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Glauber, Johann Rudolf

1. Dates
Born: Karlstadt, 1604
Died: Amsterdam, 10 Mar 1670
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 66
2. Father
Occupation: Miscellaneous
He was the son of a barber, Rudolf Glauber of Hundsbach. I list this under Miscellaneous.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Karlstadt, Germany
Career: Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Germany
Death: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He began his education at the Latin school in Karlstadt, but did not finish. He probably also worked at the Mohren- Apotheke.
1626-1632: He did not attend a university, but set out in quest of spagyric wisdom, visiting laboratories in Paris, Basel, Salzburg (1626), and Vienna (1625/26).
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He was born a Catholic, but argued that men would be judged by their deeds rather than by the idiosyncracies of a particular sect. He was more at ease in religiously tolerant Amsterdam.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Chemistry, Alchemy, Iat; Phr, Mtl Primary: Chemistry, Alchemy, Iatrochemistry
Subordinate: Pharmacology, Metallurgy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Art, Apothecary
Secondary: Patronage
1632, he earned his living by casting metallic mirrors.
1635, worked at the court apothecary in Giessen. He received 9 gulden for the work he did for the Prince's apothecary in 1635, and he received a salary for 3/4 for the year 1636. This and most other court connections seem too low level to be considered patronage; I list it under artisan. However, he did have one relation with Ferdinand II which sounds like patronage.
1636-1639, after leaving Giessen, he went to Frankfurt, and then probably went to work for the Landgrave of Hessen- Darmstadt in Bonn.
1640, he left Germany to settle in Amsterdam.
1644, back in Giessen, again as the court apothecary, where some sources say he was now in charge. Gubel is of the opinion that he only worked there. 1645, the upheaval of the thirty-years war forced him to leave.
1646, he returned to Amsterdam and bought a large house for which he had to pay annual property tax of 1000 gulden (which seems an enormous amount). He produced and sold drugs, which inspires some to call him the world's first industrial chemist. Nevertheless, in 1650 he experienced bankruptcy, and, facing a suit of 10,000 gulden, fled to Germany.
1651, he settled in Wertheim and began experiments in wine improvement, probably also continuing other alchemical experiments.
1652, after being evicted (the house was needed by the new owner), he moved to Kitzingen, where, surprisingly, he bought a large house with cash. He maintained a medical practice of sorts, dispensing primarily antimony-containing medicines free of charge.
He received some income by "licensing" his alchemical secrets to other practioners. For example, he sold a Dr. Otto Sperling his method of wine preparation for 400 Reichstaler for the regions of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. If Sperling were to use the technique in France, England, or Germany, he was subject to a fine of 1000 Reichstaler.
He also entered into a partnership with Christoph Farner of Loechgau (1652/3) which disolved with much acrimony (1655).
1654, he left Kitzingen. Thereafter he travelled to Frankfurt, Rothenberg o.T., and Nuremberg. He also planned to travel to Regensburg where, he writes, he was to be enobled by Ferdinand III, but he did not make this trip. His travelling household at this time numbered 15 (I believe this consisted of his wife, 8 children, and 6 assistants).
1656, he left Germany to return to Amsterdam, where he outfitted "surely the most impressive laboratory in Europe" (D.S.B.). He settled in a large house on the Keysersgracht, which cost 400-500 taler yearly rent. There he lodged his 8 children and 5-6 assistants. In 1660, he was hit by a paralysis which confined to bed for 2 months. 1666, a fall from a wagon kept him bedridden for the rest of his life. Gradually, he had to let his assistants go and sold off the bulk of his equipment and books in 1668.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Eccesiastic Official
1625/26: Glauber was in the imperial court in Vienna- Neustadt. Ferdinand II supported alchemists, and Glauber entered this circle through his acquaintance with Sendivogius. One can see a direct indication of favor towards Glauber in that he was allowed to remain in Vienna-Neustadt in violation of the anti-plague laws enacted in 1625 which prohibited foreigners from staying there, even though he was very ill at the time. Glauber claimed that he was to have been enobled by Ferdinand's son in 1654.
It should be noted that some patronage was possibly involved in his position as court apothecary in Giessen.
1654, he presented his lord, Wuertzberg Princebishop Johann Philipp von Schoenborn, elector and archbishop of Mainz, with his method of Tartar fabrication in return for a privilege granted him in 1652.
There seems little justification for the view that Glauber refused patronage. He clearly had several patrons in Germany. In Amsterdam, however, he does not seem to have had one and thus perhaps one can conclude that by the end of his life he had wearied of them. It may be the case that he did not depend on his patrons for financial support, as he lived primarily from the income generated by his chemical production.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Phr; Agr; Chm
He made medications, and even set aside an hour each day to administer free medicines. These medications were evidently antimony-based and, as far as I can tell, did constitute a new and different direction in pharmacology.
He made his living in the wine industry for a time, and later, in his Dess Teutschlands-Wohlfahrt (1656-1661), he advocated the export of wine and beer, giving recipes for concentrates that are stable and easily exported. This is only one in series of improvements in cottage industries that Glauber thought would improve German trade and aid in the recovery from the thirty-years war.
He also wrote a tract in the interest of the Dutch East India Company called "Trost der Seefahrenden oder Consolatio Navigantium" which contains methods for concentrating and preserving rations, medicines against scurvy, and preparation of fresh from salt water.
He did experiments growing crops with artificial fertilizer (tartar chemically derived from wine) in soil brought from the most infertile part of the beach, and he had several experimental plots at his laboratory at Amsterdam where he studied the effects on crops of various treatments.
In Amsterdam, he supported himself with the sale of his chemical products. I do not know how many of these were non- pharmaceutical, but I thought it ought to be put down as useful application of scientific knowledge. Spronsen insists on the importance of Glauber as an industrial chemist, who was able to produce a range of chemicals in commercial quantities, and in fact did so. (I need to say that I am skeptical of this, but I need to record it.) Spronsen includes explosives among the chemicals he produced.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Kurt F. Gugel, Johann Rudolf Glauber, 1604-1670. Leben und Werk, (Wuerzberg, 1955).
  2. Erich Pietsch, Neue deutsche Biographie (Berlin, 1952- ) 6:437a- 438a.
  3. J. W. van Spronsen, "Glauber grondlegger van chemische industrie," Nederlandse chemische industrie, Nr. 5, 3 March 1970, pp. 3-11.
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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