August 2008


Migration and movement of scholars - A study in the history of diffusion of knowledge (Part 5)

By F. Habashi

Movement of specialists

For centuries, scientists and engineers with specialized knowledge have been in great demand around the world.

Ottoman Empire

Sultan Mustafa III (1717-1774) hired Claude Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval (1675-1747), a French soldier and adventurer who converted to Islam and took the name Ahmed, to organize and command the artillery. In 1734, Alexandre established the first technical school in the Empire that later became known as Istanbul Technical University. Mohammed Ali (1769-1849), founder of modern Egypt, hired many French professionals to establish engineering and medical schools as well as to organize an army. In modern Turkey, Fritz Arndt (1885-1969) of Germany spent over two decades of his professional life as a professor of chemistry at Istanbul University.


Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813), the great French mathematician, was a professor at the Artillery School in Turin when he was invited to Berlin by Friedrich the Great  to succeed Euler, who left for Saint Petersburg. Lagrange spent 20 years there as director of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. His great work, La Mécanique Analytique, was written there. After the death of Friedrich the Great, he returned to France, at Mirabeau`s invitation, and in 1794 was appointed professor at the newly established École Supérieure Normale.


Prior to the revolution, China was flooded with westerners seeking to exploit its natural resources. Among them was Herbert C. Hoover (1874-1964), a mining engineer from Stanford University in the United States, who was hired by a major London-based consulting firm in 1897 to examine and manage mines in China. After demonstrating excellent abilities, he was offered the position of chief engineer of the Imperial Bureau of Mines in China in 1898. He assembled an American technical staff to work with him; however, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 put an end to his position. In 1901, he became the general manager of the Chinese Engineering and Mining Company that operated the Kaiping mines north of Tientsin, one of the richest coal mines in the world.

In the fall of 1901, the Belgian company, Union Minière du Haut Katanga, purchased the majority of the businesses from other European and Chinese investors and sent its director, Émile Franqui (1863-1935), with a Belgian technical staff to replace the Americans. Edgar Sengier (1879-1963), another Belgian engineer from the University of Louvain who joined a consulting firm in Birmingham, was sent to Shanghai in 1907 to direct the Compagnie internationale d’Orient. He later became one of the directors of Union minière du Haut Katanga. He moved to New York when Belgium was occupied by Nazi troups during World War II.

Christian missions were active in Shandong, where in 1882 steps were taken to upgrade a high school to college status. The missions also concentrated on providing a basic western education for converts. St. John’s College in Shanghai, which was to become one of the most celebrated academic institutions in China, graduated its first class in the 1890s. By 1903, the Jesuits had established Aurora University in Shanghai, with faculties of Arts, Law, Science, Civil Engineering and Medicine. Classes were predominantly taught in French. Imperial Pei Yang University was founded in 1895 in Tientsin. It changed its name to Tianjin University in 1951 after it merged with the Hebei Institute of Technology. In 1907, Thomas T. Read (1880-?), a professor at Colorado School of Mines at Golden, Colorado, was sent there to teach mining and metallurgy for three years. He was the first to introduce microscopic examination of metals in China.


Before the mid-19th century, Japan was not interested in having commercial or cultural relations with the rest of the world. Other than contact with some Dutch merchants who were allowed, under strict regulations, to have a trading post on an island in Nagasaki Bay, it was cut off from the outside world. There were some Japanese scholars, however, who read books imported by the Dutch and understood that knowledge was increasing among the Europeans. They argued that it was time for Japan to open its gates and admit new ideas. But such voices were ignored or suppressed by the government. For example, German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), who lived on the island, was expelled from Japan in 1828, and his Japanese interpreter was put to death when it was learned that he was collecting information about Japan. Between 1832 and 1853, Von Siebold wrote numerous books about Japan’s culture, its fauna and flora.

A few years later, however, the situation changed. In 1861, the Japanese government invited the American mineralogist William Phipps Blake (1826-1910) to organize a school of mines. The Imperial College of Engineering was founded in Tokyo in 1875 and it was there that the first courses on geology, mining and metallurgy were taught in Japan. In 1886, the college became Tokyo Imperial University and, after World War II, was renamed University of Tokyo. Benjamin Smith Lyman (1835-1920), a Harvard graduate from the United States who also studied in France and Germany, was a pioneer geologist and mining engineer in Hokkaido. In 1872, he was invited to Japan to search for coal and oil deposits. During this time, he created excellent geological maps for Japan.

