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Formulas of acetic acid given by August Kekulé in 1861.

The Karlsruhe Congress was an international meeting of chemists held in Karlsruhe, Germany from 3 to 5 September 1860. It was the first international conference of chemistry worldwide.


The meetingEdit

The Karlsruhe Congress was called so that European chemists could discuss matters of chemical nomenclature, notation, and atomic weights. The organization, invitation, and sponsorship of the conference were handled by August Kekulé, Adolphe Wurtz, and Karl Weltzien.[1] As an example of the problems facing the delegates, Kekulé's Lehrbuch der Organischen Chemie gave nineteen different formulas used by chemists for acetic acid, as shown in the figure on this page.[2][3]

An understanding was reached on the time and place of the meeting, and printing of a circular addressed to European chemists listed below, which explained the objectives and goals of an international congress was agreed upon. With the aim of avoiding any "unfortunate omissions", the undersigned requested that the individuals to whom this circular was be send please communicate was to their scientist friends who are duly authorized to attend the planned conference.[4]

The circular was sent to:

  1. Austria
    1. Genebra: Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac.
    2. Innsbruck: Heinrich Hlasiwetz.
    3. Vienna: Anton Schrötter von Kristelli; Leopold von Pebal.
  2. Belgium
    1. Brussels: Jean Servais Stas.
    2. Ghent: Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz.
  3. France
    1. Paris: Anselme Payen; Antoine Bussy; Antoine Jérôme Balard; Auguste André Thomas Cahours; Charles Adolphe Wurtz; Edmond Frémy; Eugéne-Melchior Péligot; Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville; Henri Victor Regnault; Jean-Baptiste Boussingault; Jean-Baptiste Dumas; Louis Pasteur; Théophile-Jules Pelouze.
    2. Rennes: Faustino Malaguti.
  4. Germany
    1. Berlin: Eilhard Mitscherlich.
    2. Freiburg im Breisgau: Lambert Henrich von Babo.
    3. Geissen: Heinrich Will; Hermann Franz Moritz Kopp.
    4. Göttingen: Friedrich Wöhler.
    5. Heidelberg: Robert Bunsen.
    6. Karlsruhe: Karl Weltzien.
    7. Leipzig: Otto Linné Erdmann.
    8. Munich: Justus von Liebig.
    9. Stuttgart: Hermann von Fehling.
    10. Tübingen: Adolph Strecker.
  5. Italy
    1. Genova: Stanislao Cannizzaro.
    2. Turim: Raffaele Piria.
  6. Russia
    1. Kasan: Nikolay Nikolayevich Beketov.
    2. St. Petersburg: Alexander Nikolayevich Engelhardt; Carl Julius Fritzsche; Nikolai Nikolaevich Sokolov;[5] Nikolay Nikolaevich Zinin.
  7. Switzerland
    1. Zurich: Georg Andreas Karl Staedeler.
  8. United Kingdom
    1. London: Alexander William Williamson; August Wilhelm von Hofmann; Sir Edward Frankland; William Odling.
    2. Manchester: Henry Enfield Roscoe.
    3. Oxford: Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, 2nd Baronet.

The Karlsruhe meeting ended with no firm agreement on the vexing problem of atomic and molecular weights. However, on the meeting's last day reprints of Stanislao Cannizzaro's 1858 paper on atomic weights,[6] in which he utilized earlier work by Amedeo Avogadro, were distributed. Cannizzaro's efforts exerted a heavy and, in some cases, an almost immediate influence on the delegates. Lothar Meyer later wrote that on reading Cannizzaro's paper, "The scales seemed to fall from my eyes."[7][8]

An important long-term result of the Karlsruhe Congress was the adoption of the now-familiar atomic weights. Prior to the Karlsruhe meeting, and going back to Dalton's work in 1803, several systems of atomic weights were in use.[9] In one case, a value of 1 was adopted as the weight of hydrogen (the base unit), with 6 for carbon and 8 for oxygen. As long as there were uncertainties over atomic weights then the compositions of many compounds remained in doubt. Following the Karlsruhe meeting, values of about 1 for hydrogen, 12 for carbon, 16 for oxygen, and so forth were adopted. This was based on a recognition that certain elements, such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, were composed of diatomic molecules and not individual atoms.

Ihde has argued[10] that the Karlsruhe meeting was the first international meeting of chemists and that it led to the eventual founding of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).


The number of people who wanted to participate was considerable, and on 3 September 1860, 140 chemists met together in the meeting room of the second Chamber of State, which was made available by the Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden.

