Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Hilgard, Theodore Erasmus

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HILGARD, Theodore Erasmus, lawyer, b. in Mannheim, Germany, 7 July, 1790; d. in Heidelberg, Germany, 14 Feb., 1873. He studied at the Universities of Heidelberg and Paris, and took a legal course in Coblentz. During the time of the French rule he followed his profession in Trèves, and, on the restoration of the Rhenish provinces to Germany, settled in Zweibrücken, where he held the appointment of associate justice of the court of appeals from 1821 till 1835. He was also a member of the provincial assembly from 1821 till 1826. In 1835 he came to the United States, and settled in St. Clair county, Ill. He purchased a farm near Belleville, and besides its general management gave much attention to viticulture, being the first to introduce it in Illinois. At first he tried to discover which of the Rhenish or French vines were best adapted to the climate, but soon found the indigenous Catawba grape most suitable, and he produced a wine that acquired a high local reputation. The town of West Belleville, which has gradually surrounded the original homestead, was laid out on his property and under his direction. Meanwhile he gave special attention to the education of his children, whom he instructed personally in languages and philosophy. In 1851 he returned to Germany, having been invited by the Bavarian government to take part in recasting the law of mortgages of that country into a more modern form. Subsequently he came back to the United States, but, finding his family dispersed, he again returned to Germany, and passed the remainder of his life quietly in Heidelberg. While on his farm in the United States he revived an early taste for poetry, and devoted a portion of his leisure to making translations of ancient and modern poems into German, some of which were published and received with high commendation, notably Ovid's “Metamorphoses,” and “The Fire-Worshipers” from Moore's “Lalla Rookh.” Besides numerous legal and historical articles and minor poems contributed to American and European periodicals, he published “Twelve Paragraphs on Pauperism” (Heidelberg, 1847); “Ten Paragraphs on Constitutional Monarchy, and Republics” (1849); “My Recollections,” an autobiography (1858); and “The Hundred Days, an Epic Poem” (1859). — His son, Julius Erasmus, scientist, b. in Zweibrücken, Bavaria, 7 Jan., 1825; d. in Washington, D. C., 8 May, 1891, with his father he settled in Belleville, Ill., where he obtained his education under the guidance of the elder Hilgard. In 1843 he removed to Philadelphia, began the study of civil engineering, and in 1845 was invited by Alexander D. Bache to become one of his assistants on the coast survey. He soon became recognized among the leading spirits in the work, and rose to the office of assistant in charge of the bureau in Washington. This place he held until the death of the superintendent in 1881, when he was appointed to fill the vacancy. Mr. Hilgard also had charge of the construction and verification of the standards of weights and measures, and was for some time engaged in preparing metric standards of great precision for distribution to the several states. In this connection he was appointed a delegate to the International metric commission which met in Paris in 1872, and a member of the executive committee of the international bureau of weights and measures. At the time of its organization, Mr. Hilgard was invited to become director of this bureau, but declined. In 1885, on the advent of a new administration, Mr. Hilgard, after spending two thirds of his life in the service of the government, was suspended, and then permitted to resign. Prof. Alexander Agassiz, who declined to succeed him, in commenting on the behavior of the committee of investigation, says: “Their dictum upon the late superintendent (Mr. Hilgard), at least as far as his professional career is concerned, is answered by his position as an investigator in the scientific world.” Prof. Hilgard's scientific work was chiefly in connection with his practical labors, consisting of researches and the discussion of results in geodesy and terrestrial physics, and in perfecting methods and instrumental means connected with the same. In 1872 he executed a telegraphic determination of the longitude between Paris and Greenwich, which supersedes the value previously admitted, correcting it by nearly half a second of time. The magnetic survey of the United States, prosecuted at the expense of the Bache fund, arising from a bequest of Supt. Bache to the National academy of sciences, was placed by the academy under the direction of Supt. Hilgard, and he also rendered great service to scientists throughout the United States by lending to them valuable instruments for original research. He was one of the