Many German medical doctors were hired to teach medicine at the University of Tokyo. Two of these became well known: Ervin Bälz (1849-1912) and Paul Mayer who was in Japan from 1877 to 1894. A number of professors were also hired for the newly established Imperial College of Engineering.

Francisque Coignet (1835-1902), a French mining engineer, was hired by the Japanese government in 1867. He spent 10 years in Japan developing mining machines. Coignet engaged 24 French technicians to work with him.

In 1875, Joseph Hardy Neesima (1843-1890), a Japanese convert to Christianity and the first Japanese to study in the United States, founded the Doshisha College in Kyoto, a Christian establishment that literally means “one-purpose institution.” It later became Doshisha University, one of the most prestigious schools in Japan today. In 1877, the Academy of Foreign Languages was converted to a division of the University of Tokyo.

William Gowland (1842-1922) was educated at the Royal College of Chemistry and the Royal School of Mines and worked for the Imperial Japanese Mint from 1872 to 1888. After returning to England, he became a professor of metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines. He authored Metallurgy of the Non-ferrous Metals in 1914.

Frank Fanning Jewett (1844-1926) received his undergraduate and graduate education in chemistry and mineralogy at Yale University. From 1873 to 1875, he continued his studies at the University of Göttingen in Germany. Jewett returned home to the United States to work at Harvard University. Shortly after, he was nominated to teach at the newly founded Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo, where he worked from 1876 to 1880. In 1880, he became a professor of chemistry and mineralogy at Oberlin College and mentor to Charles Martin Hall, the inventor of the electrolytic aluminium process.

Curt Adolf Netto (1847-1909) of Saxony graduated from the Freiberg Mining Academy in 1869; he then volunteered in the German Army. In 1873, he went to Japan to work at Akita Prefecture, a silver refinery in Kosaka. In 1877, he joined the Imperial College of Engineering to teach mining and metallurgy. In 1877, his lectures on metallurgy were translated to Japanese by his students and served as a useful tool for many years.

John Milne (1850-1913), a British geologist from Liverpool, studied at King’s College, Royal School of Mines and Freiberg Mining Academy. He obtained a doctorate degree from Oxford University, and then worked in Cornwall, Central Europe, Newfoundland and Labrador. From 1875 to 1895, Milne taught geology and mining at the Tokyo Imperial College of Engineering. In 1880, he invented the seismograph and was cofounder of the Japanese Earthquake Society. He returned to England with his Japanese wife in 1895. Milne has authored Earthquakes (1883), Seismology (1888) and Miner’s Handbook (1894).


Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege (1777-1855) was born in Eschwege, Germany, where he studied engineering. He then left for Portugal where, at the age of 25, he was appointed director of mines in Lisbon. When Napoleon invaded Portugal, von Eschwege joined Prince Regent João, who escaped to Brazil. He became a high official in the Royal Corps of Engineers and was appointed director of the Royal Mineralogical Council. In 1811, he was sent to Minas Gerais and settled in Ouro Preto where he made extensive mineralogical surveys. In 1812, he produced the first Brazilian pig iron. von Eschwege returned to Germany in 1821 and in 1833 published Pluto Brazilienis (Brazilian Richness) a two-volume book about his Brazilian experiences. These volumes prepared the ground for establishing a School of Mines in Ouro Preto in 1876.

The French geologist, Claude-Henri Gorceix (1842-1919), was recommended to Emperor Pedro by the director of the School of Mines in Paris to establish a similar school in Brazil. Gorceix took the job at the age of 31; he married a Brazilian girl at 43 and made Brazil his second home.

Spanish South American Colonies

For 300 years, the Spanish colonies were off limits to foreigners. In 1788, however, Spanish King Carlos III hired Fürchtgott Leberecht von Nordenflycht (1748-1815), a graduate of the Freiberg Mining Academy, to organize the Mines in Alto Peru (present-day Peru and Bolivia). He stayed in South America for 20 years. French engineer Carlos Santiago Lambert (1793-1876) went to Chile in 1824 as director of the South America Mining Company of La Serena (Compañía Minera Sudamericana). During this period, only copper oxide ores were treated. Carlos Lambert decided to apply the Welsh process used in Swansea to treat copper sulphides.

Moritz Hochschild (1881-1965), born in Biblis near Frankfurt, was a student at the Mining Academy in Freiberg from 1900 to 1905 and became one of the major tin mine owners in Bolivia. He founded a mining company that became the second largest tin producer in Bolivia. His mines, however, were expropriated in 1952 when the mining industry in Bolivia was nationalized.

