Adolf von Baeyer

For the founder of the pharmaceutical company Bayer, see Friedrich Bayer.
Adolf von Baeyer

von Baeyer in 1905
Born Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf Baeyer
(1835-10-31)October 31, 1835
Berlin, Prussia (German Confederation)
Died August 20, 1917(1917-08-20) (aged 81)
Starnberg, (Bavaria) German Empire
Nationality Germany
Fields Organic chemistry
Institutions University of Berlin
Gewerbe-Akademie, Berlin
University of Strasbourg
University of Munich
Alma mater University of Berlin
Doctoral advisor Friedrich August Kekulé
Doctoral students Emil Fischer
John Ulric Nef
Victor Villiger
Carl Theodore Liebermann
Carl Gräbe
Known for Synthesis of indigo, phenolphthalein and fluorescein; Von Baeyer nomenclature
Notable awards Davy Medal (1881)
Liebig Medal (1903)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1905)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1912)
Spouse Adelheid Bendemann (m. 1868; 3 children)

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer (German: [ˈbaɪɐ]; 31 October 1835 – 20 August 1917) was a German chemist who synthesised indigo,[1] developed a nomenclature for cyclic compounds (that was subsequently extended and adopted as part of the IUPAC organic nomenclature) and was the 1905 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[2]

Family and education

Baeyer was born in Berlin as the son of Johann Jacob Baeyer (1794-1885[3]), a Prussian officer who reached the rank of lieutenant general and a well-known geodesist, and his wife Eugenie Hitzig (1807–1843).[4] His father was a Lutheran.[3] His mother was daughter of Julius Eduard Hitzig, member of the Jewish Itzig family, who converted to Christianity in order to marry his father.[5] Baeyer had four sisters: Clara (1826-) Emma (1831-), Johanna (Jeanette) (1839-), Adelaide (†1843) and two brothers: Georg (1829-), Edward (1832-). Baeyer lost his mother at young age while she was giving birth to his sister Adelaide.[6]

Although his birth name was Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf Baeyer, he was known simply as "Adolf Baeyer", throughout most of his life. The poet Adelbert von Chamisso and the astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel were his godparents. On his 50th birthday he was raised to the hereditary nobility by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, conferring on him the “von” distinction.[7]

Baeyer charted his own path into science early on, performing experiments on plant nutrition at his paternal grandfather’s Müggelsheim farm as a boy; back in the confines of Berlin, he took to the test tubes with chemical experimentation starting at the age of nine. Three years later, he synthesized a previously unknown chemical compound -double carbonate of copper and sodium.[7][8] On his 13th birthday, he initiated his lifework, buying a chunk of indigo worth two talers for his first dye experiments.[7]

When still a schoolboy, his chemistry teacher at the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium appointed him as his assistant. After graduating from secondary school in 1853, he entered the Berlin University to study physics and mathematics. A stint in the Prussian army interrupted his study until 1856, when he returned to academia at the University of Heidelberg, intending to study chemistry under Robert Bunsen. After an argument with the renowned chemist, however, he changed his mentor to August Kekulé. He continued to collaborate with Kekule even after he returned to Berlin in 1858 for the completion of his doctorate on arsenic methyl chloride, or cacodylic.[7]

Academic career and achievements

After completed his doctorate, he followed Kekulé to the University of Ghent, when Kekulé became professor there. He became a lecturer at the Royal Trade Academy in 1860 and a Professor at the University of Strasbourg in 1871. In 1875 he succeeded Justus von Liebig as Chemistry Professor at the University of Munich.[9]

Baeyer's chief achievements include the synthesis and description of the plant dye indigo, the discovery of the phthalein dyes, and the investigation of polyacetylenes, oxonium salts, nitroso compounds (1869) and uric acid derivatives (1860 and onwards) (including the discovery of barbituric acid (1864), the parent compound of the barbiturates). He was the first to propose the correct formula for indole in 1869, after publishing the first synthesis three years earlier. His contributions to theoretical chemistry include the 'strain' (Spannung) theory of triple bonds and strain theory in small carbon rings.[10]

