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Scheuchzer, Johann Jakob

1. Dates
Born: Zürich, 2 Aug 1672
Died: Zürich, 23 Jun 1733
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 61
2. Father
Occupation: Physician
His father, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1645-88), was a successful physician in Zürich. In 1679 he became Stadtarzt. He died when Scheuchzer was not quite sixteen. During the 17th and 18th centuries the family was one of the leading families in Zürich.
I assume he was affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: Zürich, Switzerland
Career: Zürich
Death: Zürich
4. Education
Schooling: Zurich (Carol); Altdorf; Utrecht, M.D.
1675-9, German school.
1679-85 (or 87), Latin school.
1687-9, student in the Karolinum.
1692, he was granted a scholarship by the city of Zürich and enrolled in science and medicine courses at the University of Altdorf near Nuremberg, where he was especially influenced by Johann Sturm (1635-1703). I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
1693, entered the University of Utrecht. He received an M.D. in 1694.
After spending some months exploring the Alps, he went to Nuremberg in 1695, where he studied astronomy and mathematics for a diploma, but he was recalled to Zürich.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Paleontology, Geography, Botany
Subordinate: Natural History, Mathematics, Mineralogy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government, Medicine, Schoolmastering
He was assistant municipal physician and medical supervisor of the orphanage in Zürich from the end of 1695.
1698, head of the public library in Zürich. He also served as the curator of the Kunstkammer (a sort of museum of natural history).
He evidently also taught during this time, but because he could not obtain an academic position he occupied a niche between the Karolinum and the University, reading private botanical and medical lectures as preparation, it seems, for medical study. He also gave lessons in physics and mathematics.
In a letter, Scheuchzer mentioned a small medical practice. Steiger says that his correspondence contains almost nothing about a medical practice, He deliberately held himself back from it in order to have time for his studies (though note that most of his municipal posts were medical). This may indicate private wealth, as many details of his career do, but I have not found mention of it.
1710, he became professor of mathematics, a reasonably low post, at the Carolinum.
1733, he became the municipal physician of Zürich and professor of Natural Philosophy at the Carolinum, and Chorherr.
He was also an army doctor in his canton. He served as field physician during the Toggenburger Krieg (1712).
8. Patronage
Types: City Magistrate, Scientist
1691, he petitioned the Zürich mayor and council for a scholarship. He received 200 gulden, and then another 50 gulden for his study at Utrecht.
It is clear from Steiger's account (in keeping with everything I know about the age) that every municipal appointment involved an exercise in influence or patronage, with other candidates competing under other patrons. It would also appear that Scheuchzer never had sufficient patronage; though apparently more learned than others in Zürich, he never had a position commensurate with his qualities.
Leibniz arranged for him to be called by Peter the Great to be his personal physician. After this occured he received a raise in pay and decided to remain in Zürich.
In 1702, the city of Zürich granted him money to support his Alpine excursions.
1708, he became a member of the Royal Society, which published his Ouresiphoites sive Hinera Tria (1708). The costs were paid by members of the society (Newton himself paid 20 pounds), who each received one of the copperplates. Hans Sloan, a member of the Royal Society, was his patron in that organization. Seuchzer dedicated a little book, Otia aestivalia circa thermas Badenses (1730), to him.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
He practiced medicine some. He was also famous for his studies of the medical effects of altitude.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Academia Leopoldina, Royal Society
While still a student in Zürich, he was active in the circle around Dr. Wagner which was interestedin natural history.
1694, he was invited to join the "Collegium der Wohlgesinnten," a Zürich science society. In 1697, he became actuary of the Wohlgesinnten and remained such for 10 years until the decay of the society.
He was also selected as the "Dog Days Lecturer," which was apparently a municipal institution to provide edification for students during the summer vacation.
1697, he became (on the recommendation of Johann Wagenseil) a member of the Academia naturae curiosum (the Leopoldina), under the name Akarnan.
1708, He became a fellow of the Royal Society. He carried on an extensive scientific correspondence--see Steiger.
  1. Hans Fischer, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer: Naturforscher und Arzt [Veröffentlichungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zurich, 175] (Zurich: Leeman, 1973). [Geol. Q67.Z96 Bd. 175] Rudolf Steiger, Johann Jackob Scheuchzer (1672-1733), (Zürich, 1927). This very fine account stops about the year 1702; apparently the second volume never appeared.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. C. Walkmeister, "J.J. Scheuchzer und seiner Zeit," Bericht der St. Gallischen naturwissenschaft Gesellschaft (1896), 364-401.
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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