Graebe, Karl James Peter

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Graebe, Karl James Peter

(b. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 24 February 1841; d. Frankfurt, 19 January 1927)


Graebe’s father, for whom he was named, was a soldier and a merchant; his mother. Emmeline Boeddinghaus, was a writer. He entered the Technische Hochschule at Karlsruhe in 1858 but, wishing To become a chemist, he studied with Robert Bunsen at Heidelberg from 1860 to 1862. He then studied at Marburg with Adolph Kolbe, learning a structural approach. After a semester he returned to Heidelberg as Bunsen’s assistant.

In 1864 Graebe and his friend C. Diehl joined the firm of Farbwerk Meister, Lucius and Co., in Höchst. Here Graebe worked on the development of iodine dyes but soon developed vision problems and left the company for rest and travel. He then continued his studies with Emil Erlenmeyer at Heidelberg and worked with aromatic oxygen acids. From 1865 to 1869 he was Adolf von Baeyer’s assistant at Berlin Then, after spending a brief time at the Badische Anilin-und Sodafabrik in Mannheim, he went to Leipzig as a Privaidozent. In 1870 Graebe became professor at Königsberg, where he encountered difficulty because laboratory facilities were poor and both faculty and students showed little interest in chemistry. He suffered a breakdown and resigned. After his recovery he went to Zurich as a visiting professor. In 1878 he moved to Geneva and taught there until his retirement in 1906. He was a member of the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft and served as its president in 1907. He married Albertine Bergdorfer in 1896; they had no children.

Graebe took the work of F. A. Kekulé, published about the time he went to Berlin, as his starting point and studied compounds related to benzene, particularly the quinones. He collaborated with Carl Liebermann, who was then a student, on alizarin. Using Baeyer’s zinc-dust reduction method, they showed that alizarin was reduced to anthraquinone, that is was a derivative of anthracene, not of naphthalene. Within a short time they were also able to synthesize alizarin from anthraquinone and to give the formula for anthracene. The discovery of alizarin eliminated the use of natural madder and spurred the development of the synthetic dye industry. It also pointed out the lack of an adequate patent law.

Graebe, continued to work on other organic dyes and quinone derivatives. He and Heinrich von Brunck worked on alizarin blue, found the correct formula, and recognized it as a quinone derivative. With Heinrich Caro, Graebe obtained acridine from anthracene. With Karl Glaser he discovered carbazole, and from this work he was able to analyze pyrene and chrysene. He showed martius yellow to be a derivative of naphthoquinone. Independently of Zdenko Skraup, he synthesized quinoline. He also worked with other organic dyestuffs, such as rosolic acid, euxanthon, and galloflavin.

Since his Berlin days, Graebe had been theoretically interested in the linkage of the oxygens in quinones. He introduced the terms “ortho,” “meta” and “para” for disubstituted benzene compounds. He first thought that hydroquinone, which of the three dihydroxybenzenes forms quinone on oxidation, was an ortho compound. But he later decided that it was a para compound. Graebe was also interested in the relationship between color and constitution and proposed that colored compounds contain unsaturated valences or atoms more closely connected than is necessary.

To aid his teaching of chemistry, Graebe became interested in the history of his subject. He wrote articles on leading chemists and completed a history of organic chemistry, only the first volume of which was published.


I. Orignial Works. Graebe’s writings include “Ueber Methozysalysäure,” in Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie, 136 (1865), 124–125; “Ueber eine neue Bildungsweise der Methylsalicylsäure,” ibid., 142 (1867), 327–330; “Ueber das Verhalten der aromatischen Säuren beim Durchgang durch den thierischen Organismus,” ibid, 345–350, written with O. Schultzen; “Untersuchungen ueber die Chinogruppe,” ibid, 146 (1868), 1–65; “Ueber Naphthalin,” in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 1 (1868), 36–38; Molecularconstituion und Farbe bei organischen Verbindungen,” ibid, 106–108, written with C. Liebermann; “Ueber den Zusammenhang zwischen Molecularconstitution and Farbe bei organischen Verbindungen,” ibid. 106–108, written with C. Liebermann; “Ueber Synthese der Phenanthrens aus Toluol,” ibid., 7 (1874), 48–49, written with H. Caro; “Ueber Alizarinblau,” in Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie, 201 (1880), 333–354; Ueber Acridin,” in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 16 (1883), 2828–2832; and Geschiche der Organischen Cheimie (Berlin, 1920).

Grabe’s letters and notes can be found in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, in the Badische Anilin-und Soda fabrik archives at Ludwigshafen, and in the archives of the University of Geneva.

II. Secondary Literature. On Graebe or his work, see Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’Université de Genève, III (Geneva, 1883), 36–38; IV (Geneva, 1896), 113–117; V (Geneva, 1909), 31–34; P. Duden and H. Decker, “Nachruf auf Carl Graebe,” in Berichie der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 61A (1928), 9–46; Frankfurt am Main Verein Deutscher Chemiker, “Carl Craebe,” in Zeitschrift fü angewandte Chemie, 40 (1927), 217–218; Graeber-Feier. Cassel 20.9.1903 (Geneva, 1903); and W. Schlenk, “Carl Graebe,” in Berichie der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 60A (1927), 53.

Ruth Gienapp Rinard