June/July 2008


Migration and movement of scholars - A study in the history of diffusion of knowledge (Part 4)

By F. Habashi

Political turmoil and forced emigration

Political unrest in a country may force distinguished thinkers to leave their homes for another country. Voltaire lived in England from 1726 to 1729 when he was exiled from France, due to his political writings that set the groundwork for the Great Revolution. In 1850, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx followed him to London after publishing their Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848.  England was also the destination for deposed rulers and overthrown politicians; King Charles X of France found refuge in England after the 1830 Revolution. Although political unrest in Europe in 1848 led to massive emigration to the United States, King Louis Philippe of France and the Austrian statesman Metternich found refuge in England.

When the distinguished French chemist Lavoisier (1743-1794) was executed during the turmoil of the French Revolution, his associate at his Gun Powder Laboratory in the Arsenal, Eleuthière Irénée du Pont de Nemours (1771-1834), emigrated with his family to America in 1800. His father, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, was a friend of Lavoisier’s who owned a large estate at Bois-des-Fossés, near Nemours. He was arrested in August 1794, three months after Lavoisier’s execution, but released a month later after Robespierre had been guillotined. Feeling insecure in his home country, he and his family left for America. Irénée started the first gunpowder factory in America (in Delaware) and was the founder of the great chemical enterprise now known as Du Pont.

At the same time, Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the famous British chemist who had discovered oxygen in 1774, was forced to flee to America. Because  Priestly was sympathetic to the independence of the American colonies and the French Revolution, he was attacked in his home country because of his political views.

His home in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he established his laboratory and discovered carbon monoxide, is now a museum. It was there, in 1874, where American chemists gathered to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of his discovery of oxygen. During this event, a proposal was made to form a chemical society; however, the proposal was shot down by a past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was formed earlier in the year. Two years later, however, in 1876, the American Chemical Society was founded.

During the same troubled period, Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814), later known as Count Rumford, had to leave his home in America in 1775 for England. After a brief stay in London, he accepted a top position in the Kingdom of Bavaria where he spent 11 years before returning to England. During his stay in Bavaria, the title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire was bestowed on him; he chose the name Rumford, the name by which his birth place of Concord, New Hampshire, had been known. He became an extremely wealthy man and in 1799, founded the Royal Institution of Great Britain on Albermarle Street using his own funds. In 1802, he employed Humphry Davy (1778-1829) as a researcher, who, in turn, later employed Michael Faraday (1791-1867) as his assistant. Many great discoveries in electrochemistry, inorganic chemistry and metallurgy were made at the Royal Institution during the 19th century.

Ignacy Domeyko (1802-1889), a distinguished mineralogist, was born at Niezd-Wiadka in Poland, educated at Vilna and forced to leave Poland after participating in the insurrection of 1830 against Russian occupation. He went to Paris to study at the École des Mines. After graduating in 1839, he went to Chile as a professor of chemistry at Coquimbo College. In 1840, he discovered silver deposits in the Andes Mountains and helped develop Chilean resources. When his school burned down, he moved to Santiago to become a professor of mineralogy at the newly founded University of Santiago, which he had helped create; he was its rector from 1867 to 1887.

In 1891, Marja Sklodowska (1867-1934) left her home country of Poland, which was under Russian occupation, for Paris, where she entered the Sorbonne and married physics professor Pierre Curie in 1895; she was awarded two Nobel prizes for her work on radioactivity in 1905 (physics) and in 1911 (chemistry).

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, there was an exodus of tens of thousands of Russians to France, England and North America. The same situation took place in the 1930s when the National Socialist Party took power in Germany.

British immigrants in Sweden

From its very founding in 1621, Göteborg, now Sweden’s second largest city, had been a cosmopolitan city. Dutchmen had been brought in to lay out the town centre. Germans, Englishmen and Scots had established themselves at an early date, mostly as traders and craftsmen. From the mid-18th century onwards, even more immigrants came from Scotland. In 1731, they founded the Swedish East India Company for the export of iron and timber and the import of cereals and coal. Fully loaded, the ships returned more than a year later to Göteborg, where the cargo was stored in the company’s huge warehouse on Norra Hamngatan (now Göteborg City Museum). The enterprise was  highly successful.

William Chalmers was one of the early Scottish immigrants who married a Swedish girl and settled in Göteborg. His son, William Chalmers Jr. (1748-1811), was born in Göteborg.

In 1783, William Chalmers Jr. set off for China. He had been appointed representative of the Swedish East India Company in Canton and Macao, where many European nations set up trading stations. He remained in this post for 10 years before returning to Göteborg a very wealthy man. On visits to England, he saw industrialization in full swing and he foresaw a similar development in Sweden. Declining in health in the spring of 1811 and having no family of his own, he proposed creating an “industrial school for poor children who have learned to read and write.” Three weeks after signing his will, William Chalmers Jr. died.

