Weizmann, Chaim

views updated May 18 2018


(b. Motol, White Russia, 27 November 1874; d. Rehovot, Israel, 9 November 1952), organic chemistry, biochemistry.

“Chemistry is my private occupation. It is this activity in which I rest from my social tasks,” Thus did Chaim Weizmann describe the contrapuntal relationship between his lifelong career as a scientist and his leadership of the Zionist movement. In his disciplined mind these two vocations, representing reason and faith, were made harmonious. The intellectual and physical power that science conveys was to help free the Jews for their return to Palestine and was to form a vital, integral part of a revived, modern Jewish culture.

After early religious and secular schooling within the segregated Jewish community of rural Russia, Weizmann, at the age of twelve, entered the Gymnasium at Pinsk and was there exposed to gentile ways and Western European thought. Although his grades were uniformly high, chemistry was his favorite subject. With parental encouragement he set out to gain advanced knowledge in that field at the technical institutes of Darmstadt (1893–1894) and Berlin (1895–1898), where Liebermann and his students (among them Bistrzycki) were investigating polycyclical aromatic compounds of particular interest to dye manufacturers. When Bistrzycki went to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, Weizmann followed, Soon afterward (1899), Weizmann wrote the dissertation “I. Elektrolytische Reduktion von 1-Nitroanthrachinon. II. Ueber die Kondensation von Phenan-247 threnchinon U. 1-Nitroanthrachinon mit einigen phenolen” and was awarded the Ph.D. summa cum laude. He subsequently joined Karl Graebe at the University of Geneva as Privatdozent. Extensive research on the naphthacene quinones led to patents that Weizmann sold profitably to French and German dye companies. Meanwhile he was rising to leadership in the world Zionist movement.

Weizmann’s decision to move to Manchester in 1904 was prompted by numerous considerations, including greater professional opportunity and a premonition that England could do the most for establishing a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. At Manchester, Weizmann enrolled as a student at the university. The following year, the head of the chemistry department, William H. Perkin, Jr., appointed him research fellow, and in 1907 senior lecturer, in biochemistry. Weizmann secured additional income by serving as consultant for local industry and selling new patents. At this time he also married Vera Charzmann, a physician.

The university’s exceptional scientific faculty stimulated Weizmann in this, the most scientifically productive period of his life. Effective teaching attracted students who did research under his direction. The quest for alizarin-type dyes continued along previous lines: the polyhydroxylation of naphthacene qunione, for example, yielded colors of moderate utility. About 1909 Weizmann added biochemical investigations to his research, seeking to synthesize various naturally occurring peptides; he later studied the photochemical behavior of amino acids, proteins, and ketones. He also began investigating germentation reactions, searching for a strain of bacteria that would convert carbohydrates into isoamy1 alcohol–a precursor, via isoprene, of synthetic rubber. Instead, in 1912, he found the strain Clostricium acetobutylicum, which broke starches down into one part ethanol, three parts acetone, and six parts butanol. During World War I, when great quantities of acetone were needed to plasticize the propellant cordite, Weizmann successfully engineered its massive production in Great Britain for the Admiralty and Ministry of Munitions. Plants were also built in India, Canada, and the United States; their production continued after the war, butanol then being the prefferred product for use in auto lacquers. Weizmann, in effect, opened the Microbiological road to the production of industrial chemicals.

Meanwhile, in 1917, Weizmann secured from Lord Balfour a declaration of British help in establishing a national homeland for the Jews, the Subsequent realization of which took so much of Weizmann’s time that he stopped all scientific activity except for promoting the growth of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and his founding of the Daniel Sieff (later Weizmann) Institute of Science in Rehovot (1934), both of which soon became notable centers of scientific learning.

In 1934 Weizmann simultaneously resumed his research at Rehovot and London, adding significantly to lines of investigation begun before 1918. particularly those that were relevant to Palestine’s economy: the commercial synthesis of organic compounds from agricultural products or petroleum. Of considerable technical significance was his discovery of several reaction mechanisms by which petroleum fractions could be reduced, by cracking to ethylene and diene fragments, and then recombined into polynuclear aromatics of the type he had used earlier in his dye researches. Previously such dye intermediates could be obtained only from coal tar.

Practical, rather than fundamental, scientific considerations motivated Weizmann’s research. Apart from some interest late in his career in reaction mechanisms, his work is generally devoid of theoretical content. With his elevation in 1948 to the presidency of Israel, his career as a Zionist came to a climax and his career as a creative scientist came to an end.


