Elhuyar (or Elhuyart), Juan José D

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Elhuyar (or Elhuyart), Juan José D’

(b Logroño, Spain, 15 June 1754; d. Bogotá, Nueva Granda [now Colombia], 20 September 1796)

Chemistry, mineralogy, metallurgy.

D’Elhuyar’s father, Juan, a well-known surgeon, and his mother, Ursula Lubice, were French Basques who moved to Spain and settled in Logroño. Juan José received his elementary education at Oyon (Navarre) and Logroño. Sent to Paris with his brother Fausto, he studied medicine for five years (1772–1777) and was a puplic of the chemist and mineralogist Hilaire-Marin Rouelle. Upon returning to Spain in 1777 he joined the Sociedad Económica de Amigiosdel País, founded by the count of Peñaflorida, whose son Antonio had been a schoolmate of D’Elhuyar’s. The latter had to give up his medical career, however, because the minister of the navy, concerned with preparing Spain for war with Great Britain, sent him and his brother Fausto to study geology, mineralogy, and metallurgy at the Mining Academy in Freiberg, Saxony, so that their knowledge could be applied to the treatment of iron and steel in the manufacture of cannon.

In Freiberg, D’Elhuyar attended lectures by Johann w. Charpentier on structural, or geotectonic, geology, by Gellert on metallurgical chemiostery, and especially those by Werner, on geology and petrography. Both the lectures at the academy and the fieldwork contributed to his earning in later years the cognomen “sabio” (scholar), which was applied to him by his friend José Celestino Mutis, a physician and botanist. After visiting the mercury deposits in Idrija and the mining districts of Rosenau, Hungary, Bohemia, the duchy of Zweibrucken, the Rhenish Palatinate, and Austria with his brother, D’Elhuyar proceeded by himself in 1781 to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. At the University of Uppsala he attended lectures by Peter Jacob Hjelm and especially those by Bergman. He also met Scheele. Bergman and Scheele were seeking a new element but got no further than obtaining tungstic acid. D’Elhuyar participated in the experiments, and after his return to Spain, he succeeded in isolating the metallic element tungsten.

In 1783 D’Elhuyar and his brother Fausto published Análisis quimico del wolfram y examen de un nuevo metal que entra en su compósicion, which attracted great interest in scientific circles and was translated into several languages. In December 1783 he was appointed director of mines of Nueva Granada (now Colombia); his principal occupation consisted of managing the Mariquita silver mines. In 1796 Viceroy Ezpeleta ordered the exploitation of the silver mines stopped, and D’Elhuyar moved to Bogota, where he died, leaving a widow (the former Joséfa Bastida-Lee) and three children. He wrote many reports to and carried on considerable correspondence with three viceroys and other officials of the Spanish Crown. He perfected Born’s method for amalgamating silver and mercury and recommended a new process for the isolation of platinum. The colonial authorities interfered with D’Elhuyar’s work and did not utilize his abilities as a scientific researcher.


I. Original Works. D’Elhuyar’ published work is Análysis quimico del wolfram y examen de un nuevo metal que entra en su composición (Vitoria, Spin, 1783), written with his brother Fausto. Notes taken by D’Elhuyar while attending Bergman’s course in special chemistry at the University of Uppsala in 1782, concerning the new discoveries in chemistry, are in Lychnos (1959, pp. 162–207, with an introduction by Stig Rydén and Arne Fredga.

II. Secondary Literature. On D’Elhuyar or his work, see Archivo epistolar del sabio naturalista José Celestino Mutis, I (Bogota, 1947), 82–163; Juan Fages y Virgili, Losquimicos de Vergara y sus obras (Madrid, 1909); Federico Gredilla, Biografia de Don José Celestine Mutis (Madrid, 1911), 230-246, 301-316; Vicente Restrepo, “Biografia de Juan José D’Elthuyar,” in Estudio sobre las minas de oro y plaza de Colombia (Bogotá, 1888), pp. 230–246; Stig Ryden, Don Juan José D’Elhuyar en Suecia y el descubrimiento del tungsteno (Madrid, 1962); Mary Elvira Weeks, Discovery of the Elements, 6th ed. (Detroit, 1956), pp. 113–114, 132–147; Arthur P. Whitaker, “The Elhuyar Mining Missions and the Enlightenment,” in Hispanic American Historical Review, 31 , no. 4 (Nov. 1951), 558–585; and José Zamora Mendoza, Don Juan D’Elhuyar, Prestigioso Cirujano del Hospital de Logroño (Logroño, 1956), and Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, La ciencia española, vol. II.

Manuscript sources are to be found in the following locations: National Archives, Bogotá, Cataloging Room, no. 169, notarial registries; the author’s archives, which contain some of D’Elhuyar’s Correspondence, as well as many documents relating to both his private and his public life; the parish records of Logroño, Spain; Bayonne, France; and Bogotá, Colombia; and the records of the Real Expedición Botánica del Nuevo Reino de Granada, at the Botanical Garden in Madrid, file 24.

Bernardo J. Caycedo

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