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Hildebrandt, Georg Friedrich

Hildebrandt, Georg Friedrich

(b. Hannover, Germany, 5 June 1764; d. Erlangen, Germany, 23 March 1816)


Hildebrandt first attended the Gymnasium at Hannover and then studied pharmacy at the University of Göttingen (1780). His main interests were anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. After receiving the M.D. in 1783, he toured German factories, mines, and hospitals to gain practical experience. In 1785 he returned to Göttingen, where he became a Privatdozent. In the same year he was appointed professor of anatomy at the Anatomical-Surgical Institute at Brunswick. He transferred to the University of Erlangen in 1793 as professor of medicine; he later became professor of chemistry (1796) and physics (1799) there. In 1808, with J. C. F. Harletz and E. W. Martius, Hildebrandt formed the Physical-Medical Society of Erlangen.

Hildebrandt possessed a profound knowledge of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, and pharmacy; and he published a great many articles on medicine, physics, and (after 1793) chemistry. At Erlangen he was the first professor of chemistry to be greatly concerned with the practical training of students.

Influenced by the writings of J. T. Mayer, Hildebrandt became an early adherent of Lavoisier’s oxidation theory. He wrote a comparative and critical survey on the phlogiston and antiphlogiston theories but did not express a preference for either. In 1793 he announced that he was inclined toward the antiphlogiston theory, and his 1794 book Anfangsgründe der Chemie reflects that bias. Hildebrandt advanced reasonable arguments against Lavoisier’s theory—for example, the impossibility of explaining the light produced by combustion—and pointed out the fallacy of Lavoisier’s supposition that an acidic principle is an essential component of all acids.

That Hildebrandt was an adherent of Kant’s dynamic theory of matter is shown clearly by his article “Ueber die Modification der Materie” (1805) and by his book Anfangsgründe der dynamischen Naturlehre (1807). The latter is one of the most complete applications in the first decade of teh nineteenth century of Kant’s ideas on the dynamics of chemical and physical phenomena. Hildebrandt’s starting point was the dynamic system in which matter is a product of two forces: one attracting (Positive) adn one repelling (negative). He found this supposition far more satisfying than the atomic system but recognized that the latter could at least help in reaching a correct understanding of chemical phenomena. Hildebrandt declared emphatically that the atomistic view is only an expedient. He tried to give an explanation of all natural phenomena by means of Kant’s dynamics, but he also showed that he was influenced by the more speculative concepts of Henrik Steffens and Schelling, who asserted among other things that all earthy matter is composed of polar opposites hydrogen and oxygen, nitrogen and carbon.

Hildebrandt published much on practical chemistry, especially on the analysis of mineral waters. He wrote a book on mercury compounds (1793) and published on the nature of quicklime (1793) and published on the nature of quicklime (1792), ammonium nitrate (1794), the composition of ammonia (1795), the preparation of pure potassium ferrocyanide and the analytical separation of iron from alum (1798), the different colors of light emitted during electrical discharges in air at low pressure (1811), the gas evolved in the deflagration of niter and charcoal (1811), and the determination of oxygen in air by nitric oxide (1815). He also wrote textbooks on pharmacology (1787) and anatomy (1789–1792).


I. Original Works. Hildebrandt’s writings include Versuch einer philosophischen Pharmakologie (Göttingen, 1787); Chemische und mineralogische Geschichte des Quecksilbers (Brunswick, 1793); “Vergleichende Übersicht des phlogistischen und antiphlogistischen Systems,” in Crell’s Chemische Annalen (1793), pg. 2, 24–30, and (1794), pt. 1, 200–210; “Etwas über das antiphlogistische System der Chemie,” ibid. (1793), pt. 2, 99–104; Anfangsgründe der Chemie, 3 vols. (Erlangen, 1794); Ueber die Arzneikunde (Erlangen, 1799–1810); Physikalische Untersuchung des Mineralwassers im Alexanderbade bei Sichersreuth in Franken, 2 vols. (Erlangen, 1803; 2nd ed., 1821); Anfangsründe der dynamischen Naturlehre und als Kunst (Erlangen, 1816).

II. Secondary Literature. An obituary note with complete bibliography is G. Bischof, “Kurzer Bericht über Hildebrandts Leben,” in Journal für Chemie und Physik, 25 (1819), 1–16. See also J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, III (London, 1962), 638–639.

H. A. M. Snelders

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