inner walls slope down to a featureless inner floor.

Wöhler synthesis

The Wöhler synthesis is the conversion of ammonium cyanate into urea.[1]

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.