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Becher [Beccher], Johann Joachim

1. Dates
Born: Speyer, Germany 6 May 1635
Died: London, England? Oct 1682(?)
Dateinfo: Death Uncertain
Lifespan: 47
2. Father
Occupation: Minister
No clear information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: German
Career: German, Dutch, English. spent a little time before death in Netherlands and England.
Death: German (some accounts say he died in Germany)
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Mostly self-educated.
MD, U. of Mainz 16 Nov 1661--in view of the rest, it is highly unlikely that this was an earned degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Roman Catholic 6. Discipline: alchemy and metallurgy.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: None
7. Means of Support
Primary: 7. Support: Patronage, Governmental Position
1663, appointed professor of medicine at Mainz and physician to the elector of Mainz.
1664 (6?), went to Munich, was named Hofmedicus and Mathematicus to Ferdinand Maria, elector of Bavaria, who furnished him with a laboratory.
1666, obliged to leave Munich, went to Vienna. Later information indicates that he held his appointment in Bavaria until 1670, but in 1666 Leopold appointed him Imperial Commerical Advisor.
In 1669 he arranged with the Dutch West Indies Company for a colony, in the South America I think, for the Count of Hanau.
Appointed public professor of medicine at U of Mentz (sic).
He was appointed chamberlain to Count Zinzendorf, "and through him acquired so much importance in the eyes of the court, that he was named a member of the newly-erected College of Commerce, and obtained the title of imperial commercial counsellor and chamberlain" to Emperor Leopold I.
While in Vienna he established a Werkhaus containing a chemical lab for manufacturing pigments as well as for working with wool, silk, and glass.
1678, went to Holland, sold the city of Haarlem a plan for a machine that would spool silk cocoons.
1679, sold the Dutch a method of extracting gold from sea sand.
1679, at invitation of Prince Rupert, went to England; inspected mines in Cornwall (and Scotland?) for Prince Rupert.
1682, "an advantageous proposal was made to him by the Duke of Mecklenburg Gustrow, by means of Count Zinzendorf," but he died soon after.
When he died, his family was so poor his daughter had to go into domestic service.
8. Patronage
Types: Court, Aristocracy
1662, married daughter of "influential jurist and imperial councillor" Ludwig von Hoernigk.
Physician to 2 electors.
Although the relationship is unclear to me, he clearly had some status with the Count of Hanau for a time.
Counsellor to Emperor Leopold I.
In England was "protected and befriended by Edmund Dickinson and Prince Rupert."
See "support" section for details.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Chemistry, Instruments
1660, claimed to have invented a "thermoscope" for automatically regulating the temperature of a furnace.
Claimed to have invented a method for converting coal to coke.
In Bavaria he attempted to establish a silk industry and later a sugar refinery; it is far from clear what either enterprise amounted to.
Promoted various industries while counsellor to Leopold 1677-8, involved with silk and gold industries in Netherlands. I do not know how to evaluate these quasi entrepreneurial activities, and I am not listing them.
1681, took out a patent (with Henry Serle) on process for extracting tar from coal.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Unsuccessfully sought membership in Royal Society.
  1. J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, 2, (London 1961), 637 -652. -- Stacks QD 11 . P27 Thomas Thomson, The History of Chemistry, 1, (London 1830), 246 -8. -- Microprint Q 111 . L2 (Landmarks of Science) no. T36 and Chem Library QD 11 . T5 Pamela H. Smith, "Curing the Body Politic: Chemistry and Commerce at Court, 1664-1700," in Moran, ed. Patronage and Institutions: Science, Technologyu, and Medicine at the European Court, 1500-1750, (Rochester, NY, 1991), pp. 195- 209.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. F. A. Steinhueser, Johann Joachim Becher und die Einzelwirtschaft, (Nuremberg, 1931) -- discusses his economic and administrative policies -- describes further secondary literature.
  2. Heinrich Volberg, Deutsche Kolonialbestrebungen in Südamerika nach dem Dreissigjährigen Kriege inbesondere die Bemühungen von Johann Joachim Becher, (Cologne, 1977).
  3. F.M. Jaeger, "Over Johan Joachim Becher en zijn relaties met de Nederlanden," Economisch-Historisch Jahrboek, 5 (1919), 60- 135.
  4. Pamela H. Smith, Alchemy, Credit, and the Commerce of Words and Things: Johann Joachim Becher at the Courts of the Holy Roman Empire, 1635-1682, unpublished doctoral dissertation at the Johns Hopkins University, 1990.
  5. DSB gives other sources, they seem to focus on his science.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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