Hofmann, August Wilhelm von

SUBJECT AREA: Chemical technology
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b. 8 April 1818 Giessen, Germany
d. 2 May 1892 Berlin, Germany
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German organic chemist.
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The son of an architect, Hofmann began studying law and languages but was increasingly drawn to chemistry, attracted by Liebig's teaching at Giessen. In 1841 Hofmann took his doctorate with a study of coal tar. He became Privatdozent at Bonn University in 1845, but later that year he was persuaded to take up the post of first Director of the Royal College of Chemistry in London, after tenure was guaranteed as a result of Prince Albert's influence. He remained there for twenty years until he was offered professorships in chemistry at Bonn and Berlin. He accepted the latter. Hofmann continued the method of teaching chemistry, based on laboratory instruction, developed by Liebig at Giessen, and extended it to England and Berlin. A steady stream of well-trained chemists issued forth from Hofmann's tuition, concerning themselves especially with experimental organic chemistry and the industrial applications of chemistry. In 1848 one of his students, C.B. Mansfield, devised the method of fractional distillation of coal tar, to separate pure benzene, xylene and toluene, thus laying the foundations of the coal-tar industry. In 1856 another student, W.H. Perkin, prepared the first synthetic dyestuff, aniline purple, heralding the great dyestuffs industry, in which several other of his students distinguished themselves. Although keenly interested in the chemistry of dyestuffs, Hofmann did not pursue their large-scale preparation, but he stressed the importance of scientific research for success on a commercial scale. Hofmann's stimulus in this direction flagged after his return to Germany, and this was a factor in the failure of British industry to follow up their initial advantage and allow it to pass to Germany. In 1862 Hofmann prepared a dye from a derivative of triphenylmethane, which he called rosaniline. From this he derived a series of beautiful colours, ranging from blue to violet, which he patented as "Hofmann's violets" the following year.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Ennobled 1888.
Further Reading
J.Volhard and E.Fischer, 1902, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, ein Lebensbild, Berlin (the basic biography).
K.M.Hammond, 1967, bibliography, unpublished, (Diploma in Librarianship, London University (lists 373 items; deposited in University College, London)).
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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