I. Original Works. A nearly complete list of Weizmann’s 100 or so patents and of his 102 scientific publications can be obtained from the Weizmann Archives. Rehovot. Israel. Abstracts of most of his articles are in Chemisches Zentralblatt or chemical Abstracts. The Weizmann Archives hold the great bulk of his papers and continue to expand their collection. The documents are written in English. French. German, Hebrew. Russian, and Yiddish. The nonscientific Letters and Papers of Chaim Wizmann are currently being edited in a proposed 25 vols.: vols. I–VII, covering correspondence, 1885–1917, appeared in Hebrew and English eds., the latter published by Oxford University Press (London, 1968–1975). Weizmann’s scientific correspondence is being edited for publication under the supervision of Ernst D. Bergmann, of Hebrew University. Jerusalem. and David Lavie of the Weizmann Institute. Weizmann’s autobiography. Trial and Error (New York. 1949). was written between 1940 and 1948. Less than 5 percent of its 482 pages are devoted to his scientific career.

II. Secondary Literature.Chaim Weizmann, a Biography by several Hands. Meyer W. Weisgal and Joel Carmichael, eds. (London, 1962), contains Selman A. Waksman’s, “Weizmann as a Bacteriologist.” By far the best review of Weizmann’s contributions to science is E. D. Bergmann’s obituary notice in Journal of the chemical Society (1953), 2840–2844.

John J. Beer

Weizmann, Chaim

views updated Jun 27 2018

Weizmann, Chaim


One of the few who have achieved success in two disparate fields, chemist and statesman Chaim Weizmann was born on November 17, 1874, in the small town of Motol, Russiapart of what was known as the Pale of Settlement, an area where Jewish families were allowed to live. Beginning at age four he attended a religious school in which classes were conducted in Yiddish. (He did not learn Russian until he was eleven.) In 1885 he migrated to Pinsk to attend a Russian high school, where he studied chemistry and devoted much of his spare time to Zionist activities. He later became president of the World Zionist Organization (from 1921), president of the Hebrew University in Palestine (from 1932), and the first president, a largely ceremonial position, of the new State of Israel (from its establishment in 1948 until his death).

After university studies in Germany and Switzerland (he earned a Ph.D. in 1899 for research on dyestuffs), he taught as a privatdocent (unsalaried lecturer) at the University of Geneva. He subsequently carried out basic and applied research at the University of Manchester in England. His academic research was supplemented by industrial research. In 1904 he was awarded the first of his 110 patents. He became a British citizen in 1910.

During World War I, a search for synthetic rubber in England led to Weizmann's classic work on the fermentation of glucose , a sugar containing six carbon atoms, as a source of acetone (1915), urgently needed by the British government for the manufacture of cordite (smokeless powder). Weizmann's use of a fermenting agent to produce acetone followed his discovery of the acid-resistant microorganism Clostridium acetobutylicum ; this method of acetone production became known as the Weizmann process. At the request of Winston Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, the Weizmann process was put into operation on an enormous scale in England, Canada, and the United States. The rapid wartime expansion of this process (from a laboratory to an industrial scale) was not only unique among microbiological processes used in industry, but was also the forerunner of the rapid expansion of penicillin production during World War II, as well as of the breadth of operations of many of today's biotechnological processes.

Weizmann knew that his fermentation process yielded chemical compounds containing three and four carbon atoms and predicted that the same process could produce the substances on which modern petrochemical industries are based. He often enunciated the need for countries (especially those poor in natural oil) to replace a petroleum-based chemical industry with one based on fermentation.

The Balfour Declaration (1917), the first formal international recognition of Zionism, was, to some extent, a culmination of Weizmann's scientific and political efforts. His fermentation process, which contributed to the Allies' victory in World War I, was not a direct cause of the declaration but was certainly an indirect one.

During the two decades following World War I, politics replaced chemistry as Weizmann's main pursuit. However, he did pursue scientific research, alongside his political activities, until the end of his life. In his later years (and while president of Israel), he worked at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, where he died on November 9, 1952. In Israel his grave is a place of national pilgrimage.

see also Starch.

George B. Kauffman


Hecht, Harry (2002). "Butyl Alcohol Is Futile AlcoholOr Is It?" Chemical Heritage 20(2): 1011; 2628.

Kauffman, George B., and Mayo, Isaac (1992). "Chemist and Zionist Statesman." The World & I 7(11): 262269.

Kauffman, George B. (1994). "Chaim Weizmann (18741952): Chemist, Biotechnologist, and Statesman. The Fateful Interweaving of Political Conviction and Scientific Talent." Journal of Chemical Education 71(3): 209214.

Reinharz, Jehuda (1993). Chaim Weizmann: The Making of a Statesman. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weizmann, Chaim (1949). Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. New York: Harper.

