Magazine article Geographical

Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859)

Magazine article Geographical

Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859)

Article excerpt

A Prussian naturalist and geologist who explored much of South America, studying nature, climbing mountains and observing astronomical phenomena, Humboldt was one of the first to move geographical studies from the ancient into the modern era

What is his background?

Humboldt was born into an aristocratic family in Berlin in 1769. His Prussian father, an army officer, died when he was young. Humboldt went to the University of Gottingen, where he studied physics and archaeology and, at 22, began a job as a government mines inspector in Franconia, Prussia. With an interest in botany, he left government service and embarked on an expedition to South America. There he visited Venezuela, the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, and much of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico.

Why is he famous?

Described by Charles Darwin as "the greatest scientific traveller who ever lived," Humboldt is most famous for his remarkable career of exploration. During his travels in South America, he mapped more than 2,700 kilometres of the Orinoco River and climbed Ecuador's Mount Chimborazo. While travelling along the west coast of South America, Humboldt discovered the Peruvian current (now known as the Humboldt current), made drawings of Inca ruins and discovered the first known example of an animal that produces electricity--the electric eel.

After returning penniless, Humboldt became advisor to the King of Prussia. A visit to Russia inspired him to suggest that the nation should establish weather observatories across the country. He used the data from these to develop his notion that the edges of continents are warmer due to the moderating effect of the ocean. …

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