Justus von Liebig

Portrait: Justus von Liebig
Justus von Liebig, marble bust by Gottlieb Elster, 1916, Stiftung der Verlagsbuchhandlung Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig, Fotografie: Michael Setzpfandt

Justus von Liebig

Chemist, entrepreneur and name giver for the “Liebigbilder” (Liebig pictures – collectors’ pieces)

It is not with the names of powerful princes or famous military men, but with the immortal names Columbus, Copernicus, Keppler, Galileo or Newton that the history of progress in the sciences and the state of intellectual endeavour are associated in the present time.

Justus von Liebig, Chemische Briefe, 1851

The son of a druggist and paint dealer from Darmstadt had already achieved the title of professor in Giessen at the age of 21 after finishing his studies in chemistry in Bonn and Erlangen. He maintained this position until 1852 and then transferred to Munich. In the course of studies he was in charge of the chemistry internship and had a great many well-known students. His most important scientific achievements include his works about elementary analysis (Anleitung zur Analyse organischer Körper, 1837) and on agricultural chemistry (Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agrikultur und Physiologie, 1840). 

Liebig was also a businessman. His stock cubes, which were produced in Uruguay, were known in Germany under the brand name “Liebigs Fleischextrakt”, and the “Liebigbilder” that were produced as advertising materials are still very popular today among collectors. Liebig’s writings demonstrate an enlightened, anti-clerical attitude: “The teachings of the Church, which played a role in all areas of knowledge and had a false philosophy, hindered the free development of the human mind for a thousand years right up to the fourteenth century.”