1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Poggendorff, Johann Christian

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 21
Poggendorff, Johann Christian
See also Johann Christian Poggendorff on Wikipedia; and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.

POGGENDORFF, JOHANN CHRISTIAN (1796-1877), German physicist, was born in Hamburg on the 29th of December 1796. His father, a wealthy manufacturer, having been all but ruined by the French siege, he had, when only sixteen, to apprentice himself to an apothecary in Hamburg, and when twenty-two began to earn his living as an apothecary's assistant at Itzehoe. Ambition and a strong inclination towards a scientific career led him to throw up his business and remove to Berlin, where he entered the university in 1820. Here his abilities were speedily recognized, and in 1823 he was appointed meteorological observer to the Academy of Sciences. Even at this early period he had conceived the idea of founding a physical and chemical scientific journal, and the realization of this plan was hastened by the sudden death of L. W. Gilbert, the editor of Gilberts Annalen der Physik, in 1824. Poggendorff immediately put himself in communication with the publisher, Barth of Leipzig, with the result that he was installed as editor of a scientific journal, Annalen der Physik und Chemie, which was to be a continuation of Gilberts Annalen on a somewhat extended plan. Poggendorff was admirably qualified for the post. He had an extraordinary memory, well stored with scientific knowledge, both modern and historical, a cool and impartial judgment, and a strong preference for facts as against theory of the speculative kind. He was thus able to throw himself into the spirit of modern experimental science. He possessed in abundant measure the German virtue of orderliness in the arrangement of knowledge and in the conduct of business. Further he had an engaging geniality of manner and much tact in dealing with men. These qualities soon made Poggendorffs Annalen the foremost scientific journal in Europe.

In the course of his fifty-two years' editorship of the Annalen Poggendorff could not fail to acquire an unusual acquaintance with the labours of modern men of science. This knowledge, joined to what he had gathered by historical reading of equally unusual extent, he carefully digested and gave to the world in his Biographisch-literarisches Handwörterbuch zur Geschichte der exacten Wissenschaften, containing notices of the lives and labours of mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, and chemists, of all peoples and all ages. This work contains an astounding collection of facts invaluable to the scientific biographer and historian. The first two volumes were published in 1863; after his death a third volume appeared in 1898, covering the period 1858-1883, and a fourth in 1904, coming down to the beginning of the 20th century.

Poggendorff was a physicist of high although not of the very highest rank. He was wanting in mathematical ability, and never displayed in any remarkable degree the still more important power of scientific generalization, which, whether accompanied by mathematical skill or not, never fails to mark the highest genius in physical science. He was, however, an able and conscientious experimenter, and was very fertile and ingenious in devising physical apparatus. By far the greater and more important part of his work related to electricity and magnetism. His literary and scientific reputation speedily brought him honourable recognition. In 1830 he was made royal professor, in 1834 Hon. Ph.D. and extraordinary professor in the university of Berlin, and in 1839 member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. Many offers of ordinary professorships were made to him, but he declined them all, devoting himself to his duties as editor of the Annalen, and to the pursuit of his scientific researches. He died at Berlin on the 24th of January 1877.