Anschütz, Richard

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Anschütz, Richard

(b. Darmstadt, Germany, 10 March 1852; d. Darmstadt, 3 January 1937)


The son of a German officer, Anschütz was imbued with a deep sense of simplicity, responsibility, and duty. Excelling in mathematics and the natural sciences, he graduated from the Gymnasium of his native city at eighteen and began to study engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt. At the end of his first semester he changed his course of studies in order to concentrate on chemistry, to which he devoted four semesters. He then matriculated at the University of Heidelberg, from which he obtained the Ph. D. on 24 February 1874, and went on to Tübingen in order to round out his studies in chemistry under Rudolf Fittig.

Soon a fortunate event gave a decisive turn to his career. Having learned that August Kekulé sought a new assistant, Fittig urged Anschütz to apply for the post. At the time Kekulé was the grand master of organic chemistry and for several years had headed the Institute of Chemistry of the University of Bonn, which had become the mecca for chemists. Young Anschütz, barely twenty-three, was admitted to residence and given an assistantship. Since Kekulé gave his assistants great freedom, Anschütz was able to choose among many subjects and to complete his projects either by himself or in collaboration with other chemists or students who used the laboratory.

Anschütz rose through the academic ranks in Bonn. He was an instructor in 1878; Unterrichtsassistent in 1882, succeeding Claisen; associate professor in 1889, after Wallach moved to Göttingen; full professor in charge of the Chemical Institute in 1898, following the death of Kekulé and rector of the university during World War I. He remained director of research until his retirement in 1922. Subsequently, he did important biobibliographical research on Couper and Loschmidt, both little known at that time. He wrote August Kekulé, Leben and Wirken (1929) and composed obituaries of L. Claisen and W. Körner.

For fifty years Anschütz was able to dedicate himself to research. A talented experimenter, he successfully combined physical methods and chemical synthesis as a means of establishing chemical structure. He also pioneered in methods of vacuum distillation (1887).

Anschütz’ major publications all dealt with organic chemistry. His earliest contributions, on polybasic acids, were closely related to Kekulé’s experiments on unsaturated dibasic acids. The isomerism of maleic and fumaric acids was the starting point, but Anschütz’ preoccupation with it lasted almost the rest of his life. He expressed his views on this subject in articles published in Liebig’s Annalen (1887, 1889, 1928) under the title “Zur Geschichte der Isomerie der Fumarsäure. und der Maleinsäure.”

In his research on oxalic acid and its derivatives, Anschütz recognized the value of using oxalic acid as a dehydrating agent in the preparation of the anhydrides of dicarboxylic acids from the corresponding chlorides. By distilling under reduced pressure, he succeeded in isolating new oxalic acid esters, such as dichloroxalic ester and tetraorthoxalic ester.

In 1883, in collaboration with F. Eltzbacher, Anschütz synthesized anthracene by the action of aluminum chloride on a mixture of benzene and acetylene tetrabromide, thus providing a confirmation of the formula proposed by Graebe and Liebermann. Using carbon disulfide as a solvent in reactions of aluminum chloride with aromatic hydrocarbons, Anschütz studied the shifting of alkyl side chains on the ring. These important studies, carried out between 1882 and 1885, became the subjects of doctoral dissertations sponsored by Anschütz.

In other experiments (beginning in 1885) involving the action of phosphorus chloride on phenol, phenolcarbonic acids, and phenolsulfuric acids, Anschütz furnished a confirmation of the analogy between phenolcarbonic and phenolsulfuric acids, which had been indicated by Kekulé as early as 1867. In 1893 Anschütz succeeded in clarifying the action of phosphorus oxychloride on salicylic acid. This, in turn, led to his research on salicylides, dithiosalicylides, and sulfonylides. One of the results of this work was the discovery of a crystalline salicylide chloroform that is one-third chloroform by weight. From it chloroform of high purity can be extracted. This chloroform, named “Anschütz,” is used for narcosis.

In his work on dioxytartaric acid and tartrazine Anschütz was able to furnish proof that tartrazine is not an osazone, as Ziegler had assumed, but a derivative of pyrazoline.

In collaboration with his pupils Anschütz wrote many papers on the tetronic and benzotetronic acids. He proposed the name “benzotetronic acid” for β-hydroxycoumarin in order to stress the analogy with tetronic acid, in which methylene is replaced by phenylene. New syntheses of coumarin and of tetronic acid itself were realized, and dimethyltetramic acid was also produced in pure form.


I. Original Works. Most of Anschütz’ original articles were published between 1876 and 1936 in Liebigs Annalen der Chemie and in the Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft; Poggendorff provides a partial list. His books are Die Destillation unter vermindertem Druck im Laboratorium (Bonn 1887) with V. Von Richter Lehbuch der organischen Chemie (Bonn 1894; 12th ed., 1935) August Kekulé Leben und Wirken (Berlin 1929)

II Secondary Literature. Hans Meerwein “Richad Anschütz zum Gedächtnis” in Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschft, 74A (1941) 29–74.

Jean Gillis