Alexander von Humboldt: biography of the father of geography

Although Alexander von Humboldt cultivated a whole range of sciences, his main legacy was the consolidation of geography as a science.

Below we can find more details about his life, through a biography of Alexander von Humboldt in which you will know his great contributions in the different disciplines to which he has collaborated throughout his career.

    Brief biography of Alexander von Humboldt

    Alexander von Humboldt was born in 1769 in the city of Berlin, then part of the Kingdom of Prussia.. His father, Alexander Georg, was a prestigious military man, serving under the orders of the Prussian monarch, Frederick II the Great. His mother, Marie Elisabeth, came from a family benefiting from a good economic and social situation, widowed as well as from a first marriage, which had given him an important inheritance.

    An example of the high position of the von Humboldt family is the good relationship they had with the royal family, to the point that the same heir to the Prussian throne was the godfather of little Alexander von Humboldt, which was obviously unusual. and symbolized the importance of this family in the Prussian high society of the time.

    The von Humboldt couple had another son, Wilhelm, who in the future, like his brother, will be a man of prestige, cultivated in different sciences, who will also leave a brilliant legacy. Therefore, it is clear that in the house of Alexander von Humboldt there was an intellectual environment which favored the two brothers to reach the highest standards in their respective fields.

    In reality, Alexander was educated in his own residence, which was neither more nor less than Tegel Castle. It was his father who personally chose the educators of his children, so he selected the most prestigious and enlightened teachers. Special mention should be made of Joachim Heinrich Campe, one of Alexander von Humboldt’s tutors, who aroused in him a curiosity for the natural sciences, in particular zoology, botany and geology.

    Sadly, Alexander and Wilhelm’s parents died at the age of ten and twelve, respectively. Therefore, her mother was widowed for the second time. She was responsible for managing the family economy so that her children continue to receive the best possible education, even if it means giving up certain luxuries which, because of their situation, could have been authorized.

    Alexander von Humboldt He not only excelled very quickly in the scientific subjects he learned, but also in the arts, because he was trained there to learn painting and drawing techniques., Which would allow him to exhibit some of his creations no more and no less than at the Berlin Academy. This talent will also be seen later in the quality of the illustrations he created for the notebooks recounting his travels.

    Young people and first trips

    Although at first Alexander von Humboldt wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a prestigious military man, his mother advised him not to. When he reached adulthood, he attended the University of Frankfurt to receive financial education over the course of one semester. He then enrolled at the University of Göttingen, already attended by his brother Wilhelm, learning still other disciplines.

    Arrived at this phase of his life, Alexandre had the opportunity to learn from Georg Foster. Foster was a German naturalist who had been part of the crew of James Cook himself, one of the most important English explorers in history, on the second of his voyages.

    Thanks to this friendship, he soon began a hobby that would forever mark Alexander von Humboldt’s career, that of research trips. This way, it would embark with Georg Foster in a trip through the waters of the Rhine until arriving in Holland, later to continue its trip by France, until the English land.

    Once in England, Alexander was able to meet Sir Joseph Banks, another companion of James Cook in his adventures, Who was also the president of the Royal Society. Humboldt was able to access the plant samples Banks had collected on his travels across the seas of the Southern Hemisphere, which definitely convinced him to devote his life to exploration and research.

    Following this trip, Alexander von Humboldt was able to publish his first work, “Mineralogical Observations on Divers Rhin Basalts”. Once he understood what he wanted to pursue in his career, he decided to train to become a great explorer.. In Hamburg he had the opportunity to learn different languages ​​and specialize in commerce and also attended the Freiberg Mining School, where he acquired the knowledge in geology he needed. Not only that, he also trained in astronomy and anatomy.

      Travel in Europe

      After completing his training at the mining school, Alexander von Humboldt receive a position to lead the management of a gold mine in Bayreuth and Fichtel. His work was excellent and he succeeded in remarkably increasing the extraction of this mineral. At the same time, he was a strong supporter of the miners and even set out to set up a school so that they received the best possible training so that they could work in safety.

      His work in the mines enabled him to publish a work on the botany of the region which passed through the hands of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who immediately wanted to contact Humboldt. Thus began a close friendship and scientific collaboration between the two intellectuals. These collaborations led Alexander to frequently visit the University of Jena, where his brother was also present.

      He entered the circle of Weimar classicism, where some of the most brilliant minds of the time were to be found.. He continued to travel across Europe and meet other prestigious scientists, with whom he shared his knowledge. These trips took him to Vienna, Switzerland or Italy. At this time, 1796, the mother of the von Humboldt brothers died and it became clear that neither of them had a good relationship with her, as they were not attending her funeral.

      Trips to america

      From 1799 begins the stage of the great voyages through America of Alexandre von Humboldt. He practically spent the rest of his life scientifically exploring this continent. He moved to Madrid to seek official permission from the Spanish authorities to visit the foreign estates of Spain. Not needing funding, he had no problem obtaining this authorization and therefore embarked on the first great adventure, bound for America, by stopping over in Tenerife.

      Although originally heading to Havana, Cuba, an outbreak of typhoid fever forced the ship’s captain Pizarro to change plans and land in Cumaná, Venezuela. Alexander von Humboldt settled in the Aragua Valley to observe the crops that were cultivated there and was in fact the first to consider the repercussions of human exploitation of land, giving rise to the idea of ​​climate change.

      later start an expedition in the waters of the Orinoco for four months, discovering native tribes in remote places and truly exotic animal species and of scientific interest like the dangerous river eels, which have come to kill certain horses by their electric shocks. Humboldt was a great scholar of electricity and magnetism, so this animal was of immense importance to his research.

      In 1800 went next to its equipment to Cuba, beginning a great series of scientific works in these earth. His work was so important that he is considered the second discoverer of the island. After a brief visit to Europe, he will return to America, this time to visit the Andes, Ecuador, Peru and finally New Spain, now Mexico. It was already in 1803. They traveled through the territories of the virginate until they reached Mexico City, a place that had an impact on Alexander.

      He inspected the Valencian silver mine of Guanajuato, which was the mine that mined the most material for the Spanish Empire at that time. He did an excellent analysis of how this infrastructure works. It has also devoted efforts to the study of the pre-Columbian cultures of these territories, in particular with regard to cultural and artistic manifestations. The Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain was the great compilation of these inquiries.

      By 1804 he was already in the United States, even collaborating with President Thomas Jefferson, who was also a scientist.. He reported on the borders of Louisiana, a territory recently acquired by the United States. That same year, Alexander von Humboldt would return to Europe, after a luster of research for America.

      The last years and death

      Those of America would not be the only great voyages of Alexander, who, many years later, in 1829, he would begin a passage through Russia, covering more than 15,000 km in just over six months. He reported on the mining possibilities of the region and also took the opportunity to investigate organisms from remote places of the Siberian steppe.

      Alexander von Humboldt died after a long life, at the age of 89, in 1859, in Berlin, where he was born.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Rebok, S. (2003). Alexander Von Humboldt’s American Expedition and his Contribution to Nineteenth Century Science. Bulletin of the French Institute of Andean Studies.
      • Rupke, NA (2008). Alexander von Humboldt: a metabiography. The University of Chicago Press.
      • Wulf, A. (2016). The invention of nature: the new world of Alexander von Humboldt. Taurus.

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