125th Anniversary: Death of August Wilhelm von Hofmann

125th Anniversary: Death of August Wilhelm von Hofmann

Author: ChemViews

August Wilhelm von Hofmann was born in Gießen, Germany, on April 8, 1818. He first studied law and languages at the University of Gießen, but then switched to studying chemistry under Justus von Liebig. He moved to London, UK, in 1845, where he became the first Director of the Royal College of Chemistry. Hofmann returned to Germany in 1865 and joined the University of Berlin. He held a position as Professor of Chemistry there until his death. He was co-founder and first President of the German Chemical Society (Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft), founded in Berlin in 1867.

Hofmann made considerable contributions to organic chemistry. He was heavily influenced by Liebig and followed his example in fostering a chemistry education focusing on experimental work and industrial applications. Hofmann discovered the eponymous Hofmann rearrangement, which converts an amide to an amine, and the Hofmann elimination, which creates a tertiary amine and an alkene from a quaternary ammonium compound. Hofmann also systemized the study of organic amines and showed how they were related to ammonia.

Hofmann discovered the presence of aniline in coal tar, a waste product of the coal gas industry. A student of Hofmann, William Henry Perkin, discovered the first aniline dye, mauveine. This breakthrough provided the basis for the aniline dye industry. Hofmann also studied phosphorus bases, discovered allyl alcohol, and introduced “ball-and-stick” molecular models to public chemistry lectures.

Among many other honors, Hofmann was a Fellow of the Royal Society and received the Royal Medal from this society in 1854 and the Copley Medal in 1875. He was ennobled in 1888, adding the “von” to his name. August Wilhelm von Hofmann died on May 5, 1892, in Berlin.

August Wilhelm von Hofmann is the answer to Guess the Chemist (65).


Selected Publications by August Wilhelm von Hofmann

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