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Wepfer, Johann-Jakob

1. Dates
Born: Schaffhausen, Switzerland, 23 Dec 1620
Died: Schaffhausen, 26 Jan 1695
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 75
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant, Magistrate
His father, Georg Michael Wepfer (1591-1659), was a guildmaster, judge, and councillor in Schaffhausen.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Schaffhausen, Switzerland
Career: Schaffhausen, Switzerland
Death: Schaffhausen, Switzerland
4. Education
Schooling: Strassburg, Padua; Basel, M.D.
He graduated from the Collegium Humanitatis, the secondary school of Schaffhausen.
1638, he matriculated at the University of Basel.
1639-43, University of Strasbourg. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
1644, he studied at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Padua. He also spent time in Venice (1645) and Rome (1646).
Ultimately he took an M.D. at Basel, 1647.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist (assumed)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Medicine, Anatomy, Pharmacology
What Fischer calls his masterwork, his study of the poison in hemlock (1679), was pharmacological in nature. Because of this work, Fischer calls Wepfer the father of experimental toxicology and pharmacology. The content of the work stretches far beyond hemlock to consider all sorts of poisonous plants. And elsewhere he carried out similar experiments on mineral poisons, in which he warned against the use of such things as arsenic, antimony, and mercury as medicines.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Government, Patronage
1648, he became municipal physician of Schaffhausen. He had as practice that extended through southern Germany.
Though Schaffhausen had no university, Wepfer had numerous students from throughout Europe, including J.C. Payer and J.C. Brunner.
1650, he became physician of the cloister at Rheinau.
He became private physician and a consultant to a variety of German princes:
1675, he became personal physician to the Duke of Württemberg and Markgraf Friedrich of Baden-Durlach.
1685, he became personal physician to Elector Karl of the Palatinate.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official
He was personal physician to the Duke of Württemberg (treating him successfully in 1691), Markgraf Friedrich of Baden-Durlach, and the Elector Karl of the Palatinate.
He carried out experiments on poisons with all sorts of animals, gifts from his highly placed patients. Fischer mentions the Count von Fürstenburg and Abbot Romanus of St. Blasien.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Academia Leopoldina
He published in the Miscellanea curiosa of the Leopoldina. In 1685 he became a member of the Leopoldina.
Wepfer carried on a very extensive correspondence with the leading medical scientists from the Germanic area of his day.
  1. Pagel, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 41, 740-1.
  2. Pietro Eichenberger, "Autobiographisches von Johann Jakob Wepfer (1620-1695) in einem Briefwechsel mit Johann Conrad Brotbeck (1620-1677)," Gesnerus, 24 (1967), 1-23.
  3. Hans Fischer, Johann Jakob Wepfer, (Zurich, 1931). [OCLC: 10065078]
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Conrad Brunner and Wilhelm von Muralt, Aus den Briefen hervorragender Schweizer Ärtze des 17 Jahrhunderts, (Basel, 1919).
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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