original members of the National academy of sciences, and for some years its home secretary. In 1874 he was elected president of the American association for the advancement of science, and he was also an honorary member of other scientific bodies. His publications include papers, lectures, and addresses, which have appeared principally in the annual reports of the coast survey. His lecture on “Tides and Tidal Action in Harbors,” delivered before the American institute, New York, is remarkable for its lucid and terse exposition of principles without the aid of mathematical symbols. — Another son, Theodore Charles, physician, b. in Zweibrücken, Germany, 28 Feb., 1828; d. in New York city, 5 March, 1875, came to the United States with his father, when he was seven years old, and received his education from the members of his family. He early developed a fondness for the study of nature, and made collections of western flora for the distinguished botanist, Dr. George Engelmann. Subsequently he studied medicine at the Universities of Heidelberg, Zurich, Vienna, and Berlin, and, on his return to the United States, began the practice of his profession in St. Louis. In 1854 he published “Experimental Observations on Taste and Smell,” being the result of physiological researches in which he was the first to distinguish in the sense of taste those perceptions which properly belong to the tongue the savors of sweet, bitter, salt, sour, and alkaline from the flavors which are perceived in the same manner as odors, through the nose. Later he published an “Exposition of Natural Series in the Vegetable Kingdom” (1858), which he followed with “Phyllotaxis: its Numeric and Divergential Law, Explicable under a Simple Organological Idea” (1859), explaining the cause of the observed order of development of leaves. His health failing, the result of an accident, he occupied himself with the microscopic study of the beginnings of organic life. His published papers on the subject were the fruits of many years' patient experiment and observation. Finally compelled to abandon the practice of medicine, he gave part of his time to observations of terrestrial magnetism, under the direction of his brother Julius. He then settled in New York, and the remaining years of his life were occupied in this work. His papers are published in the proceedings of the American association for the advancement of science, and in those of the St. Louis academy of science. — Another son, Eugene Woldemar, chemist, b. in Zweibrücken, Bavaria, 5 Jan., 1833, came to the United States with his parents and settled in Belleville, Ill., where his early life was spent. He went to Germany for his education, and studied at the Royal mining-school, Freiberg, and at the Universities of Zurich and Heidelberg, receiving the degree of Ph. D. at the latter institution in 1853. On his return to the United States in 1855, he became assistant state geologist of Mississippi, which place he held until March, 1857, when he was appointed chemist in charge of the laboratory of the Smithsonian institution, also filling the chair of chemistry in the National medical college in Washington. He returned to Mississippi in 1858 as state geologist, which office he held until 1866, and was professor of chemistry in the University of Mississippi till 1871, where for the following two years he held the combined appointment of state geologist and professor of agricultural chemistry. He was called in 1873 to the chair of geology and natural history in the University of Michigan, and in 1875 accepted the professorship of agricultural chemistry and botany in the University of California, where he has since remained. During 1881-'3 he had charge of the agricultural division of the northern transcontinental survey. He is a member of scientific societies, and in 1872 was elected to the National academy of sciences. In 1887 he received the degree of LL. D. from Columbia. Prof. Hilgard has made a specialty of the study of soils in their relation to geology, to their chemical and physical composition, to their native flora, and to their agricultural qualities. In this connection he has examined the soils of the southwestern states and of the Pacific slope. He has contributed many papers on these and geological subjects to the scientific journals, and has published “Report on the Agriculture and Geology of Mississippi” (Jackson, 1860); “On the Geology of Louisiana and the Rock-Salt Deposit of Petit Anse Island” (Washington, 1869); “Reports on the Experimental Work of the College of Agriculture, University of California” (Sacramento, 1877-'86); “Report on the Arid Regions of the Pacific Coast” (1887) for the U. S. department of agriculture, and has edited vols. v. and vi. on “Cotton Production,” of the “U. S. Census Reports for 1880,” to which he contributed the monographs on Mississippi, Louisiana, and California.