Chaim Weizmann

views updated May 21 2018

Chaim Weizmann

The Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) was president of the World Zionist Organization and first president of the state of Israel.

Chaim Weizmann, son of Oizer and Rachel Weizmann, was born on Nov. 2, 1874, in Motele, Russia. After receiving a religious education, Chaim was admitted to the gymnasium of Pinsk, where he continued his Hebraic studies. At the age of 18, he received his baccalaureate. He majored in chemistry at the universities of Darmstadt and Berlin, and he received his doctor of science degree from the University of Freiburg in 1900. From 1900 to 1904 Weizmann was a lecturer in chemistry at the University of Geneva and from 1904 to 1916 a lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Manchester.

While in Switzerland, Weizmann joined the active Zionist leadership. He participated in all Zionist congresses after 1898 and was a delegate after 1901. He urged a synthesis of settlement, cultural work, and political propaganda to secure international recognition of Zionist goals in Palestine. He opposed the British proposal for Jewish settlement in Uganda. As an exponent of cultural Zionism, Weizmann suggested the creation of a Hebrew University in Palestine. The university opened in Jerusalem in 1925. In appreciation of his efforts in building the university, he was elected its honorary president.

During World War I, Weizmann, because of his connections with British authorities, emerged as the leader of the Zionist movement. As a result of his efforts, the British government issued on Nov. 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration, in which it declared its support of the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. As the head of a Jewish delegation, Weizmann appeared before the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and submitted the Zionist claims to Palestine. These claims were recognized by the League of Nations, and the British government was appointed to further Jewish settlement and to assist the development of a Jewish national home there.

In 1921 Weizmann was elected president of the World Zionist Organization, a post he held until 1931 and later from 1935 to 1946. When the Jewish Agency for Palestine was established in 1929, he served simultaneously as its president. In this dual capacity, he cooperated with Great Britain except for a time in 1930, when he resigned from his Zionist post in protest against the new British policy curtailing Jewish immigration to Palestine. After 1946, in spite of his unofficial position, Weizmann served with the Jewish Agency's delegation before the United Nations Special Committee for Palestine in October 1947. When Israel was proclaimed an independent state, he was elected the president of its Provisional Council of State. After the elections to the Parliament, he was elected, on Feb. 17, 1949, as Israel's first president, and he was reelected on Nov. 19, 1951.

In addition to his political activity, Weizmann also engaged in scholarly scientific work. He founded the Sief Research Institute in Rehovoth and served as its director from 1932 to 1952. This institute was later enlarged and named the Weizmann Institute of Science.

During his terms of office as president, he was in poor health and could not perform many of his official duties. He died in office on Nov. 9, 1952.

Further Reading

Considerable information on Weizmann can be gleaned from his Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (1949), and the first volume of a projected multivolume collection, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, edited by Leonard Stein and Gedalia Yogev (1968), which covers the years from his youth to 1902. Works on Weizmann include Paul Goodman, ed., Chaim Weizmann: A Tribute (1945); Isaiah Berlin, Chaim Weizmann (1949); and M. W. Weisgal and Joel Carmichael, eds., Chaim Weizmann: A Biography by Several Hands (1962).

Additional Sources

Blumberg, H. M. (Harold M.), Weizmann, his life and times, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975.

Chaim Weizmann: statesman of the Jewish renaissance: the Chaim Weizmann centenary, 1874-197, Jerusalem: Zionist Library, 1974.

Litvinoff, Barnet, Weizmann: last of the patriarchs, New York: Putnam, 1976.

Reinharz, Jehuda, Chaim Weizmann: the making of a statesman, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Rose, Norman, Chaim Weizmann: a biography, New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1986.

Weizmann, Chaim, The essential Chaim Weizmann: the man, the statesman, the scientist, New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1982. □

Weizmann, Chaim

views updated May 14 2018

Weizmann, Chaim (1874–1952) Zionist leader, first president of Israel (1948–52). Born in Belarus, he became a naturalized British subject in 1910. He played the major role in securing the Balfour Declaration (1917). He was president of the World Zionist Organization (1920–31, 1935–46), provisional president of Israel (1948) and elected president from 1949.

Chaim Weizmann

views updated Jun 11 2018

Chaim Weizmann


Russian-Israeli chemist who pioneered microbiological applications in industrial chemistry, such as using bacteria to break down starches for production of ethanol, butanol, and acetone. A politically active Zionist, Weizmann played a key role in securing the 1917 Balfour Declaration establishing the British mandate of Palestine, which ultimately became the state of Israel in 1947. Weizmann became the new nation's first president in 1948. He established an Institute of Sciences (now named after him) in the city of Rehovot in 1934.