According to Wurtz, the printed list of members, supplemented by handwritten additions, contains 126 names listed below.[11]

  1. Belgium:
  2. Germany:
  3. United Kingdom:
  4. France:
  5. Italy:
  6. Mexico: Posselt (Louis Posselt, 1817-1880, brother of Christian Posselt)
  7. Austria:
  8. Portugal:
    • Coimbra: Mide Carvalho (Mathias de Carvalho e Vasconcellos[38], 1832-1910)
  9. Russia:
  10. Sweden:
  11. Switzerland:
  12. Spain:


  1. ^ Leicester, Henry M. (1956). The Historical Background of Chemistry. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 191–192. ISBN 978-0-486-61053-5.
  2. ^ Kekulé, A. (1861). Lehrbuch der Organischen Chemie … , vol. 1 (in German). Erlangen, (Germany): Ferdinand Enke. p. 58.
  3. ^ The French chemist Auguste Laurent also listed many different contemporary representations of acetic acid (acide acétique) in his book: Laurent, Auguste (1854). Méthode de Chimie (in French). Paris, France: Mallet-Bachelier. pp. 27–28.
  4. ^ "Charles-Adolphe Wurtz". Retrieved 2019-07-01.
  5. ^ Brooks, Nathan M. (1995-11-01). "Russian chemistry in the 1850s: A failed attempt at institutionalization". Annals of Science. 52 (6): 577–589. doi:10.1080/00033799500200411. ISSN 0003-3790.
  6. ^ See:
  7. ^ Moore, F. J. (1931). A History of Chemistry. McGraw-Hill. pp. 182–184. ISBN 978-0-07-148855-6. (2nd edition)
  8. ^ Cannizzaro, Stanislao (1891) with Arthur Miolati, trans., and Lothar Meyer, ed. Abriss eines Lehrganges der theoretischen Chemie [Outline of a Course of Theoretical Chemistry] (Leipzig, (Germany): Wilhelm Engelmann, 1891), p. 59. On p. 59, Lothmar Meyer wrote: "Nach Schluss der Versammlung vertheilte Freund Angelo Pavesi im Auftrage des Verfassers eine kleine ziemlich unscheinbare Schrift, den hier wiedergegeben "Sunto" etc. Cannizzaro's, der schon einige Jahre früher erschienen, aber wenig bekannt geworden war. Auch ich erhielt ein Exemplar, das ich einsteckte, um es unterwegs auf der Heimreise zu lesen. Ich las es wiederholt auch zu Hause und war erstaunt über die Klarheit, die das Schriftchen über die wichtigsten Streitpunkte verbreitete. Es fiel mir wie Schuppen von den Augen, die Zweifel schwanden, und das Gefühl ruhigster Sicherheit trat an ihre Stelle." (At the conclusion of the meeting, friend Angelo Pavesi, on behalf of the author, distributed a small, inconspicuous pamphlet, Cannizzaro's "Sunto" etc. [which is] reproduced here [Note: "Sunto" refers to: Stanislao Cannizzaro (1858) "Lettera del Prof. Stanislao Cannizzaro al Prof. S. de Luca; Sunto di un corso di filosofia chimica fatto nella Reale Università di Genova dal Professore S. Cannizzaro," Il Nuovo Cimento, 7 : 321–366.], which had appeared a few years earlier but has been little known. I too received a copy, which I pocketed to read on the way home. I also read it at home repeatedly and was amazed at the clarity that the pamphlet spread about the main issues. It was as if the scales fell from my eyes, the doubts faded, and the feeling of calmest assurance took its place.)
  9. ^ An example of the confusion is provided by the table of atomic weights in the various prevailing systems, which appears in: Gehler, Johann Samuel Traugott (1840). Gmelin; Littrow; Muncke; Pfaff (eds.). Johann Samuel Traugott Gehler's Physikalisches Wörterbuch, 9. Band, 3. Abtheilung [Johann Samuel Traugott Gehler's Physical Dictionary, vol. 9, part 3] (in German). Leipzig, (Germany): E.B. Schwickert. pp. 1909–1912. In the tables of pages 1911–1912, Column C presents the relative atomic weights of the known elements, assigning to hydrogen (Wasserstoff) an atomic weight of 1. Column D contains the same relative atomic weights as column C, except that oxygen (Sauerstoff) is assigned a relative atomic weight of 100. (Gehler says of columns C and D: "In den Columnen C und D finden sich die Atomgewichte, wie sie sich nach den so eben entwickelten Grundsätzen als die wahrscheinlichsten ergeben möchten, … " (In columns C and D are found the atomic weights, as they would result from the principles [that have been] developed just now as the most probable ones … ) But this system assigns to oxygen an atomic weight of 8 and to carbon (Kohlenstoff) an atomic weight of 6.) Column E presents the relative atomic weights according to Berzelius, who assigned to hydrogen atoms (das Atomgewicht des einfachen Wasserstoffatoms (the atomic weight of single hydrogen atoms)) a value of 0.5 and who found oxygen to have a value of 8.01 — about 16 times greater than that of the hydrogen atom, which is correct. Column F contains the same relative atomic weights as column E, except that oxygen is assigned a relative atomic weight of 100.