In 1871 he discovered the synthesis of phenolphthalein by condensation of phthalic anhydride with two equivalents of phenol under acidic conditions (hence the name). That same year he was the first to obtain synthetic fluorescein, a fluorophore pigment which is similar to naturally occurring pyoverdin that is synthesised by microorganisms (e.g., by some fluorescent strains of Pseudomonas). Baeyer named his finding "resorcinphthalein" as he had synthesised it from phthalic anhydride and resorcinol. The term fluorescein would not start to be used until 1878.

In 1872 he experimented with phenol and formaldehyde; the resinous product[11] was a precursor for Leo Baekeland's later commercialization of Bakelite.

In 1881 the Royal Society of London awarded Baeyer the Davy Medal for his work with indigo. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1884.[12] In 1905 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "in recognition of his services in the advancement of organic chemistry and the chemical industry, through his work on organic dyes and hydroaromatic compounds", and he continued in full active work as one of the best-known teachers in the world of organic chemistry up to within a year of his death.[13]


Since 1911, is established the Adolf von Baeyer Medal which is awarded annually.

His name is reflected in various "name reactions" as the Baeyer-Villiger Oxidation and Baeyer's reagent. There is also the Von Baeyer nomenclature in structural chemistry and Baeyer strain theory (which granted him the Nobel prize) of alicyclic compounds.

He was elected member to several scientific academies, in 1884 to the Prussian Academy of Sciences [14] and 1885 a foreign member of the Royal Society.[15]

In 2009 von Baeyer lunar crater was named after him.

Personal life

In 1868, Baeyer married Adelheid (Lida) Bendemann (1847-1910[16]), the daughter of a family friend, and together the couple had three children: Eugenie, Hans (1875-1941[17]), and Otto.[7]


  1. Adolf Baeyer, Viggo Drewsen (1882). "Darstellung von Indigblau aus Orthonitrobenzaldehyd" [Preparation of blue indigo from o-nitrobenzaldehyde]. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft. 15 (2): 2856–2864. doi:10.1002/cber.188201502274.
  2. Adolf von Baeyer: Winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1905 Armin de Meijere Angewandte Chemie International Edition Volume 44, Issue 48 , Pages 7836 – 7840 2005 Abstract
  3. 1 2 "Johann Jacob Baeyer (1794 - 1885) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  4. "Adolf von Baeyer - Biographical". 1917-08-20. Retrieved 2013-12-09.
  5. Schnurmann, Claudia (2014-10-15). Brücken aus Papier: Atlantischer Wissenstransfer in dem Briefnetzwerk des deutsch-amerikanischen Ehepaars Francis und Mathilde Lieber, 1827-1872 (in German). Note 1445. Germany: LIT Verlag Münster. p. 371. ISBN 9783643126788.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2007). Encyclopedia of World Scientists. NY, USA: Infobase Publishing. p. 39. ISBN 9781438118826.
  7. Hudson, John (1992-01-01). Organic Chemistry since 1860. Springer US. p. 303. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-6441-2. ISBN 9781468464436.
  8. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911.
  9. Adolf Baeyer (1885). "Ueber Polyacetylenverbindungen (Zweite Mittheilung)" [On polyacetylene compounds (Part II)]. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft. 18 (2): 2269–2281. doi:10.1002/cber.18850180296. See especially pages 2277-2281.
  11. 1 2 "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  12.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Baeyer, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von". Encyclopædia Britannica. 30 (12th ed.). London & New York.
  13. "Mitglieder der Vorgängerakademien.". Adolf Ritter von Baeyer.
  14. "Baeyer, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von (1835 - 1917)". Archive of Royal Society. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  15. "Adelheid "Lida" Bendemann von Baeyer (1847 - 1910) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  16. "Hans von Baeyer (1875 - 1941) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2016-07-17.

External links

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