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Alexander von Humboldt timeline

1769 – born 14 September, Berlin to wealthy Prussian aristocratic family; elder brother Wilhelm (1767–1835) was a minister, philosopher, and linguist
1787 – intending a political career enrols in six month finance course at the University of Frankfurt
1788 – studies at Göttingen University, developing an interest in botany, geology and minerology and befriending Georg Forster (illustrator for Cook’s second circumnavigation of the world). Pair embark on expedition to the Rhine River (from this he published Mineralogische Beobachtungen über einige Basalte am Rhein (Mineralogic Observations on Several Basalts on the River Rhine).
1790 – the pair travel for four months in Europe. Over spring and summer they visit England, the Netherlands, and France. In England he met Joseph Banks, then President of the Royal Society, and William Bligh
1791 – Aged 21 returns to Prussia and completes studies in Hamburg, then enrols in the prestigious mining academy at Freiberg near Dresden, Saxony

1792 to 1797 – government mines inspector in Franconia, Prussia. Invents safety lamp and founds a technical school for aspiring miners

1792 – appointed Assessor of Mines and, subsequently, Director of Mines in the Prussian principality of Bayreuth (Franconia). Moves to Austria, living in Vienna and traveling to the salt-mining regions of Bavaria, Austria, and Galicia and into northern Italy and Switzerland where, among others, he becomes acquainted with Volta and de Saussure
1793 – publishes Florae Fribergensis Specimen the plants that he had found in mines
1794 – visits bother Wilhem in Jena, a centre of learning, progressive thinking, German Idealism and Romanticism, 150 m SW of Berlin. Has daily meetings with Goethe and Schiller at Goethe’s home in Weimar nearby
1795 – Die Lebenskraft, oder der rhodische Genius published in the periodical Die Horen
1796 – mother dies releasing him from her expectations of him as a civil servant and bequeathing him sufficient money to sponsor his own explorations: begins his travels intending to join Napoleon’s scientists on the expedition in Egypt
– admires tropical plants in the imperial botanic garden in Vienna, hoping director Joseph van der Schot will join him on his travels
1797 – publishes his work relating to Galvani’s discovery of muscular irritability
– resigns job Mining Department and embarks on expedition with botanist Aimé Bonpland, first to Marseille and then to Madrid where they meet the minister for Spain, Don Mariano Luis de Urquijo, who requests and offers to finance their exploration of the Spanish American region
1798 – visits Paris and meets his hero, the 70 year old Louis de Bougainville
– meets Bonpland, botanist and former surgeon in the French navy

1799-1804 – Aged 29, travels in tropical America laying the foundations of physical geography and geophysics with survey measurements in orography, meteorology and earth magnetism, plant life and its environmental conditions, while collecting some 60,000 specimens, many new to science

1799 – May 7 a passport issued by King Carlos of Spain, giving him free access to Spanish colonies in America and Philippines but Humboldt financing the expedition himself and promising specimens for the king’s cabinet and garden. Embarks on a 24,000 mile journey to Venezuela, Cuba, Columbia, Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador which he eventually describes in the c. 30-volume Voyage to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent
– sails from La Coruna, in the ship Pizarro, visiting Tenerife for 6 days, observing Leonid meteor shower on night of Nov. 11-12 which initiates modern knowledge of its periodicity
– 16 July arr. New Andalusia, Venezuela, working for 3 months in Cumana, the pair collecting 1,600 plant specimens
– explores Teide volcano
– transit to Latin American Ecuador and Lima in Peru.
1800 – Humboldt and Bonpland set out from Caracas on mules to explore the course of the Orinoco river and in four months travels about 1,725 miles of wild country, confirming link between Orinoco and Amazon rivers while studying the plant and animal life of the savannas and rain forests.
– At Callao (seaport for Lima, Peru) measures temperature of the ocean current off the west coast and which now bears his name
– observes transit of Mercury
– investigates properties of guano (leads to export of guano to Europe)
– observes electric eels
– three week trip to Lake Valencia and valley where develops the idea of human-induced climate change
– visits the Llanos
– reach the Capuchin mission in San Fernando de Apure at the Rio Apure
– at southern end of Orinoco discovers the Brazil Nut , Bertholletia excelsa, which he subsequently introduces to Europe
– August – return to Cumaná and in November sends two parcels of seed to Banks at Kew. (later Banks retrieves box of geological specimens for him, captured from a French vessel)
– November, sails for Cuba
– March, leaves Cuba for Cartagena (now north coast of Colombia)
1801 – July, arrive in Bogotá and meets Spanish botanist José Celestino Mutis. Observes his magnificent botanical library (second only to that of Banks) and the art studio whose artists produced 6000 watercolour paintings of indigenous plants
1802 – – Jan. arr. Quito and climbs surrounding volcanoes
– 9 June, leaves Quito for Mt Chimborazo (then considered the world’s highest mountain), arriving 22 June. Nearly reaches the summit at height 19,413 feet. Here Humboldt sealed his ideas about nature as a web of life and a global force and, returning to the base of the mountain sketches the future Naturgemälde expressing nature, not in words but in a picture that included plants, temperatures, altitude, atmospheric pressure and so forth that could later be compared with similar conditions elsewhere on the planet
– October, arr. Lima
– sets sail in autumn to spend a year in Mexico
1803 – – arr. Guayaquil Jan as Cotopaxi erupts
– leaves Guayaquil in February.
Before returning, visits the world’s first free republic, the United States for three weeks in the spring, staying first at the White House with President-scientist Thomas Jefferson before staying at Jefferson’s fine garden and private estate, ‘Monticello’. Jefferson regards Humboldt as a fine example for Americans about to travel west
1804 – March, sails from Mexico to Cuba to pick up collections left in Havana 3 years previous
– May, departs Cuba for the eastern United States
– 1 June meets Jefferson (who wrote the Declaration of Independence) in Washington
– late June, returns to Europe in French vessel, arriving in Paris to much acclaim. He claimed to have collected, with Bonpland and others, some 60,000 plant specimens comprising 6000 species of which 2000 were new to science
– the discovery of the decrease in intensity of the earth’s magnetic force from the poles to the equator is accepted by the Paris Institute

