Troostwijk, Adriaan Paets Van

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(b. Utrecht, Netherlands, 4 March 1752; d. Nieuwersluis, Netherlands, 3 April 1837)


Nothing is known of van Troostwijk’s education. From the age of eighteen until his retirement in 1816 he worked in Amsterdam as a merchant. He was also an important Dutch chemist and published thirty-five works between 1778 and 1818. From 1806 to 1816 he was a member of the Royal Institute of Sciences, Literature, and Fine Arts (the present Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences). In 1816 he moved to Nieuwersluis, where he remained until his death.

Van Troostwijk was greatly influenced by his friend the physician Jan Rudolph Deiman (1743–1808) and by Martinus van Marum, director of Teyler’s Museum in Haarlem. From 1778 until 1792 van Troostwijk published the results of his own research and of work done in collaboration with Deiman, van Marum, and Krayenhoff. With Deiman he investigated the improvement of air by growing plants (1778), the nature and properties of carbon dioxide (1781), and the influence of galvanism on both the sick and the healthy. In 1783 he published a work written with van Marum on the electrophorus and, four years later, a joint work on the noxious fumes in swamps, drains, mines, and factories. Using van Marum’s electrical machine, they investigated the chemical action of electricity on various gases and on metal oxides. After sparking dephlogisticated air (oxygen), they remarked that it “had acquired a very strong smell, which to us very much resembled the strong smell of electric matter, only much more so than we had ever smelled before” (observation of ozone). When they sparked fixed air (carbon dioxide) its volume was slightly increased. They put equal amounts of electrified and unelectrified fixed air over water and found that after two days only one-tenth of the latter but two-fifths of the former remained. They did not, however, realize that the electrified fixed air was partially decomposed into carbon monoxide and oxygen. During their first experiments on the decomposition of water by electric sparks, Deiman and van Troostwijk also subjected carbon dioxide to violent electric discharges. They found that it produced a much larger volume of inflammable air than water. They did not recognize that the inflammable air obtained in this way was carbon monoxide, and not hydrogen, and they came to the wrong conclusion that fixed air contains water.

In 1785 van Troostwijk published a treatise on the recently discovered types of air, and he was co-author with Krayenhoff of a work on the use of electricity in physics and medicine (1788). A phlogistonist until 1788, van Troostwijik renounced his former belief chiefly through the influence of the publications of van Marum (1787) and Alexander petrus Nahuys (1788). In 1789 van Troostwijk and Deiman published the results of their experiments on the decomposition of water by static electricity and its synthesis by combustion.

Around 1791 van Troostwijk, Deiman, Pieter Nieuwland, and Nicolaas Bondt founded the Batavian Club, better known as the Society of Dutch Chemists, a circle of friends who met to study chemistry. The apothecary Anthonie Lauwerenburgh and the physician Gerard Vrolik later became members of the group. The society was instrumental in securing recognition in the Netherlands for Lavoisier’s discoveries and published many articles in support of the new oxidation theory. Van Troostwijk was, in all probaility, the leader of the society, which remained active until 1808. Articles published by the Dutch chemists were collected in the journal Recherches physicochimiques (1792–1794) and later appeared in an enlarged Dutch translation as Natuur-scheikundige verhandelingen (Amsterdam, 1799–1801).

Van Troostwijk also investigated the preparation of olefiant gas (ethylene) from the action of concentrated sulfuric acid on ethylalcohol and the preparation of ethylene chloride from the action of chlorine on ethylene (1794). The latter compound is still known as Dutch oil or Dutch liquid. Also that year he reported on the glow resulting from the mixture of sulfur and various metals heated in the absence of oxygen.


I. Original Works. There is a bibliography of van Troostwijk’s writings in H. P. M. van der Horn van den Bos, “Bibliographie des chimistes hollandais dans la période de Lavoisier,” in Archives du Musée Teyler, 2nd ser., 6 (1900), 375–420. His works include Verhandeling over het nut van den groeij der boomen en planten, tot zuivering der lucht (Amsterdam, 1780), written with J. R. Deiman; Verhandeling over de vaste lucht (Rotterdam, 1781), written with Deiman; Verhandeling over de vorderingen in de luchtkennis (Amsterdam, 1785); De l’ application de l’électricité á la physique et á la médecein (Amsterdam, 1788), written with C. R. T. Krayenhoff; and “Lettre à M. de la Mètherie, sur une manière de dècompose l’eau en air inflammable et en air vital,” in Journal de physique, de chimie et de l’histoire naturelle, 35 (1789), 369–378, written with Deiman.

Later writings are Beschrijving van een electriseermachine en van proefnemingen met dezelve in het werk gesteld (Amsterdam, 1790), written with Deiman. “Expériences sur l’inflammation du mèlange de soufre et de mètax, sans la présence de l’oxigène,” in Recherches physico-chimiques, 3 (1794), 71–96, written with Deiman et al.; “Recherches sur les divers espèces des gaz, qu’on obtient en mè l’acide sulfurique concentrè avec ;’alcool,” Journal de physique . . ., 45 (1794), 178–191, written with Deiman, Bondt, and Lauwerenburgh.

II. Secondary Literature. On van Troostwijk and his work, see H. P. M. van der Horn van den Bos: De Nederlandsche scheikundigen van het laatst der vorige eeuw (Utrecht, 1881); Het aandeel dat de Scheikundigen in Frankrijk, Engeland, Duitschland en Noord- en Zuid-Nederland hebben gehad in het tot algemeene erkenning brengen van het Systeem van Lavoisier (Amsterdam, 1895); “Matériaux pour l’histoire de la chimie dans les Pays-Bas. A. Paets van Troostwijk, un chimiste d’Amsterdam de la fin du 18e siècle 1752–1837,” in Archives du Musèe Teyler, 2nd ser., 9, pt. 2 (1904), 155–199; and “Adriaan Paets van Troostwijk, “in Chemisch weekblad, 6 (1909), 1–35. See also E. Cohen, Das Lachgas, Eine chemisch-kulturhistorische studie (Leipzig, 1907), 14–21; and H. A. M. Snelders, “Uiteenzenttingen van het stelsel van Lavoisier door Nederlanders in het laatste kwart van de achttiende eeuw,” in Scientiarum historia, 8 (1966), 89–100.

H. A. M. Snelders