United States

The Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) from Fribourg, Switzerland, occupied the chair of geology and mineralogy at Harvard University from 1848 to 1873. He is famous for his studies of glaciers and co-founder of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. Friedrich Anton Eilers (1839-1917) was born in Nassau, studied at Göttingen and Clausthal. In 1859, he went to the United States, where he joined the consulting firm Adelberg and Raymond in New York, which at that time was an important centre for constructing mining and metallurgical plants. In 1883, he founded Colorado Smelting Company and in 1890, the Montana Smelting Company.

Ottokar Hofmann (1843-1909) was born in Hungary, studied at the Polytechnic School in Vienna, and from 1864 to 1866, at the Mining Academy in Freiberg in Saxony. In 1867, he emigrated to the United States, where he worked at the Assay Office in San Francisco. In 1868, he went to Sonora, Mexico, to install a leaching plant. From 1899 to 1907, he was director of the United Zinc and Chemical Company in Argentine, Kansas. He returned to Mexico to build another leaching plant. He authored Hydrometallurgy of Silver in 1907 and Notes on Hydrometallurgy of Copper in 1908.

Edward Dyer Peters (1849-1917) was student at the Freiberg Mining Academy from 1865 to 1968. He occupied the chair of metallurgy at Harvard University.

Bernhard Moebius (1852-1898) was born in Saxony, studied at the Mining Academy in Freiberg, and then worked in different smelters in Germany, Austria, Spain and Mexico before he emigrated to the United States. There, in 1884, he invented the process that bears his name for the electrolytic refining of gold, which was applied for the first time in Mexico. In 1886, he constructed the Pennsylvania Lead Company and later the Guggenheim Works in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

Heinrich Oscar Hofman (1852-1924) was born in Germany and graduated as a mining and metallurgical engineer from the Technische Hochschule in Clausthal in 1877. He was engaged in metallurgical practice in the United States from 1881 to 1887 when he went to teach process metallurgy at South Dakota School of Mines. In 1889, he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is considered to be the first teacher of process metallurgy in the United States. He authored Metallurgy of Lead and the Desilverization of Base Bullion (1892), General Metallurgy (1918), Metallurgy of Copper (1918) and Metallurgy of Lead (1918).

Albert Sauveur (1863-1939) was born in Louvain, Belgium, studied in Brussels, at the School of Mines in Liège (1881-1886), and then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1889). He worked at various steel companies in the United States from 1889 to 1897 before taking a teaching position at Harvard. He received many medals and awards. He authored Metallography of Iron and Steel and Metallurgical Dialogues.

Martin E. Straumanis (1898-?) was born in Lithuania, obtained doctorate in chemistry in 1927, and was awarded a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation at the Institute of Physical Chemistry in Göttingen in 1927-1928. Straumanis was a professor of chemistry in Latvia from 1928 to 1944, taught at the Marburg Institute of Metallurgical Chemistry from 1944 to 1947, and then at Missouri School of Mines at Rolla, Missouri.

Antoine Marc Gaudin (1900-1974) was born in Smyrna, Turkey, to French parents. His father was the engineer and manager of a French-owned railroad in Turkey. Later, the Gaudin family moved to Haifa when the father was commissioned to construct and operate the Hijaz railroad. Following the “Young Turk” revolution in 1908, the family returned to France, where the young Gaudin studied at the University of Paris. During World War I, Gaudin senior was sent to the United States as a member of the French War Mission, in charge of purchasing railroad materials. The young Gaudin joined him in 1917 and studied at the Columbia University School of Mines. He taught there from 1924 to 1926, then at University of Utah, at Montana School of Mines, and finally settled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He authored books on flotation and mineral dressing.

Carl Wagner (1901-1977) was born in Leipzig and studied at Munich, Leipzig and Darmstadt. After occupying various positions in Germany, he joined the teaching staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1950 to 1958. Wagner returned to Germany to head the Max Planck Institute of Physical Chemistry in Göttingen. He authored Thermodynamics of Alloys in 1952.

Cyril Stanley Smith (1903-1992) was born in Birmingham, England. During World War II (from 1943-1946), he joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to work on metallurgical aspects of the atomic bomb. From 1946 to 1961, he was at the University of Chicago where he founded and was the first director of the Institute for the Study of Metals. In 1961, he returned to MIT as a professor of metallurgy and humanities.

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