Trommsdorff, Johann Bartholomäus

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(b. Erfurt, Germany, 8 May 1770; d, Erfurt, 8 March 1837)

chemistry, pharmacy.

Chemistry and pharmacy loomed large in Trommsdorff’s youthful environment. Not only was his father, Dr. Wilhelm Bernhard Trommsdorff, the owner of an apothecary shop but he was also a successful chemistry teacher in the University of Erfurt and the chief local representative of chemistry in Erfurt’s revitalized Academy of Useful Sciences. However, young Trommsdorff never had the advantage of his father’s instruction, for, two days before his twelfth birthday, his father died. Financial difficulties soon arose, compelling Trommsdorff to abandon plans for a higher education and enter pharmacy. He went to Weimar, where he served as an apprentice under his father’s old friend the chemist Wilhelm Heinrich Bucholz and Bucholz’s employee the chemist Johann Friedrich Göttling. Thanks to their instruction and encouragement, he published his first note in Lorenz von Crell’s Chemische Annalen in 1787. That same year he also completed his apprenticeship. After two and a half years as a journeyman in Erfurt, Stettin, and Stargard, he took over the family apothecary shop in Erfurt.

Trommsdorff continued publishing articles and small monographs on various chemical and pharmaceutical topics. By early 1793 he felt confident enough to venture into the debate over the composition of mercuric oxide that was raging between the antiphlogistonist Sigismund Friedrich Hermbstaedt in Berlin and the phlogistonist Friedrich Albrecht Carl Gren in Halle. He sided with his boyhood friend Gren, who maintained that completely fresh mercury calx per se did not yield dephlogisticated air when reduced. To his chagrin, he and his allies were soon discredited by Hermbstaedt’s party in this crucial controversy in the German antiphlogistic revolution.Trommsdorff’s first reaction was to renounce all theorizing. However, influenced by the works of Kant and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, he was soon calling for the unification of physics, chemistry, and natural history. For the next few years, he showed considerable interest in attaining this elusive goal of the Naturphilosophen. In the early 1800’s however, the empiricist in him triumphed. From then on his research was limited to turning out hundreds of useful, but essentially routine, chemical studies.

Although Trommsdorff’s work as a chemist was valued highly enough for him to hold a chair of chemistry at Erfurt University and to be offered several other chairs, including that of Martin Heinrich Klaproth in Berlin, his work as a scholarly pharmacist was of greater significance. His numerous texts were exceptionally popular, most of them going through many editions in Germany and abroad. His Journal der Pharmacie (1794–1834) was the leading periodical for pharmacy and pharmaceutical chemistry until Justus von Liebig began publishing his Annalen der Pharmacie in 1832. And his “Chemical-physical-pharmaceutical Boarding School,” attended by over 300 students between 1795 and 1828, played a major role in the training of the founding generation of the German drug industry.


For a complete bibliography of Trommsdorff’s more than four hundred publications, see Adolph Peter Callisen, Dem Andenken des verdienten Chemiker Dr. Joh. Barthol. Trommsdorff (Copenhagen, 2nd ed., 1837).

For his life and influence, see Hermann Trommsdorff, “Johann Bartholomä Trommsdorff und seine Zeitgenossen,” in Jahrbuch der Akademie gemeinnütziger Wissenschaften in Erfurt, new ser., 53 (1937), 5–55; and 55 (1941), 131–234.

Other studies of Trommsdorff include Christa Caumitz. “Johann Bartholomäus Trommdorff (1770–1837): Ein Begründer der wissenschaftlichen deutschen Pharmazie,” a manuscript in the Archives of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher, Leopoldina (Halle, German Democratic Republic); Hermann Gittner, ed., Die Harzreisen des Johann Bartholomä Trommsdorff 1798 und 1805 (Oberhausen, 1957); and “Die Rheinreise des Johann Bartholomai Trommsdorff zur 13. Naturfor-scheversammlung in Bonn anno 1835,” in Deutsche Apothekerzeitung, 99 (1959), 31–36; Horst Rudolf Abe et al., “Johann Bartholomäus Trommsdorff und die Begründung der modernen Pharmazie,” in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Universital Erfurt,16 (1971–1972); and Wilhelm Vershofen, Die Anfänge der chemisch-pharmazeutischen Industrie, I (Berlin-Stuttgart, 1949), and II (Aulendorf, 1952).

Karl Hufbauer