Berthier, Pierre

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Berthier, Pierre

(b. Nemours, France, 3 July 1782; d. Paris, France, 24 August 1861)

mineralogy, mining engineering, agricultural chemistry.

Berthier entered the École Polytechnique in Paris in 1798, where he studied under Monge and Berthollet. On completing his course, he entered the École des Mines in 1801, and was one of the few students who moved with the school to Montier. Schreiber, the head of the school, was an experienced mining engineer who stressed fieldwork, including actual mining experience in the lead and silver mine at Pesey.

Berthier was called in 1806 to the newly completed central laboratory of the Board of Mines. In 1816, after additional field experience, he was appointed professor of assaying and chief of the laboratory at the École des Mines. Even after he retired in 1848, Berthier maintained his laboratory there. He was paralyzed in 1851 as a result of a street accident.

With Arago’s warm support, Berthier was elected a member of the Académie des Sciences in 1825, and became a chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1828. In 1859 he was awarded the Grand Gold Medal of the Society of Agriculture of France.

Berthier published more than 150 papers on a wide variety of scientific subjects. Most appeared in Annales de chimie and Annales des mines, with later papers in Erdmann’s Journal, Liebig’s Annalen, and the Quarterly Journal of Science. He analyzed kaolin, pioneered in locating deposits of native phosphates for use in agriculture, analyzed dozens of minerals and metalliferous ores, and discovered several new mineral species, including bauxite and Berthierite. Berthier is credited with knowing, before Mitscherlich’s work on isomorphism, that substances that are chemically different may have the same crystalline form and may even cocrystallize.

Berthier put forth no new concepts, preferring instead to add to man’s stock of chemical and mineralogical facts. His well-known Traité des essais par la voie sèche was widely used by mineralogists and mining engineers because his analytical procedures were simple, relatively accurate, and practical. Berthier maintained a lifelong interest in plant chemistry, and his analyses of plant constituents received some notice, but his importance lies in what he added to French geology, mineralogy, and metallurgy.


I. Original Works. Berthier’s papers are too numerous to cite individually. A nearly complete List is in the Catalogue of Scientific Papers, Royal Society of London, 1st ser., pp. 315–319. The list in Poggendorff, I (1863), 166, is incomplete. Berthier’s major work is Traité des essais par la voie sèche ou des propriétés, de la composition et de l’essai des substances, Métalliques et des combustibles, 2 vols. (Paris, 1834).

II. Secondary Literature. The best recent, although somewhat uncritical, account is R. Samuel LaJeunesse, Grands mineurs français (Paris, 1948), ch. 7. See also Dictionnaairede biographie française. VI (1954), 218: Jerome Nicklès,” Correspondence of Jerome Nicklès…” in American Journal of Science, 2nd ser’., 32 (1861), 108; École Polytechnique, Livre du centenaire, III (Paris, 1897), passim; and J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, IV (London, 1964), 97–98.

Louis I. Kuslan

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Berthier, Pierre

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