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Kirch, Gottfried

1. Dates
Born: Guben, Germany, 18 Dec 1639
Died: Berlin, 25 Jul 1710
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 71
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
He was the son of a tailor. Because of unrest, his parents had had to flee Poland, leaving all of their belongings, and Gottfried apparently had to provide for himself while continuing his education.
That is, they were poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: Guben, Germany
Career: Germany
Death: Berlin, Germany
4. Education
Schooling: Jena
He studied at Jena under the polyhistorian Erhard Weigel. No mention of a degree.
He learned practical astronomy from Hevelius in Danzig, probably acting as some kind of apprentice.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Calendars, Government
He lived in mostly in Leipzig and Coburg, until he moved to Guben around 1690, making his living by computing and publishing calendars and ephemerides. His first calendar appeared in 1667, and it was published annually from 1685- 1710, when his son took over.
In 1700, he was called to Berlin by Frederick III, elector of Brandenburg (later Frederick I of Prussia) as the first astronomer at the observatory to be established with the new Berlin Academy. He received a salary of 500 taler which was taken out of the earnings from the new calendar monopoly established by Friedrich in 1700.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Court Official, Aristrocrat, Academic
Erhard Weigel, his first teacher, ought to be counted as a patron. First, he recommended Kirch to Hevelius, from whom Kirch learned how to observe and how to calculate calendars. Later, in 1697, Weigel appeared at the Reichstag in Regensburg advocating the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar by the Protestant princes. He told his former student Leibniz of his plan for the foundation of a "collegium artis consultorum" of approximately 20 members which should work for the Reichstag in exectuing the calendar reform and thereafter hold the monopoly on calendar production. Leibniz lobbied his patroness Sophie Charlotte of Brandeburg, and she, in turn, convinced her husband, Elector Friedrich, of the uselfulness of such a scientific society. "The Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin" was founded in 1700. Leibnitz, its first president, called Gottfried Kirch to Berlin as astronomer of the Society to carry through the calendar reform which had been approved in 1699. The calendar monopoly (whose income was estimated at 2500 taler in 1700) was the primary source of income for the Berlin academy for the entire 18th century.
Clearly, Frederick III was his most important patron. Even before he called Kirch to Berlin (1700), some friends had seen his pitiful financial situation in Leipzig and had appealed to the Elector, without Kirch's knowledge, for a stipend. He granted it, but Kirch refused it, fearing some poor students, for whom the funds had originally been intended, would be deprived.
While in Berlin awaiting the construction of the new observatory (which was not finished in his lifetime), Kirch made some observations at the private observatory of Baron Bernhard Friedrich von Krosigk, a wealthy nobleman and amateur astronomer.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instruments
Kirch made a number of instruments, and also invented a new circular micrometer (1679).
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Berlin Academy
Kirch was the first astronomer at the observatory of the newly-established Berlin academy (1700).
  1. Guenther, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 15, 787-8.
  2. Diedrich Wattenberg, Neue deutsche Biographie (Berlin, 1952-), 11, 634-5.
  3. P. Aufgebauer, "Die Astronomenfamilie Kirch," Die Sterne, 47 (1971), 241-7.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. J.E. Bode, Astronomisches Jahrbuck für das Jahr 1816, (Berlin, 1813), pp. 111, 113f. H. Ludendorff, "Zur Frühgeschichte der Astronomie in Berlin," Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Schriften, 9 (1942).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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