Kitaibel, Pál (Or Paul)

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Kitaibel, Pál (Or Paul)

(b.Nagymarton, Hungary [now Mattersodorf, Austria], 3 February 1757; d. Pest, Hungary, 13 December 1817)

botany, chemistry, mineralogy.

Kitaibel studied theology, jurisprudence, and finally medicine at the University of Pest. although he qualified as a physician (1785), he never practiced medicine. he remained at the university as assistant to Jacob Joseph Winterl, at the Institute for chemistry and Botany.

Kitaibel spent almost his entire life traveling through Hungary, studying the plant and animal life, collecting minerals, and analyzing mineral waters. His travel journals reveal a wide spectrum of interests, extending as far as folklore. Following Winterl’s death, the institute was divided into two sections and Kitaibel was appointed to the professorship of botany. because of his constant travels he published little and almost never lectured.

Kitaibel classified more than fifty unknown plants, many of which bear his name (for example, Kitaibelia vitifolia and published a three-volume flora of Hungary (1799-1812). He also recorded and named several species of animals. his botanical and mineralogical collection became the basis for the natural history collection of the Hungarian National Museum. In addition he wrote a description of Hungarian mineral springs, published after his death by a colleague. His travel accounts were also published posthumously.

Kitaibel was the discoverer of chloride of lime, and he even observed its bleaching effect (1795). But he did not consider its potential industrial use for textile bleaching, probably because at the time there was no important textile factory in Hungary. In 1798, unaware of Franz Müller’s earlier discovery (1784), Kitaibel independently discovered the element later named tellurium in a mineral from the Borzsony Mountains. As a result he became involved in a heated and unjustified priority dispute with H. M. Klaproth.


I. Original Works. See Descriptiones et icones plantarum rariorum Hungariae, F. Waldstein, ed., 3 vols.(Vienna, 1812); Topographische Beschreibung von Ungarn (Pest, 1803); Hydrographia Hungaariae, J. Schuster, ed., 2 vols. (Pest, 1829); “P. Kitaibelii Addimenta ad floram Hungariae,” A. Kanitz, ed., in Linnaea, 32 (1863), 305-642; and Diaria itinerarum Pauli Kitaibelii, E. Gombocz, ed., 2 vols. (Budapest, 1945). Kitaibel’s papers are partially enumerated in Poggendorff I.

II. Secondary Literature. See S. Javorka, Kitaibel Pàl (Budapest, 1937), which has a complete biblio. On the Kitaibel-Klaproth controversy, see M. E. Weeks, Discovery of the Elements (Easton, Pa., 1956), pp. 326-377; on the discovery of chlorinated lime, see L. Szathmàry, “Paul Kitaibel entdeckt den chlorkalk,” in Chemiker Zeitung, 55 (1931), 645; see also L. Szathmà;ry, “Einige chemisch-physikalische Apparate des ungarischen chemikers Paul Kitaibel,” in Chemische Apparature, 19 (1932), 49, for a discussion of Kitaibel’s apparatus.

Ferenc SzabadvÁry