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Schweigger, Johann Salomo Christoph


(b. Erlangen, Bavaria, 8 April 1779; d. Halle, Prussia, 6 September 1857)

Physics, Chemistry.

Schweigger was the son of Friedrich Schweigger, extraordinary professor of theology at the Protestant University of Erlangen and archdeacon of a parish in that city. In addition to attending the Gymnasium in Erlangen, he received a through education in classical and Semitic languages and in philosophy from his father and several of his father’s learned friends. On 7 April 1800 he received the Ph.D. at Erlangen; his dissertation, “De Diomede Homeri,” dealt with the unifying characteristics of Homer’s heroes. Having also studied mathematics and physics, he lectured on mathematics and physics, he lectured on mathematics and natural science as a Privatdozent at Erlangen until 1803, when he was called to Bayreuth as professor of mathematics and physics at the Gymnasium. He then was professor of chemistry and physics at the Physikotechnisches Institut (called also the Höhere Realschule) in Nuremberg from 1811 until its dissolution in 1816. A corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences since 1813, Schweigger went to Munich in 1817 as an ordinary member but left that year probably to become ordinary professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Erlangen. His status at the Academy thereby reverted to corresponding member, although he later became a foreign member (probably in 1847). In 1819 he was called to the University of Halle as ordinary professor of physics and chemistry, and remained there until his death. In 1816 he had become a corresponding member of the Göttingen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften and a member of the Kaiserliche Leopoldino-Carolinische Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher, of which he was an Adjunkt des Direktoriums by 1817. Schweigger, who married late in life, had three sons and one daughter.

Schweigger is perhaps best known as founder of the Journal für Chemie and Physik, of which he edited fifty-four volumes between 1811 and 1828.1 This important journal published both original articles and translations and, being somewhat less prestigious than the Annalen der Physik, served as the organ of publication of the first papers of a number of scientists, including Wilhelm Weber and Gustav Theodor Fechner. Schweigger’s literary output consisted largely of review articles and commentaries on the papers of others.

At the start of his scientific career Schweigger published several papers (1806, 1808) that questioned the validity of Volta’s contact theory of electricity by describing an active pile that, according to that theory, should not have been capable of producing any electricity. At first content to conclude merely that the liquid conductor must play a more important role in the pile than simply preventing metallic contact, he subsequently offered an explanation in terms of a polarization of the water by the metal plates. This work was extended in 1817 by the discovery that in certain piles chemical action caused a reversal in polarity of the normally positive zinc and negative copper. Schweigger did not, however, refine or extend his experiments and thus cannot be counted among the major protagonists of the chemical theory of the pile.

Schweigger shared with Poggendorff the honor of constructing the first simple galvanometer, his Multiplicator, or multiplier, which he demonstrated before the Naturforschende Gesellschaft of Halle on 16 September and 4 November 1820. Schweigger’s device consisted of a figure-eight-shaped coil of wire, a construction he preferred to a simple loop because he wished to demonstrate the equal and opposite electromagnetic effects on a magnetic needle placed in either side. Indeed, his use of the device never went much beyond such simple demonstrations, nor did he show any inclination to refine it into a measuring instrument or to discover its laws of operation. Schweigger thought the operation of the multiplier provided vivid proof of the existence of a “double magnetic polarity” perpendicular to the current in a connecting wire (that is, a wire connecting the poles of a pile). He envisioned this polarity as a succession of magnetic axes oppositely directed along the top and bottom of the wire, so that a compass would point in opposite directions when held above or below it. That he regarded this hypothesis on the nature of electromagnetism as a direct expression of the simple facts was characteristic of Schweigger’s concertely pictorial approach to physical theory.


1. The journal was continued until 1833 (vol. 69 ) by his adopted son. Franz Wilhelm Schweigger-Seidel, who had been co-editor since 1825 (vol. 45 ). Johann Ludwig Georg Meinecke also had been a coeditor, from 1819 (vol. 26 ) until 1823 (vol. 38 ). From the beginning of 1821 (vol. 31 ) to 1830 the journal also bore the title Jahrbuch der Chemie und Physik, with its own volume numbers. Finally, from 1825 (vol. 45 ) to 1827 (vol. 51 ) it was subtitled als eine Zeitschrift des wissenschaftlichen Vereins zur Verbreitung von Naturkenntniss und höherer Wahrheit.


I. Original Works. Extensive bibliographies are found in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers. V. 589–592: and in Poggendorff, II, cols. 873–875. Many more of his commentaries on others’ papers are listed in G. C. Wittstein, ed., Autoren- und Sach-Register zu sämmmtlichen neunundsechzig Bänden des Schweigger’schen Journals für Chemie und Physik, (Jahrgänge 1811–1813) (Munich, 1848), 88–91. See also Snelders’ article (below).

II. Secondary Literature On Schweigger’s life and work, see Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius. “Denkrede auf Joh. Salomo Christoph Schweigger,” in Gelehrte Anzeigen der k. Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 46 Jan.-June 1858, cols. 81–99, repr. in Martius’ Akademische Denkreden (Leipzig, 1866). 345–364. Also useful is the article by “K” in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. XXXIII (1891), 335–339. For his contribution to the founding of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte, see Heinz Degen, “Die Gründungsgeschichte der Gesellschaft deutscher Natuforscher und Ärzte.” in Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau, 8 (1955), 421–427, 427–480.

An informative account of an important aspect of his work is H. A. M. Snelders, “J. S. C. Schweigger: His Romanticism and His Crystal Electrical Theory of Matter,” in Isis, 62 (1971), 328–338, which should be read to supplement the information given here. Some of his work on the pile and multiplier is discussed in Wilhelm Ostwald, Elektrochemie, ihre Geschichte und Lehre (leipzig, 1896), 301–304, 371–373.

Kenneth L. Caneva

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