1805 – 1834 – engaged in writing the 30 volume ‘Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland’. Moves to Paris in 1807, remaining for 15 years

1805 – publishes maps of the Orinoco River.
1806 – 16 Nov. arr. Berlin with Gay-Lussac
– commences to write his ‘Ansichten der Natur’ (Views of Nature). In financial dire straits he accepts an annual pension of 2500 thalers from King Friedrich Wilhelm III to attend court as chamberlain – but finds time to lecture at the Berlin Academy of Sciences.
1807 – Joins Prussian peace mission to Paris where he stays for 15 years
1808 – First edition publication of Views of Nature, his own favourite, and a major popular best-seller published in 11 languages. An early example of science presented within an engaging narrative that would inspire future generations
– Goethe publishes the play Faust, its key character resembling Humboldt
1808-1827 – lives in Paris engaged in writing scientific accounts of his experiences and discoveries in the Americas
1810 – Completes first part of Vues des Cordillères et Monuments des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique a superb folio of engravings
1811 – Vol. 1 of Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain published in English
1814 – Personal Narrative published in English as first of seven volumes; extremely popular South American travelogue which Darwin ‘Almost knew by heart’
1817 – Travels to London to petitions the East India Company for an expedition to India, but his anti-colonial views unpopular and permission was denied
1827 – Aged 57, he returns to Berlin via London where he again petitions the East India Company and visits Robert Brown at Kew to discuss the Australian flora, also inspecting with engineer Isambard Brunel, the first tunnel under the Thames
1827-1829 – travels to Berlin on a popular speaking tour, giving 61 lectures at the University of Berlin, so popular that a further 16 were given at the Singakademie, attracting all sectors of society and with a large female component (not permitted in universities and scientific societies). This encouraged him to synthesize his research into the earth and nature
1829 – accepts invitation from tsar of Russia to travel central Asia traveling as far as the Chinese border, returning vis the Caspian Sea. This expedition completes the meteorological data for his isothermal world map. With C.G. Ehrenberg and Gustav Rose, traveled across the vast expanse of the Russian empire, the results published by Ehrenberg and Rose. His own work on this expedition was the three-volume descriptive geography Asie Centrale published much later. This work was very modest in comparison to Humboldt’s South American publications.
1830 – exhausts his fortune and earns an income as advisor to the Prussian court as king’s chamberlain
1839 – Publication of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle (Humboldt 40 years older than Darwin). Humboldt writes ‘One of the most remarkable works that, in the course of a long life, I have had the pleasure to see published’)[10]
1845 – 1847 – first two volumes of ‘Kosmos’ – Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe – published in 1845 and 1847 and acclaimed as monumental contribution to natural science
1850 – 1858 – second and third volumes of ‘Kosmos’ published
1859 – dies in Berlin 6 May, working on ‘Kosmos’ up to a few weeks before his death. Awarded a state funeral
1862 – fifth volume of ‘Cosmos’ published posthumously

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