Adolf Ferdinand Gehlen

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(b. Bütow, Pom—erania (now Bytów, Poland], 15 September 1775; d. Munich, Germany, 15 July 1815),

pharmacy, chemistry.

The last decades of the eighteenth century and the first of the nineteenth century constituted a high point in the development of pharmacy in Germany. The apothecaries themselves made a particularly vigorous contribution to the scientific advancement of their field, and many of them worked with great enthusiasm in areas far beyond the narrow confines of their profession. Gehlen. the son of an apothecary, grew up in this fruitful period. Like his younger brother, he was destined for a career in pharmacy. At school in his native city he acquired a very good knowledge of the classical languages, then received his practical training under the direction of Karl Gottfried Hagen, the court apothecary in Königsberg. After three years Gehlen entered the University of Konigsberg, where he studied modern languages and subjects related to pharmacy, so that he was later able to correspond —in eight languages —with scientists throughout the world. He graduated with the M.D. degree.

As a child, Gehlen suffered from an ear ailment that left him hard of hearing. Since it would therefore have been difficult for him to wait on customers in an apothecary shop, he sought to establish contacts in Berlin, where he could occupy himself primarily with laboratory research and writing. After working briefly with Klaproth, who helped him improve his knowledge of chemistry, Gehlen was hired by Valentin Rose, another former student of Hagen’s. Together they edited the first six volumes of the Neues Berliner Jahrbuch für die Pharmazie (1803- 1806). At the same time Gehlen took over the editorship of the Allge—meines Journal der Chemie from Alexander Niko—laus Scherer, when the latter was appointed professor at the University of Dorpat. After publishing six volumes from 1803 to 1806 under the title Neues allgemeines Journal der Chemie, he decided to expand its scope and renamed it Journal für Chernie, Physik und Mineralogie. Despite the broadening of subject matter promised by the title, the nine volumes that appeared until 1810 remained devoted almost exclusively to chemical topics. The only change was the inclusion of articles on the physical aspects of chemistry, a field then growing steadily in importance.

Gehlen quickly revealed how well suited he was to being an editor. He was very strict in selecting articles, accepting only those that corresponded to the title of the journal and avoiding any overlap with other periodicals. Whereas most editors of the time, in an effort to offer as much material as possible, set scarcely any boundaries between their own areas and the other sciences, Gehlen published only material pertaining to chemistry. He was also, to a large extent, successful in convincing other editors to follow his policy, and in a few cases he even drew up contracts establishing the editorial limits between his journal and others. He concluded such an agreement with Johann Barthelomaus Trommsdorff, editor of the Journal der Pharmacie. L. W. Gilbert, too, indicated his readiness to limit as much as possible the inclusion of chemistry articles in his Annalen der Physik. The cooperation went so far that the editors sent each other material they had received but thought more suited to the other’s journal.

Gehlen displayed considerable skill in enlisting a large circle of distinguished collaborators, including Herrnbstädt, Kiaproth, and Trommsdorff. Most of the articles he published were original, although he also included important foreign works that he himself had translated. Each volume of the journal contained an extensive bibliography, as well as a lively correspondence section that was much appreciated by its readers.

The importance of the articles that Gehlen wrote at this time did not lie in any wholly new discoveries or concepts. Rather, his strength was always in his ability to make critical evaluations and to point out ways in which known results could be fürther improved and submitted to careful testing. For example, he refuted the assertion made by Fourcroy and Vauquelin that formic acid is a mixture of acetic and malic acids, and he was also one of the first to recognize the toxicity of hydrocyanic acid.

In 1806 Gehlen went to Halle, where he devoted his time exclusively to academic concerns. He wrote a dissertation in the natural sciences and qualified as a Privatdozent. He was engaged by J. C. Reil to lecture on zoochemistry at the clinical institute.

The following year Gehlen accepted an appointment as akademiseher Chemiker at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, of which he automatically became a member. Following the accession to the throne of Maximilian I, a more liberal spirit reigned in Bavaria. It thus became possible to attract even foreign scientists to the capital, especially since the university science faculty was at that time the center of some very advanced experimental research. Gehien’s activities at the Academy absorbed all his energies. He was required to study the Bavarian mining and metallurgical industries, as well as its glass and porcelain manufacturing. Moreover, since the king took a strong personal interest in the encouragement of agriculture, Gehlen was often obliged to travel around the country gathering information, to analyze soil samples, and to write reports and scientific papers on the subject. In order to have the time for all these duties, he gave up his editorial activities in 1810 and was succeeded by Johann Christoph Schweigger.

In 1807 Gehien was promised a laboratory, but construction was delayed for eight years by unfavorable economic conditions. As a result, he was obliged to erect a laboratory in his own house. Gehien’s favorite field of study was still pharmacy. With J. A. Buchner he founded the Pharmazeutischer Verein in Baiern, which, going beyond the usual professional concerns, set itself broad social aims as well. Gehien published a plan proposing old-age insurance for apothecary’s assistants, and, with the support of Bucholz and Trommsdorff, he called for the establishment of a fund for this purpose. It existed for years as the Bucholz-GehlenTrommsdorff Stiftung. Gehlen frequently helped capable young apothecaries to enroll in universities or assisted them in other ways. In 1815 he and Buchner began publication of Reportorium für die Pharmacie. Finally, in that same year, construction was started on the long-promised laboratory.

Unfortunately, Gehien was not able to benefit from the new laboratory. Having undertaken a major work on the compounds of arsenic without being aware of the toxicity of arsenic hydride, he had inhaled a large quantity of that substance: he succumbed, after much suffering, to arsenic hydride poisoning. With his death chemistry lost one of the most famous scientists of the age. The apothecaries of Bavaria erected a monument to him, and his friend Georg F. C. Fuchs named a silicon compound gehlenite in his honor.


I. Original Works Gehien’s writings include “Bemerkungen Über die Ätherarten,” in Veues allgeineines Journal der Chemie,2 (1804). 206—227; “Über den bässeschen Salzäther und Über das Verhältniss der Acidität der Essigsäure zu ihrem spezifischen Gewicht.” ibid., 5 (1805). 689—695; “Beiträge zur wissenschaftlichen Begründung der Glasmacherkunst,” in Denk schriften der Königlichen Bayerischen, Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München (1809-1810). 197-224: Fassliche Anleitung zu der Erzeugung und Gewinnung des Salpeters zunächst für Landleute (Nuremberg, 1812: 2nd ed., 1815): “Bemerkungen über die Eigenthurnlichkeit der Ameisensaure.” in Journal für Chemie und Physik,4 (1812), 1- 41: Anleitung zum Bau der waldpflanze (Munich, 1814); “Über das electrochemische System,” ibid.,12 (1814), 403-411; “Über das Glasmachen ohne Pottasche vermittelst des GlaÜbersaizes.” ibid.,15 (1815), 89-107; and “Neue Bearbeitungsart des Arsenwasserstoffes,” ibid., 501 — 503. A list of Gehien’s writings is in Denkmal auf dem Grabe des Adolf Ferdinand Gehlen…,prepared by the Pharmaceutischer Verein in Baiern (Munich, 1820).

II. Secondary Literature See the obituaries by J. A. Buchner in Reportorium für die Pharmacie, 1 (1815). 435-446; and by F. von Schlichtegroll in Denkschriften der Königlichen Bayerischen Akademie der Wisseschaften zu Munchen (1814-1815), xxix — xxxv.

GÜnther Kerstein

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Gehlen, Adolf Ferdinand

(b. Bütow, Germany. 15 September 1775; d, Munich, Germany, 15 July 1815)


For a detailed study of his life and work, see Supplement.