Voigt, Johann Carl Wilhelm

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(b. Allstedt, Germany, 20 February 1752; d. Ilmenau, Germany, 1 January 1821), geology, mining.

Voigt came from a family of Thuringian civil servants; his father was magistrate of the district of Allstedt, which was then part of the duchy of Weimar. After studying law at the University of Jena (1773-1775), he transferred to the Freiberg mining academy (1776-1779), where he studied mainly with Abraham Gottlob Werner.

When Voigt returned to Weimar, he became acquainted with Goethe, who had already been working for a long time with his elder brother in the Weimar administration and with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. Through Voigt, Goethe learned the systematics and classification of minerals and rocks. Their friendship was of great importance to both men: through Voigt, Goethe learned the fundamentals of mineralogy and became an admirer of Werner ; and through Goethe, Voigt began a career as a researcher and mining official.

Voigt was commissioned to tour the duchy of Weimar and describe it mineralogically. The result of this work, done in 1780, was the two-volume Mineralogische Reisenn durch das Herzogthum Weimar und Eisenach, which Goethe published (1781-1785). At Goethe’s behest Voigt traveled through the Fulda region in 1781 and the Harz Mountain in 1782, preparing mineralogical maps of these areas. In 1783 he became mining secretary and later mining director. Much of his time was subsequently devoted to running the silver mine at Ilmenau, which was reopened on Goethe’s initiative in 1784 but had to be abandoned by 1800. Voigt’s works on the petrography and geology of Thuringia and his contributions to the science of mineral deposits brought him considerable renown. He became known more widely, however, through his geological works, especially his contribution to the debate concerning the origin of basalt.

In his Mineralogische Reisen Voigt had presented the Thuringian basalts as being of volcanic origin This approach provoked a protest from Werner, who had become the leader of the “neptunist” party, which considered basalt to be a marine sediment. The “neptunist controversy” lasted in its public, and sometimes quite sharply conducted, form until about 1795, at which time the neptunists appeared to have won. In the course of this dispute Voigt became the leader of the volcanists in Germany. His interpretation of the basalt mountains as the remnants of the erosion of the eruptions of great volcanoes was almost correct; but he then allowed himself to be influenced by the incorrect views of William Hamilton and August Veltheim, who considered the basalt mountains to be groups of volcanoes exposed by erosion. Voigt did, however, make a number of enduring contributions to scientific volcanism and was the first to draw attention to the phenomena of contact metamorphism.


I. Original Works. Voigt’s publications include Mineralogische Reisenn durch das Herzogthum Weimar und Eisenach, 2 vols. (Weimar, 1781-1785); Petrographische Landkarte des Hochstifts Fulda (Frankfurt, 1782); Mineralogische Reise von Weimar über den Thüringer Wald und Meiningen bis Hanau (Leipzig, 1787); Mineralogische und bergmännische Abhandlungen, 3vols. (Leipzig, 1789-1791); Praktische Gebirgskunde(Weimar, 1792); Kleine mineralogische Schriften (Weimar, 1799); Mineralogische Reise nach den Braunkohlenwerken und Basalten in Hessen wie auch nach den Schieferkohlenwerken des Unterharzes (Weimar, 1802); and Geschichte des Ilmenauischen Bergbaues (Sondershausen-Nordhausen, 1821).

II. Secondary Literature. There is no full-length biography, but Voigt is often mentioned in biographies of Werner and Goethe, and in works on the controversy over Neptunism—for instance, Walther Herrmann, Goethe und Trebra, which is Freiberger Forshungschefte, ser, D., no. 9 (Berlin, 1955), 36, 48–52, 62–64; and Otfried Wagenbreth, Abraham Gottlob Werner und der Höhepunkt des Neptunistenstreits um 1790, which is Freiberger Forschungschefte, ser. D, no.11 (Berline, 1955), see 183–241. A short biography is Carl Schiffner, Aus dem Leben alter Freiberger Bergstudenten, 1 (Freiberg, 1935), 16–17.

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