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J. J. Becher

Johann Joachim Becher

J. J. Becher
BornMay 6, 1635
Speyer, Germany
DiedOctober 1682
London, England

Johann Joachim Becher (May 6, 1635 – October 1682), was a German physician, alchemist, precursor of Chemistry, scholar and adventurer, best known for his development of the Phlogiston theory.

He was born in Speyer. His father, a Lutheran minister, died while he was a child, leaving a widow and three children. At the age of thirteen Becher found himself responsible not only for his own support but also for that of his mother and brothers. He learned and practiced several small handicrafts, and devoting his nights to study of the most miscellaneous description and earned a pittance by teaching. In 1654, at the age of nineteen, he published an edition of Salzthal’s Tractatus de lapide trismegisto; his Metallurgia followed in 1660; and the next year appeared his Character pro notitia linguarum universali, in which he gives 10,000 words for use as a universal language. In 1663, he published his Oedipum Chemicum and a book on animals, plants and minerals (Thier- Kräuter- und Bergbuch). At the same time, he was full of schemes, practical and impractical.

Chemistry as an earnest and respectable science is often said to date from 1661, when Robert Boyle of Oxford published The Sceptical Chymist—the first work to distinguish between chemists and alchemists—but it was a slow and often erratic transition. Into the eighteenth century scholars could feel oddly comfortable in both camps—like the German Johann Becher, who produced sober and unexceptionable work on mineralogy called Physica Subterranea, but who also was certain that, given the right materials, he could make himself invisible.[1]

Wandering scholar

In 1657, he was appointed professor of medicine at the University of Mainz and body-physician to the archbishop-elector. In 1666, he was made councillor of commerce (Commerzienrat) at Vienna, where he had gained the powerful support of Albrecht, Count Zinzendorf, prime minister and grand chamberlain of the emperor Leopold I. Sent by the emperor on a mission to the Netherlands, he wrote there in ten days his Methodus Didactica, which was followed by the Regeln der Christlichen Bundesgenossenschaft and the Politischer Discurs von den eigentlichen Ursachen des Auf- und Abnehmens der Städte, Länder und Republiken. In 1669, he published his Physica subterranea, and the same year was engaged with the count of Hanau in a scheme for settling a large territory between the Orinoco and the Amazon.

Meanwhile he had been appointed physician to the elector of Bavaria; but in 1670 he was again in Vienna advising on the establishment of a silk factory and propounding schemes for a great company to trade with the Low Countries and for a canal to unite the Rhine and Danube.

1678 he crossed to England. He traveled to Scotland where he visited the mines at the request of Prince Rupert. He afterwards went for the same purpose to Cornwall, where he spent a year. At the beginning of 1680, he presented a paper to the Royal Society in which he attempted to deprive Huygens of the honour of applying the pendulum to the measurement of time. In 1682, he returned to London, where he wrote the Chymischer Glücks-Hafen, Oder Grosse Chymische Concordantz Und Collection, Von funffzehen hundert Chymischen Processen and died in October of the same year.


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  • Smith, Pamela H. (1994). The Business of Alchemy: science and culture in the Holy Roman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 


  1. ^ Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, London: Black Swan, 2003 edition. ISBN 0552997048; p. 130.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "J._J._Becher". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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