  10. ^ Ihde, Aaron J. (1961). "The Karlsruhe Congress: A Centennial Retrospective". Journal of Chemical Education. 38 (2): 83–86. Bibcode:1961JChEd..38...83I. doi:10.1021/ed038p83.[permanent dead link] (subscription required)
  11. ^ "Charles-Adolphe Wurtz". Retrieved 2019-06-18.
  12. ^ "Woldemar Alexander Adolph von Schneider". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  13. ^ Boeckmann, Emil (1837-01-01). "Ueber einige Doppelverbindungen von Cyanquecksilber mit Schwefelcyan‐Metallen". Annalen der Pharmacie. doi:10.1002/jlac.18370220205. Retrieved 2019-06-20.
  14. ^ Partington, J. R. (1964-06-18). History of Chemistry. Macmillan International Higher Education. ISBN 9781349005543.
  15. ^ "[Earliest: (01/01/1846 TO 12/31/1930)] AND [Author: Ludwig, H] : Search". Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  16. ^ "handbuch der allgemeinen waarenkunde von seubert karl - ZVAB". Retrieved 2019-07-13.
  17. ^ Ärzte, Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und (1861). Tageblatt der Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte (in German).
  18. ^ Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft (in German). Verlag Chemie. 1878.
  19. ^ Brock, William H. (2002-06-20). Justus Von Liebig: The Chemical Gatekeeper. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521524735.
  20. ^ Ärzte, Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und (1861). Tageblatt der Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte (in German).
  21. ^ Fruton, Joseph Stewart (1990). Contrasts in Scientific Style: Research Groups in the Chemical and Biochemical Sciences. American Philosophical Society. ISBN 9780871691910.
  22. ^ Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie (in German). C.F. Winter'sche. 1859.
  23. ^ Ärzte, Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und (1861). Tageblatt der Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher und Aerzte (in German).
  24. ^ Hermann, Armin; Wankmüller, Armin (1980). Physik, physiologische Chemie und Pharmazie an der Universität Tübingen (in German). Franz Steiner Verlag. ISBN 9783164428019.
  25. ^ Archiv for Pharmacie Og Technisk Chemie Med Deres Grundvidenskaber (in Danish). 1864.
  26. ^ Buchner, Max (2014-01-13). Aus der Vergangenheit der Universität Würzburg: Festschrift Zum 350 Jährigen Bestehen der Universität (in German). Springer-Verlag. ISBN 9783642995781.
  27. ^ Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service". Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  28. ^ Gadd, Ian Anders; Eliot, Simon; Louis, William Roger; Robbins, Keith (November 2013). History of Oxford University Press: Volume II: 1780 to 1896. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780199543151.
  29. ^ Archiv Der Pharmazie: Chemistry in Life Sciences (in German). Wiley-Blackwell. 1865.
  30. ^ Jahresberichte über die leistungen der chemischen technologie (in German). O. Wigand. 1866.
  31. ^ "Le Canu,Louis-René Études chimiques sur le Sang Humain. Thèse". Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  32. ^ Figurovskii, N. A.; Solov'ev, Yu I. (2012-12-06). Aleksandr Porfir’evich Borodin: A Chemist’s Biography. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9783642727320.
  33. ^ "Eugène Jacquemin (1828-1909)". Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  34. ^ Nationalizing Science: Adolphe Wurtz and the Battle for French Chemistry. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262264297.
  35. ^ "Frédéric Charles Schlagdenhauffen". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2019-06-27.
  36. ^ McDonald, Donald; Hunt, Leslie B. (1982-01-01). A History of Platinum and its Allied Metals. Johnson Matthey Plc. ISBN 9780905118833.
  37. ^ Oesterreichisch-ungarischer Ordens-Almanach (in German). Sommer. 1876.
  38. ^ Formosinho, Sebastião J. (2007-08-01). Nos Bastidores da Ciência: 20 anos depois (in Portuguese). Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra / Coimbra University Press. ISBN 9789898074096.
  39. ^ "Bischoff, Henri". (in French). Retrieved 2019-06-27.

Further readingEdit

(Note the incorrect spelling of Weltzien's name.)
  • Ihde, Aaron J. (1984). The Development of Modern Chemistry. Dover. pp. 228–230. ISBN 978-0-486-64235-2.
(Originally published in 1964.)
(Note the incorrect month given for the conference.)
  • Nye, Mary Jo (1984). The Question of the Atom: From the Karlsruhe Congress to the First Solvay Conference, 1860-1911. Springer. ISBN 978-0-938228-07-3.

External linksEdit