Humboldt, (Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich) Alexander, Freiherr (baron) von

Humboldt, (Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich) Alexander, Freiherr (baron) von

biographical name


Alexander von Humboldt, oil painting by Friedrich Georg Weitsch, 1806; in the National Museums in …—Courtesy of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

(born Sept. 14, 1769, Berlin, Prussia—died May 6, 1859, Berlin) German naturalist and explorer. In 1792 he joined the mining department of the Prussian government, where he invented a safety lamp and established a technical school for miners. From 1799 he explored Central and South America, traveling in the Amazon jungles and the Andean highlands. During these journeys he discovered the connection between the Amazon and Orinoco river systems and surmised that altitude sickness was caused by lack of oxygen. He studied the oceanic current off the western coast of South America; it became known as the Humboldt Current (now the Peru Current). He returned to Europe in 1804. His research helped lay the foundation for comparative climatology, drew a connection between a region's geography and its flora and fauna, and added to an understanding of the development of the Earth's crust. In Paris he used his financial resources to help Louis Agassiz and others launch careers. In 1829 he traveled to Russia and Siberia and made geographic, geologic, and meteorologic observations of Central Asia. During the 1830s he investigated magnetic storms. The last 25 years of his life were spent writing Kosmos, an account of the structure of the universe as then known.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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