Karsten, Karl Johann Bernhard

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Karsten, Karl Johann Bernhard

(b. Bützow, Germany, 26 November 1782; d. Berlin, Germany, 22 August 1853)

metallurgy, mining.

Karsten received his early education in Bützow and later in Rostock, where his father, Franz Christian Lorenz Karsten, was professor of political economy at the University of Rostock. At the age of seventeen Karsten matriculated at that university to study law and medicine. His friendly relations there with the later renowned botanist Heinrich Link, who was then lecturing on the natural sciences, awakened in Karsten an interest in physics and chemistry.

After attending the university for only one year, Karsten published Vollständiges Register über Green’s neues Journal der Physik. He was called to Berlin in 1801 to collaborate in editing Scherer’s Journal, while continuing his medical and scientific studies. He devoted himself with special zeal to mineralogy and metallurgy and from 1805 to 1810 published with S. Weiss a German edition of René Haüy’s Traité de minéralogie. At about the same time, he independently produced a translation of Beaume’s chemical system.

After Karsten earned his doctoral degree with the dissertation De affinitate chemica and parted with Scherer, he gained experience at ironworks in Brandenburg and Upper Silesia. On the basis of several excellent field reports, Karsten received a ministerial commission in 1804 to erect a plant for extracting coal tar at the metalworks in Gleiwitz (now Gliwice, Poland); the plant was the first of its kind in Germany. At the end of 1804 he was accepted in the government service as a Referendar (assistant mining inspector). The following year he was promoted to Assessor (associate inspector) and was entrusted with the technical supervision of all Upper Silesian metallurgical works. He was named Bergrat (mining inspector) in 1810 and in 1811 Oberhüttenrat (senior foundry inspector) and Obherhüttenverwalter (senior foundry manager) for Upper and Lower Silesia. Karsten won special recognition for his part in the growth of the Silesian zinc industry. He constructed the Lydognia metalworks where, for the first time, zinc was prepared directly from calamine.

In 1815 Karsten was asked to provide his expert opinion on the Siegerland ore mines situated in territory conquered during the Napolenic wars, in the interests of establishing the boundary between Prussia and Nassau. He subsequently returned to Breslau for a short time, leaving in 1819 to accept an offer as Geheimer Bergrat, a prestigious post in the ministry of the interior in Berlin. In 1821 he became Geheimer Oberbergrat (privy councilor). In this position he successfully administered the entire metallurgical and salt-mining industry in Prussia for thirty years.

A prolific writer, Karsten published a German edition (1814–1815) of Rinman’s history of iron, Geschichte des Eisens, a preparatory work for Karsten’s own Handbuch der Eisenhüttenkunde. Two years later he published Grundriss der Metallurgie und der metallurgischen Hüttenkunde; its brilliant success led Karsten to expand it into a large handbook which appeared in 1831 as System der Metallurgie. With this work Karsten achieved fame as a founder of scientific metallurgy. His literary activity was not confined to metallurgy, however. In 1828 he produced an important source book of mining law in his Grundriss der deutschen Bergrechtslehre. In 1843 his Philosophie der Chemie appeared and in 1846–1847 his excellent twovolume Lehrbuch der Salinenkunde.

Karsten also established a reputation as an editor of the mining and metallurgical journal Archiv für Bergbau und Hüttenwesen, the title of which was changed in 1829 to Archiv für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Bergabau und Hüttenkunde. Many of his shorter papers were published in this journal.

Karsten resigned in December 1850 after forty-six years in government service. The two years preceding his death were occupied with scientific research and political activities, for Karsten was at this time a deputy in the Prussian Upper Chamber.


I. Original Works. Karsten’s major writings include Revision der chemischen Affinitätslehre mit Rücksicht auf Berthollets neue Theorie (Leipzig, 1803); Handbuch der Eisenhüttenkunde, 2 vols. (Halle, 1816; trans. into French; 2nd ed., 4 vols., Berlin, 1827–1828; 3rd ed., 5 vols., Berlin, 1841, with atlas); Grundriss der Metallurgie und der metallurgischen Hüttenkunde (Breslau, 1818).

Metallurgische Reise durch einen Theil von Baiern und durch die süddeutschen Provinzen Oesterreichs (Halle, 1821); Grundriss der deutschen Bergrechtslehre mit Rücksicht auf die französische Bergwerksgesetzgebung (Berlin, 1828); System der Metallurgie; geschichtlich, statistisch, theoretisch und technisch, 5 vols. (Berlin, 1831), with atlas; Philosophie der Chemie (Berlin, 1843); über den Ursprung des Berg-Regals in Deutschland (Berlin, 1844); Lehrbuch der Salinenkunde, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1846–1847).

Karsten edited the journals Archiv für Bergbau und Hüttenwesen, 20 vols. (1818–1828) and Archiv für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Bergbau und Hüttenkunde, 26 vols. (1829–1855), for both of which he wrote articles. A great many short articles by Karsten also appear in Schere’s Allgemeines Journal der Chemie, and in Abhandlungen der K. Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, and Monatsberichte der K. Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

II. Secondary Literature. See “Umrisse zu Karl Johann Bernhard Karsten’s Leben und Wirken,” in Archiv für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Bergbau und Hüttenkunde, 26, no. 2 (1855), 195–372; “Karl Johann Bernhard Karsten,” in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, XV (Leipzig, 1882), 427–430; and “Karl Johann Bernhard Karsten,” in Walter Serlo, Männer des Bergbaus, pp. 82–84.

M. Koch