Beilstein, Konrad Friedrich

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Beilstein, Konrad Friedrich

(b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 17 February 1838; d. St. Petersburg, 18 October 1906)


Beilstein’s parents, Friedrich Beilstein and Catharine Margaret Rustch, were German. His father, a salesman, and tailor from Lichtenberg near Darmstadt, was related to Justus Liebig. His mother came from a farming and weaving family, and her uncle, Johannes Conrad Rutsch, was court tailor to the czar. Rutsch took an interest in Beilstein and sent him, at the age of fifteen, to Germany for study. Beilstein studied with leading figures in Germany—Bunsen and Kekulé at Heidelberg, Liebig at Munich, and Wöhler at Göttingen. In 1858 he received the doctorate at Göttingen, then continued his studies with Wurtz and Charles Friedel in Paris, and with Löwig in Breslau. In 1860 he began to teach at Göttingen, and in 1865 was appointed extraordinary professor. As a result of family difficulties following his father’s death, Beilstein moved to the Technical Institute of St. Petersburg in 1866 and remained there the rest of his life. From 1865 to 1871 he, Hübner, and Fitting edited the Zeitschrift für Chemie. He belonged to the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft, and in 1881 was elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

Beilstein’s work with many of the leading chemists of the day impressed him with the differences and difficulties in organic chemistry. Some chemists were guided by dualistic electrochemical notions and the older radical theory, while others viewed compounds as substitution products of several basic types of molecules. In addition, ideas about valence and the geometrical arrangement of bonds in structural formulas were being put forth. Beilstein was aware of all these views. He was attracted by Kekulué’s ideas, for they seemed to provide a possible solution to the difficulties and to permit the writing of specific formulas for compounds. His own work heightented his awareness of the need for specific formulas. In 1860. for example, he showed that ethylidene chloride, obtained by Wurtz in 1858, was identical with the éther hydrochlorique monochloridée of Regnault. With F. Reichenbach he showed in 1864 that Kolbe and Lautemann’s salicylic acid was only impure benzoic, and with J. Wilbrand he showed in 1863 that dracylic acid from nitrodracylic acid (i.e., p-nitro-benzoic acid) was also identical with benzoic acid. He himself had prepared pure hydracrylic acid in 1862, only to see the formula he had assighned to this compound overturned two years later by the work of Moldenhauer. In 1866, through his work with P. Geitner on the chlorination of benzene compounds, he became more convinced of the importance of Kekulé’s ideas. They had investigated when chlorination would occur on a side chain and when in the nucleus. He also worked on aromatic compounds in various petroleum fractions.

At Göttingen, Beilstein had attempted to bring order into organic chemistry and had started his Handbuch der organische Chemie, which superseded Gmelin’s textbook. In Beilstein’s handbook, material that had previously been included in textbooks in an abbreviated form was now expanded into a new form of chemical literature. The first edition (1880-1882) described 15,000 compounds. The rapaid growth of organic chemistry made new editions imperative. By the end of the century the magnitude of the task was too great for one man. The Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft agreed to prepare a supplement to the third edition. After Beilstein’s death they began to prepare a fourth edition, which would survey the literature to 1910. This edition appeared in 1937. The following year a supplement of equal length appeared, covering the decade 1910-1919. Work continued on a second supplement.


1. Original Works. Among Beilstin’s writings are “Ueber die Einwirkung verschiedener Aetherarten auf Aether-Natron and über die Aethylkohlensäure,” in Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie, 112 (1859), 121-125; ldquo;Ueber die Umwandlung des Acetals zu Alderhyd,” ibid., 239-240: “Ueber die Identität des Aethylidenchlorürs and des Chlorürs des gechlorten Aethyls,” ibid., 113 (1860), 110-112: “Ueber die Umwandlung der Glycerinsäure in Acrylsäure,” ibid., 122 (1862), 366-374; “Ueber die Zersetzung der Aldehyde and Acetone durch Zinkäthyl.” ibid., 126 (1863), 241–247, written with K. F. Rieth and R. Rieth; “Ueber eine neue Reihe isomerer Verbindungen der Benzoegruppe–Nitrodracylsäure and deren Derivate,” ibid., 128 (1863), 257-273, written with J. Wilbrand; “Ueber die Natur der sogenannten Salylsäure.” in Annalen der Chemie and pharmacie, 132 (1864), 309-321, written with E. Reichenbach; “Untersuchung über Isomerie in der Benzoëreihe: Ueber das Verhalten der Homologen des Benzols gegen Chlor.” ibid., 139 (1866), 331-342, written with P. Geitner; “Ueber die Scheidung des Zinks von Nickel,” in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft. 11 (1878). 1715-1718: “Ueber die Natur des Kakasischen Petroleums,” ibid., 13 (1880), 1818–1821, written with K. F. Kurbatov and A. Kurbatov: and Handbuch der organischen Chemie, 2 vols. (1880–1883; 2nd ed., 1886-1889; 3rd ed., 1892-1899: 4th ed., 1916-1937).

Letters to Zincke and others are in the Kekulé Archiv and in the Preussische Staatsbibliothek. Letters to R. Anschutz are in the possession of Prof. L. Anschutz.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Beilstein are F. Hjelt, “Verzeichnis in der deutschen and franzoischen Zeitschriften ercheinen Abhandlungen Beilstein,” in Berchte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellscheft, 40 (1907), 5074–5078; F. Richter, “Konrad friedrich Beilstein, sein Werk and seine Zeit,” ibid., 71 (1938), Abt. A, 35-55; and F. Richter, “Zum 100. Geburtstag von Konrad Friedrich Beilstein,” in Forschungen and Fortschritte, 14 (1938), 59–60.

Ruth Anne Gienapp