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Leopold Gmelin

Born  1788
Died  1853

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German physiological chemist, born August 2, 1788, Göttingen; died April 13, 1853, Heidelberg.

Biography of Leopold Gmelin

Leopold GmelinLeopold Gmelin was born in Göttingen into a famous family of physicians and naturalists, descending from the Tübingen pharmacist Johann Georg Gmelin (1674-1728). His father was the physician and philosopher Johann Friedrich Gmelin (1748-1804).

Gmelin studied medicine and chemistry at Göttingen, Tübingen and Vienna and obtained his doctorate in 1812 in Göttingen. In 1913 he became Privatdozent and began to lecture on chemistry at Heidelberg, where he was appointed extraordinary professor in 1914 and in 1817 became oridinary professor of chemistry and medicine. Gmelin established chemistry as an independent discipline at Heidelberg

Of particular importance are his investigations with Friedrich Tiedemann (1781-1861). He resigned from his professorship in 1852 and died the following year. In 1852 he was succeeded by Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811-1899).

Gmelin is remembered for his discovery of several substances, among them potassium ferricyanide, in 1822. He also introduced the terms ester and ketone to two classes of organic compounds. He confirmed the presence of hydrochloric acid in gastric juice and studied the constituents of bile. Above all, however, he is remembered for his textbook on theoretical chemistry – Handbuch der theoretischen Chemie, 1817, in which he compiled and organized the principles of chemistry known at the time.

The book has gone into many revised editions, and Gmelins Handbuch der anorganischen Chemie long remained the largest dictionary of inorganic chemistry. Gmelin developed the test in 1826. Together with Friedrich Tiedemann, another chemist, he published a book on digestion which included microscopic and chemical observations on this. He was for long an opponent of the atomic-molecular theory, but adopted the atomic theory with the fourth edition of his Handbuch.

We thank Chris Oldman for information submitted.


  • Diss. inaug. chem.-physiol. sistens indagationem chemicam id animadversionibus physiologicis.
    Doctorat dissertation, Göttingen, 1812; Edit. nova, Heidelberg, 1814.
    German translation in Johann Bartholomäus Trommsdorf's (1770-1837) Journal der Pharmacie, 1814.
  • Handbuch der theoretischen Chemie. 3 volumes; 1817-1819.
    4th edition in ten volumes, 1843-1870 with title: Handbuch der Chemie.
    Translated into English for the Cavendish Society by Henry Watts (1815–1884) in 1848-1850.
    5th edition as Handbuch der anorganischen Chemie, 1852-1853.
    6th edition 1867-1897. 7th edition 1906-1915. Gmelin-Kraut (Karl Johan Kraut)
    8th edition worked over by R. J. Meyer and published as:
  • Handbuch der anorganischen Chemie. Leipzig, 1924.
    From 1990 published as Gmelin Handbook of Anorganic and Organometallic Chemistry. Publication ceased in 1996.
  • Versuche über die Wege, auf welchen Substanzen aus dem Magen und Darmcanale in's Blut gelangen, über die Verrichtung der Milz und die geheimen Harnwege.
    With Friedrich Tiedemann. Heidelberg, 1820.
  • Ueber einige im Gehirn der Menschen und Thiere vorkommende Fettarten.
    Zeitschrift für Physiologie, 1824.
  • Die Verdauung nach Versuchen. With Friedrich Tiedemann.
    2 volumes, Heidelberg, K. Groos, 1826-1827. Confirmation of the work of William Prout (1785-1850) proving that gastric juice contains free hydrochloric acid: On the nature of acid and saline matters usually existing in the stomachs of animals.
    Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, 1824, 114: 45-49.
  • Bemerkungen über Wiesbaden's Heilquellen. Poggendorffs Annalen, 1826.
  • Handbuch der theoretischen Chemie. Bd 1-8, Heidelberg, 1841-1845.
  • Einige neue Bestandtheile der Galle des Ochsen.
    With Friedrich Tiedemann. Poggendorff's Annalen, 1827.
  • Lehrbuch der Chemie. Heidelberg, 1844.

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