Elhuyar (or Elhuyart), Fausto D’
Elhuyar (or Elhuyart), Fausto D’
(b. Logroño, Spain, 11 October 1755; d. Madrid, Spain, 6 January 1833)
chemistry, mineralogy, assaying.
The younger brother of Juan José D’Elhuyar, Fausto shared his brother’s studies, profession, and travels until 8 October 1781, when they separated in Vienna and Fausto returned to Spain. There he taught mineralogy and structural, or geotectonic, geology at the Real Seminario Patriötico in Vergara and, with François Chabaneau, lecturer in physics and chemistry, founded the Real Escuela Metalúrgica. There too D’Elhuyar collaborated in the experiments conducted by his brother Juan José, the discoverer of metallic tungsten, and in 1784 he distributed the monograph that had been published under both their names and made it well known when Juan José left for South America. Thus Fausto is the better known of the two and often is erroneously credited with having made the larger contribution to the discovery of metallic tungsten.
In 1785 D’Elthuyar abandoned the teaching of mineralogy and worked with Chabaneau on separating platinum and rendering it malleable. On this subject he had his own ideas and methods, which were opposed to those of Carl von Sickingen. He was unable to develop them, however, for the Spanish government commissioned him to visit his friend Ignaz von Born in Hungary, to see at firsthand Born’s new method of amalgamation for the treatment of gold and silver ores. Fausto sent this information to his brother, as well as drawings and models of apparatus to assist Juan José in Nueva Granada (now Colombia). The method was regarded as a revolutionary one, but Born conceded that its origins were in Alvaro Alonso Barba’s El arte de los metales. D’Elhuyar improved it, however, by adding salt and lime and showed that, contrary to the prevailing view, gold and silver ores could be roasted. The French chemist Joseph-Louis Proust extolled his work in his “Extracto de los descubrimientos de Don Fausto D’Elhuyar” (published in Spanish in Anales del real laboratorio quimico de Segovia, 1 ). was an avid researcher. In the first of his Disertactiones metalurgicas (Madrid, 1933) he asserted that there were no essential differences between chemical substances, and he adopted the phlogiston theory only in order to make himself easily understood. From his experiments he concluded that “there is no other difference between metals than that which distinguishes each in kind”—there are only gradations. D’Elhuyar also discovered chloroargentic acid and obtained new results in combining sulfur and metals.
The Spanish government put him in charge of organizing missions of metallurgists to go to Mexico and Peru. D’Elhuyar selected Friedrich Sonneschmidt to head the first and Baron Nordenflicht to head the second. The development and prosperity of Mexican mining was due largely to D’Elhuyar’s efforts, for when he arrived it was on the decline. After Alexander von Humboldt visited Mexico, he wrote in his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain: “No city on the New Continent, not even in the United States, offers scientific establishments so vast and so solid as does the capital of Mexico. It is enough to cite here the School of Mines, of which the scholar D’Elhuyar is Director.”
with the start of the War of Independence in 1810, the work of the College of Mines was interrupted and it went into decline, as did mining throughout Mexico. During the conflict D’Elhuyar remained loyal to Spain. In 1821 he resigned his post and returned to Madrid, where he became a member of the Directorate General of Public Credit and of the Development Board. His Memoria para la formatión de una ley orgánic para el gobierno de la mineria en España was the basis for the mining law enacted in 1825. Although he was appointed Director General of Mines, he was assigned to other duties, and his learning and research skills were not fully utilized.
On D’Elhuyar or his work see the following: Biografia del ilustrisimo Señor Don Fasto D’Elhuyar y de Subice (sic) (Madrid, 1853); Juan Fages y Virgili, Los quimicos de Vergara y sus obras (Madrid, 1909); A. de Gálvez Cañero y Alzola, Apuntes biográficos de Don Fausto D’Elhuyar (Madrid, 1933); A. federico Gredilla, Biografia de José Celestino Mutis (Madrid, 1911); J. Guzmán, Lasdisertaciones metalúrgicas de Fausto D’Elhuyar (Madrid, 1933); C. López-Sánchez, Elhuyar, minero-melalúrgico (Madrid, 1933); E. Moles, “Elhuyar, quimico,” in Anales de la Sociedad española de fisica y quimica (Feb. 1933); Nicolas de Soroluce, Real socidad bascongada de amigos del pals (San Sebástian, Spain, 1880); Mary Elvira Weeks, Discovery of the Elements, 6th ed. (Detroit, 1956); and Arthur P. Whitaker, “The Elhuyar Mining Missions and the Enlightenment,” in Hispanic American Review (Nov, 1961); and Latin American and the Englightenment (Ithaca, N. Y., 1961).
Manuscript sources include the author’s library, which contains some of D’Elhuyar’s correspondence; and the parish records of Logroño, Spain, and Bayonne and Saint Jean-de-Luz, France.
Bernardo J. Caycedo