Schorlemmer, Carl

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(b. Darmstadt, Germany, 30 September 1834; d. Manchester, England, 27 June 1892)

Organic chemistry, history of chemistry.

Schorlemmer was the son of Johann Schorlemmer, a master carpenter. After attending the Volksschule and the Realschule, he enrolled at what is now the Technische Universität of Darmstadt. In 1853 he became an apprentice pharmacist in Umstadt (Hesse) and then an assistant pharmacist in Heidelberg. In the latter city Schorlemmer attended Bunsen’s lectures, gave up pharmacy, and began to study chemistry. In 1858 he enrolled at the University of Giessen, where he studied chemistry for a semester under Heinrich Will and Hermann Kopp. On the advice of his friend William Dittmar he went to Manchester the following year. He began as a private assistant to H. E. Roscoe at Owens College, became an assistant instructor in 1861, lecturer in 1872, and in 1874, on Roscoe’s recommendation, England’s first professor of organic chemistry, at Owens College.

In the years before he became a professor, Schorlemmer experimented with simple hydrocarbons. During this period he made important contributions to the development of modern organic chemistry, including investigations of the compounds “methyl” (CH3-Ch3) and “ethyl hydride” (C2H5H), which he recognized as equivalent (that is, ethane) and not isomeric, as had been suggested. Industrial research on coal tar distillate and American petroleum (naphtha) constituted the first petrochemical investigations.

Kopp’s influence can be seen in Schorlemmer’s experimental investigations, especially his studies on the relations between boiling point and chemical constitution, and it is unmistakable in Schorlemmer’s works on the history of chemistry. A close friend of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Schorlemmer became a member of the International Workingmen’s Association and of the German Social Democratic party. A believer in scientific socialism, and in dialectical and historical materialism, Schorlemmer presented the history of chemistry from a sociological point of view and discovered important relations between chemistry, economics, and philosophy.

Schorlemmer was a member of many scientific societies and academies. The technical college at Merseburg, German Democratic Republic, is named for him.


I. Original Works. Schorlemmer’s writings include Lehrbuch der Kohlenstoffverbindungen (Brunswick, 1874), also in English, A Manual of the chemistry of the Carbon Compounds or Organic Chemistry (London, 1874); Treatise of Chemistry (London, 1877), also in German, Ausführliches Lehrbuch der Chemie (Brunswick, 1877), writtenn with H.E. Roscoe; and The Rise and Development of Organic Chemistry (Manchester, 1879; 2nd ed., London, 1895), also in German, Der Ursprung und die Entwicklung der organischen Chemie (Brunswick, 1889).

Schorlemmer also translated two works by H.E. Roscoe: Kurzes Lehrbuch der chemie (Brunswick, 1868) and Die Spektralanalyse (Brunswick, 1870).

II. Secondary Literature. Appreciations and obituaries are in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 25 (1892), 1106 ff.; Festschrift der Technische Hochschule für ChemieCarl Schorlemmer” (Merseburg, 1964), 12ff.; Journal of the Chemical Society. Transactions, 63 (1893), 756–763, with a complete bibliography of Schorlemmer’s papers; Nature, 46 , no, 1191 (25 Aug 1892), 394–395; and “Vorwärts 3.7.1892,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke, XXII (Berlin, 1963), 313–315. See also Karl Heinig, “Carl Schorlemmer-der erste marxistische Chemiker. Darstellung seines wissenschaftlichen und gesellschaftlichen Wirkens” (Ph.D. diss. Humboldt University, Berlin, 1968); and Carl schorlemmer–Chemiker und Kommunist ersten Ranges (Leipzig, 1974), with bibliography of Schorlemmer’s works and secondary literature.

Karl Heinig