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Tschirnhaus, Ehrenfried Walther

1. Dates
Born: Kieslingswald, near Görlitz, Germany, 10 Apr 1651
Died: Dresden, 11 Oct 1708
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 57
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat, Government Official
He was the youngest son of Christoph von Tschirnhaus, a landowner and nobelman of upper Lusatia. His father was also "kurfürstlicher und sächsischer Rath und Landesältester in Görlitzischer Fürstenthum."
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Kieslingswald, near Görlitz, Germany
Career: Kieslingswald, Germany
Death: Dresden, Germany
4. Education
Schooling: Leiden
Excellent education from private tutors.
1666, entered the senior class at the Görlitz gymnasium. He also attended private lectures in mathematics.
1668, enrolled at the University of Leiden to study philosophy. mathematics, and medicine. (He matriculated at the medical faculty in 1669.) He also received private instruction from Pieter van Schooten. There is no mention of a B.A., which would have been irrelevant to one of his standing.
1674, he began an educational tour that took him to Leiden, London, and Paris.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Physics
Subordinate: Chemistry
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Patronage
Secondary: Government
1672, at the beginning of the war between Holland and France, he joined the student volunteer corps, but did not see action in the year and a half he served.
1674, after a short visit to Krieslingswald, he returned to Leiden, where he was introduced to Spinoza.
1675, with a recommendation from Spinoza he went to see Henry Oldenburg. He visited John Wallis in Oxford and met John Collins.
Later in 1675, bearing recommendations from Oldenburg to Leibnitz and Huygens, he moved to Paris. To support himself in Paris he taught mathematics to Colbert's sons (since his French was not fluent, he taught in Latin).
1676, he accompanied Count Nimpsch of Silesia on a trip to southern France and Italy, returning in 1679.
1679, he returned home, where he remained substantially for the rest of his life. He studied intensively from 1679-81 hoping to obtain a paid position at the Acadèmie Royale; it was his intention to obtain a position that would allow him to devote his life to science without worrying about worldly concerns. He became a member in 1682, but without a pension. Perhaps the French assumed that because he was the son a nobleman that he was of independant means.
After returning to Germany from a visit to France in 1682, since his father was still alive, he lived off the proceeds of a small neighboring estate. He probably received the property as a by-product of his marriage to Eleonore Elisabeth von Lest, the daughter of an influential figure at the court of the Elector of Saxony. A couple of years after their marriage, Tschirnhaus's father died, leaving the family estate of Kieslingswald to Tschirnhaus and his brother Georg Albrecht. Though he ran the estate together with his brother at first, Eleonore soon allowed Tschirnhaus to do precisely what he wanted--devote himself entirely to science without the distractions of everyday life--by administering the details of running the estate herself. In accordance with his position in society, Tschirnhaus was also Assessor at the Lusatian parliament.
Through the 1680s, he interested himself with industrial processes, mostly the maufacture of porcellain and glass. He solicited funds for his research from the Elector. He lobbied the court sucessfully to construct three glassworks, which supposedly saved Saxony 20000 thaler a year in its external trade. In 1692, the Saxon court commissioned him to produce an especially large burning mirror. The contract was for 1000 taler, yearly pension, and the title of court counsellor. He never completed the commission, but did receive the title.
After the death of Elector Johann Georg IV of Saxony (1694), Friedrich August (later August II, King of Poland) succeeded him. The state was in dire financial straits and Friedrich August gave Tschirnhaus the assignment of searching all of Saxony for deposits of precious stones. This project became a major project of Tschirnhaus's laboratory. The need to make more money also focused the attention of the laboratory on certain manufacturing techniques, like making large glass blanks and high-temperature porcellain. This activity was not undertaken solely for the good of the state; Tschirnhaus hoped to fund the scientific society he planned with proceeds from his Schliefmaschine (glass polishing machine), porcellain techniques, and precious stone polishing. After negotiations in 1704, it was decided that Tschirnhaus would receive for his academy a fraction of the proceeds of whatever successful processes he developed with the alchemist Böcher. Böcher was being held by the Saxon government and Tschrinhaus had been given the responsibility of overseeing his work in 1702.
