Johann Rudolf Glauber

Johann Rudolf Glauber
Born 1604?
Karlstadt am Main, Germany
Died 10 March 1670(1670-03-10) (aged 66)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nationality German-Dutch
Known for "Glauber's salt"

Johann Rudolf Glauber (10 March 1604 10 March 1670) was a German-Dutch alchemist and chemist. Some historians of science have described him as one of the first chemical engineers.[1] His discovery of sodium sulfate in 1625 led to the compound being named after him: "Glauber's salt".


Born in 1604 in Karlstadt am Main, the son of a barber, he was one of a large family and did not finish school, but is thought to have studied pharmacy and visited laboratories.[2] He said that he was glad that he had not suffered the grind of high school but had instead learned by experience. He lived in Vienna (1625), Salzburg, Giessen, Wertheim (1649–1651), Kitzingen (1651–1655), Basel, Paris, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne and Amsterdam (1640–1644, 1646–1649, 1656-death). He worked first manufacturing mirrors and later for two periods as Apothecary to the court in Giessen, the second time as the Chief Apothecary, leaving because of the Thirty Years War. In Amsterdam he built up a business manufacturing pharmaceuticals (including chemicals such as Glauber's salt). This led to both great financial success and in 1649 bankruptcy, which is the reason for his move from Amsterdam to Wertheim.

He married twice, and with his second wife Helena Cornelius (married 1641) had eight children. His son Johannes Glauber probably helped him with his engraved illustrations.

In 1660 he became seriously ill, which has been attributed to poisoning from the various heavy metals used in his work,[3] and in 1666 was crippled by a fall from a wagon and was confined to bed for the rest of his life. As a result he had to sell off books and equipment to provide for his family. He died on 16 March 1670 in Amsterdam.


Glauber carried out studies on the chemistry of wine production and had commercial success by licensing improvements. He was also an apothecary, supplying medicines, and known for providing free medical treatment to the poor. He is known for his contributions to inorganic chemistry and the fact that he was able to live from the proceeds of chemical production based upon his discoveries, and was thus an industrial chemist. His improvements to chemical processes and equipment (notably furnaces and distillation devices[4]) make him an early chemical engineer.[1]

He was first to produce concentrated hydrochloric acid in 1625 by combining sulfuric acid and table salt. He also made an improved process for the manufacture of nitric acid in 1648, by heating potassium nitrate with concentrated sulphuric acid. His production of sodium sulfate, which he called sal mirabilis or "wonderful salt", brought him fame and the honour of being named "Glauber's salt". It was an effective but relatively safe laxative at a time when purging (emptying the digestive tract) was a popular treatment for many diseases.[5]

The chemical garden (or silica garden) was first observed by Glauber and described by him in 1646.[4] In its original form, the chemical garden involved the introduction of ferrous chloride (FeCl2) crystals into a solution of potassium silicate (K2SiO3, water glass).

He was the first to synthesize and isolate antimony trichloride, arsenic trichloride, tin tetrachloride and zinc chloride.

In addition he wrote about 40 books. A visionary one is Dess Teutschlands Wohlfahrt (Germany's Prosperity) in which he proposed the chemical industries as a means for Germany's economic recovery after the Thirty Years War.

Selected publications

Apologia contra mendaces Christophori Farnneri, 1655

External sources

Further reading

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 Skolnik, Herman (1982). Furter, William F., ed. A Century of Chemical Engineering. New York: Plenum Press. p. 230. ISBN 0-306-40895-3. Some historians of science consider Glauber as one of the first chemical engineers as he developed processes for the manufacture of sulfuric,nitric, acetic, and hydrochloric acids
  2. This section incorporates material from the German Wikipedia and the Galileo Project which are referenced to German sources
  3. Mercury was used in silvering mirrors and also in medicine. Arsenic and antimony were used in medicines. Lead was used in the preparation of acids. These are all cumulative poisons.
  4. 1 2 Glauber, Johann Rudolf (1646). Furni Novi Philosophici. Amsterdam. OCLC 5515255.
  5. Martini, Albert (27 May 2015). The Renaissance of Science: The Story of the Cell and Biology. Albert Martini. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-692-48512-5.
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