Alexander von Humboldt

Birth: 1769


Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) was a famous German naturalist, born in Berlin, 14 Sept., 1789 and died there, 6 May, 1859. He studied at the Universities of Frankfort and Gottingen and the mining academy at Freiberg, and from 1794 till 1799 was engaged in scientific research, writing, and travel. In 1799 he went to Spain and procured from the king permission to visit and make scientific investigations in all the Spanish possessions in Europe, America, and the East Indies.

Such extensive privileges had never before been granted to any traveller. His exploration of the Orinoco river was the lirst that furnished any positive knowledge of the long-disputed bifurcation of that stream. In 1802, in exploring the volcanoes of Ecuador, he ascended heights that had not previously been attained, and on Chimborazo reached the altitude of 19,286 feet. Afterward he made a profile of Mexico from sea to sea, the first that was ever given of any entire country. Humboldt then went to Havana, and after two months' residence there completed the materials for his "Essai politique sur l'ile de Cuba" (Paris, 1826).

He embarked thence for Philadelphia, was received with cordiality by President Jefferson, and, leaving this country, landed at Bordeaux, 3 Aug., 1804, having spent five years in America, and gained a larger store of observations and collections in all departments of natural science, geography, statistics, and ethnography than all previous traveller. His subsequent life was devoted to the prosecution of scientific research and discovery. His journey in South America is an important event in the history of that country. With his own hands he made the map of the Orinoco and the Magdalena, and a part of the atlas of Mexico. He travelled with the barometer in his hands from Bogotá to Lima, and made 459 measurements of altitudes, which were often confirmed by trigonometrical calculations. Humboldt discovered the dahlia, a small, single flower, in Mexico, which received its name from his friend, Prof. Andrew Dahl, the botanist.

His works include "Ansichten der Natur," a general sketch of the results of his inquiries in America (Stuttgart, 1808), and "Kosmos" (5 vols., 1845-'62). Many biographies of him have appeared, the best being " Alexander von Humboldt, eine wissenschaftliche Biographie," edited by Karl Bruhns (3 vols., Leipsic, 1872; English translation by Jane and Caroline Lassells, 2 vols., London, 1872). His most important works relating to America are "Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent dans les années 1799 à 1804" (Paris, 1807-'16), and "Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne" (Paris, 1811).


Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (1900)

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