Tschirnhaus's fortunes took a turn for the worse after the Swedish invasion of 1706-7. His personal holdings in Lausitz were hit hard, and Böttcher was liberated by the Swedes. However, after the war, various governments began negotiating with him. The Elector of Brandenburg offered him the position of Chancellor at the University of Halle with a salary of 3000 taler, trying not only to win him for Halle but also to obtain his potentially lucrative porcellain techniques. Tschirnhaus was already closely tied to A.H. Franke, but negotiated with his associate, Freiherr von Caustein, a trusted noble at the Prussian court. Tschirnhaus would not sell his secrets, saying that they had already been bid for by August II. Tschirnhaus said his bid was 1) 2000 taler cash, 2) up to 1000 taler for the construction of a laboratory, and 3) the right to undertake "certain lucrative propositions." This was an old bid; Tshcirnhaus had obtained 100 taler in 1692 and had been negotiating for the rest ever since. Franke and Caustein tried to overbid. Franke wanted a glassworks as well. Eventually, Tschirnhaus drove Krieslingswalde so deeply into debt that the estate no longer belonged to him, and he became financially dependant on Franke.
Other rulers that offered Tschirnhaus administrative positions were the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt and Hesse- Kassel. It seems that even after negotiating with the other governments that Tschirnhaus was too closely tied to Saxony court and had too much invested in his lab to move away.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Government Official
The student volunteer force of which Tschirnhaus was a member was run by a friend of his, Oberstein Baron von Nieuwland, whom he impressed enough to be offered a position of captain in hopes that he would stay.
He received recommendations during his student years from Spinoza to Oldenburg, from Oldenburg to Huygens, and from Huygens to Colbert.
Colbert certainly assisted him in Paris, and later tried in vain to get him back to Paris. Colbert recommended him to the Acadèmie. Tschirnhaus's Medicina mentis was meant to be dedicated to Colbert, but after hearing of his death, Tschirnhaus dedicated it to Louis XIV instead.
He spent three years travelling with Count Nimpsch of Silesia directly after his years in Paris.
Tschirnhaus lobbied Leibnitz, hoping to get him to use whatever influence he might have to get him a paid position at the Académie. At Tschirnhaus's bequest, Leibnitz also approached Duke Johann Friedrich, recommending Tschirnhaus for a paid scientific position in 1678.
After settling down in Krieslingswalde, Tschirnhaus became more closely tied to the Saxon court and the electors Johann Georg and Friedrich August. Friedrich August should be counted as his greatest patron. Tschirnhaus cultivated his relationship with Egon von Fürstenberg, a trusted advisor of August II (that is, Friedrich August after he become King of Poland), to solicit funds for his fledgling academy. Tschirnhaus hoped with von Fürstenberg's help to produce mirrors of unprecedented width. Von Fürstenberg also made Tschirnhaus's trip to Holland and France (1701-1702) possible.
Tschirnhaus was godfather to the Bergrat Pabst von Ohain's son (1702). Ohain was a close friend and member of Tschirnhaus's scientific circle, and together they watched Böttcher.
By the end of his life, Tschirnhaus was deeply in debt to A.H. Franke.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Chemistry, Instruments
Tschirnhaus made a number of technological advances, most of which are referred to above. He is most noted for the techniques of making hard-paste porcellain. It was Böttcher who actually rediscovered the technique, but Tschirnhaus supervised him at every step of the way. He also developed the techniques for polishing minerals and producing large blanks of optical glass.
He developed a lens polishing machine.
Tschirnhaus clearly saw science as capable of producing certain valuable techniques whose commercial success he sought to harness to support the academy he sought to found.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Académie Royal des Sciences
He became a member of the Acadèmie Royale in 1682, but without a pension.
After failing to get a paid position at the Acadèmie, Tschirnhaus tried for the rest of his life to get enough support to found a Saxon academy of sciences. His scientific circle included J. "Becker" Hoffman (d. 1703), Mohrendal (d. 1697), Knorr (d. 1699), Paulli, Avon, Schönberg (a noble), and Ohain (a councillor). Tschirnhaus even paid van Gent a salary to act as a correspondent.
He was a contributor from the beginning to the "Acta eruditorum" and a member of this circle.
Connections: He had strong connections with Spinoza, Oldenburg, Huygens, and Leibnitz. However, he was eventually also on bad terms with Leibnitz, Fatio de Dullier, Huygens, La Hire, and Jacob I and Johann I Bernoulli--mostly for publishing their discoveries as his own.
  1. D. Liebmann, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 38, 722-4.
  2. E. Winter, "Der Bahnbrecher der deutchen Frühaufklärung E.W. von Tschirnhaus und die Frühaufklärung in Mittel- und Osteuropa," pp. 1-82 in E. Winter, ed., E.W. von Tschirnhaus und die Frühaufklärung in Mittel- und Osteuropa (Berlin, 1960).
  3. [B802.T87 W78]
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. R.H. Vermij, "De Nederlandse breinderkring van E.W. von Tschirnhaus," Tijdschrift voor de Geschiedenis der Geneeskunde, Natuurwetenschappen, Wiskunde en Techniek, 11 (1988), 153-78.
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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