The Swedish East India Company began to run into difficulties towards the end of the 18th century, and in 1813, it went bankrupt after 132 voyages in 70 years. Eleven years later, when disputes with the estate in bankruptcy had been settled, the proposed school was founded from Chalmers’ bequest. Eduard von Schoultz (1815-1881) studied at the school and graduated in 1841; he became its director in 1852. He introduced a one-year preparatory course to increase the number of potential students, by offering preparatory studies to pupils without sufficient prior knowledge. In 1878, this “lower” course became a two-year one and the school was divided into “Chalmers Lower” and “Chalmers Higher.” This division survived until 1937 when Chalmers Lower was reconstituted as Göteborg Technical Secondary School and Chalmers Higher acquired the status of a university of technology.

Peter the Great and the New Russia

In his attempt to destroy Russia’s isolation and make his country a commanding power, Peter the Great (1672-1725) founded Saint Petersburg in 1703 on the Neva River and made it the capital of Russia in 1713. He hired many foreign artists and engineers to build luxurious palaces and spacious churches. In 1724, he created an Academy of Sciences, which he staffed with foreign scientists. For example, the Swiss mathematician Euler (1707-1783) was a member of the academy from 1727 to 1741. His son, Johann Albert Euler (1734-1800), was born in Saint Petersburg and was also a member of the academy.

Peter the Great paid special attention to the mining and metallurgical industry. In Moscow in 1700, he created an organization charged with directing the prospecting for deposits. In 1711, he travelled to Freiberg twice to visit the mines and metallurgical installations. In 1719, he founded the Bergkollegium (Mining Council), which had the authority to develop the mining industry. He hired a large number of foreign specialists to help him develop all areas of mining and metallurgy. For example, V.I. Guenin (1676-1750) of Holland was hired to direct the industry in the Olonetski region and later in the Urals. He introduced major improvements in the production of cast iron and cannons.

Johann Schlatter (1708-1768) was hired in Berlin in 1722 to work in the assay laboratory of the Bergkollegium. In 1724, he accepted a position at the Saint Petersburg Mint and became its director in 1754. From 1760 to 1768, he served as president of the Bergkollegium. His work Detailed Course of Instruction for the Mining Industry, published in 1760, discussed the problems of geology, mineralogy, prospecting, the sinking of shafts for extracting ores and the state of contemporary mining machines. It contained chapters on the exploitation of coal deposits and the use of stream engines for pumping water. The book was later used for teaching at the School of Mines.

Peter’s successors continued this enlightened tradition until the 1917 Revolution. In 1781, Benedikt Franz Johann Hermann (1755-1815) was hired from Styria in the Austrian Empire, to build a steel plant in Ekaterinburg. In 1737, Christlieb Ehregott Gellert (1713-1795) was hired from Saxony to teach in Saint Petersburg, where he stayed until 1765. He wrote Anfangsgründe zur metallurgischen Chemie (1751) and Anfangsgründe der Probierkunst (1775). Germain Henri Hess (1802-1850) was hired from Switzerland to teach chemistry at the Saint Petersburg Mining Institute in 1832 and stayed there until his death. He also taught at the Polytechnic Institute and the Military College in Saint Petersburg. In 1831, he published his Fundamentals of General Chemistry, which was the standard textbook until Mendeleev wrote his in 1869. Hess is the founder of thermochemistry and in 1840 formulated the law named after him.

The Russian heavy metallurgical industry was launched with the discovery of iron ore at Krivoy Rog in the south, the development of coal mining in the Donetz Basin 320 kilometres to the east and the connection of these two centres by railway in 1884. The main industrial centre in the Donetz was the New Russia Metallurgical Company, founded in 1869 by a Welshman named John Hughes. The plant was called Yuzovka for Hughesovka, but was renamed Stalino in 1924. Since Stalin’s death it was changed to the more neutral Donetzk.

Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896) was born in Stockholm, and at the age of nine, he moved with his parents to Saint Petersburg. From 1850 to 1854, he studied engineering in the United States and then returned to Saint Petersburg to help his father in the explosive business. He invented dynamite and became very wealthy. He was also engaged in the exploitation of the oil fields in Baku. He left a large fund for prizes to be awarded annually to persons who have made significant contributions in chemistry, physics, medicine or physiology, literature and peace.

The Austrian chemist Karl Josef Bayer (1847-1904) spent 1885 to 1894 in Russia; he was a student of Bunsen from 1869 to 1871. It was at the Tentelev plant in Saint Petersburg that he invented his process for the manufacture of alumina from bauxite.

Post a comment


PDF Version