Schrötter, Anton von

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(b. Olmütz, Austria [now Olomouc, Czechoslovakia], 26 November 1802:d. Austria, 15 pril 1875)


Schrötter’s father was an apothecary, and his mother was daughter of the mayor of Olmütz. In 1822, at his father’s request, he entered the University of Vienna to study medicine but two years later turned to his true interest, mathematics and the natural sciences. On the advice of the mineralogist Friedrich Mohs, he devoted his attention to chemistry, learning applied analytical chemistry at the artillery school. Schrötter became assistant in physics and mathematics at the Technische Hochschule of Graz in 1827 and was promoted to professor of physics and chemistry three years later. Shortly thereafter he took a leave of absence and visited the important chemical laboratories in Germany and Paris. Using the experience gained on his trip, especially during his stay with Liebig at Giessen, he set up an impressive laboratory at Graz. In 1843 he was named professor of chemical technology at the Technische Hochschule in Vienan, and in 1845 he became professor of general chemical technology at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, and in 1845 he became professor of general chemistry. Appointed chief director of the mint in 1868, he held that position until his retirement in 1874.

Although he published over sixty papers on pure and applied chemistry, chiefly on the behavior of metals at very high and low temperatures, Schrötter is best known for his conclusive demonstration that red phosphorus (believed to be an oxide of white phosphorus) is truly an allotropic form of the element. In 1847 he demonstrated before the Vienna Academy that white phosphorus in a hermetically sealed bulb tube would turn red upon exposure to light although no oxygen or moisture was present. His suggestion of using amorphous phosphorus in the manufacture of matches led to the development of the safety match. This achievement brought him the Montyon Prize of the French Academy in 1856 and the Legion of Honor at the Paris Exhibition of 1855 for his great contribution to public safety. One of the active promoters of the Vienna Royal Academy of Sciences, Schrötter was a founding member and served as general secretary from 1850 until his death.


I. Original Works. Schrötter’s important paper on red phosphorus appeared in several journals under several different titles. One is “über einen neuen allotropischen Zustand des Phosphors,” in Annalen der Physik und Chemie (Poggendorff), 81 (1850), 276–298. An English abstract was published as “On the Allotropic Condition of Phosphorus,” in Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 19 pt. 2 (1849), 42. His work on the safety match is described in his chapter on phosphorus and matches in August W. Hofmann, ed., Berich über die Entwickelung der chemischen Industrie während des letzten Jahrzehnts, 2 vols. (Brunswick, 1875–1877). A bibliography of Schrötter’s publications is in an unsigned obituary, “Anton Schrötter,” in Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, 9 (1876), 90–108.

II. Secondary Literature. The obituary notice cited above is the most detailed of several short sketches of Schrötter’s life. The most completed English obituary is an unsigned, untitled article in Journal of the Chemical Society, 29 (1876), 622–625. On his work with phosphorus, see Moritz Kohn, “The Discovery of Red Phosphorus (1847) by Anton von Schrötter (1802–1875),” in Journal of Chemical Education, 21 (1944), 522–554.

Sheldon J. Kopperl