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SCHEUCHZER, JOHANN JAKOB (b. Zurich,
Switzerland, 2 August 1672; d. Zurich, 23 June
1733), medicine, natural history, mathematics,
A diligent pupil at the age of three, Scheuchzer
later became a brilliant student at the Carolinum in
Zurich. Devoted to the natural sciences, he decided
to study medicine and, having won a scholarship
in 1691, was able to enroll in both science and
medicine courses at the Altdorf Academy, near
Nuremberg. He remained there for two years, then
went to Utrecht, where he was awarded the doctorate
in 1694. The fossil collection that he began
assembling in 1690 soon became famous and
brought Scheuchzer to the attention of the scholarly
world. In 1694 he returned to Zurich and began
systematic exploration of the Alps. His first writings
for the Collegium der Wohlgesinnten (1695)
were a scientific study of the Helvetic Alps.
Scheuchzer then went to Nuremberg, where he
studied for a diploma in mathematics, intending to
teach this subject. But he was recalled to Zurich to
become assistant municipal physician and medical
supervisor of the orphanage. A few years later he
became head of the Bibliothèque des Bourgeois, a
post that he occupied while serving as director of
the Museum of Natural History (then called the
By the age of thirty Scheuchzer had become
prominent in Zurich and was carrying on a voluminous
correspondence with many European scholars
that has become of great interest to historians
of science. A grant from the Zurich government in
1702 enabled him to resume his Alpine excursions,
which provided the subject for numerous communications
on geology, geophysics, natural sciences,
and medicine. The results of his annual excursions
to the Alps are presented in Helvetiae stoicheiographia
(1716-1718), his greatest work in natural
history and geophysics. In 1716 he became professor
of mathematics at the Carolinum, and a few
months before his death he was named premier
médecin of Zurich, professor of physics at the
Academy, and Chorherr.
Scheuchzer left the municipal library of Zurich
more than 260 folio volumes, which he wrote in less
than forty years. The moving force in the establishment
of paleontology in Switzerland, he is also
considered the founder of paleobotany and his
Herbarium diluvianum remained a standard
through the nineteenth century. His work on a
great variety of fossils and notably on Homo diluvii
testis of Oensingen (1726) makes him generally considered
the founder of European paleontology.
Scheuchzer became famous for his medical studies
on the effects of altitude, published a remarkable
topographic map of Switzerland, and took an active
part in the military life of his canton as an
In addition to his scientific accomplishments,
Scheuchzer compiled a twenty-nine-volume Histoire
suisse and a critical collection of deeds and
other documents, entitled Diploma Helvetiae.
I. ORIGINAL WORKS.
A complete bibliography of
Scheuchzer is in the Steiger article (below) with a list of
his correspondence. Among his works are his medical
diss., De surdo audiento (Zurich, 1694); “De generatione
conchitarum,” in Miscellanea curiosa Academiae naturae
curiosorum, IV (Zurich, 1697); Helvetiae stoicheiographia,
orographia et oreographia (Zurich, 1716);
Homo diluvii testis (1726); and Physica sacra, 3 vols.
II. SECONDARY LITERATURE.
The most complete
account of Scheuchzer is R. Steiger, “Johann Jakob
Scheuchzer (1672-1733),” in Beiblatt zur Vierteljahrsschrift
der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zurich,
21 (1933), 1-75, with a complete bibliography. See
also C. Walkmeister, “J. J. Scheuchzer und seiner Zeit,”
in Bericht der St. Gallischen naturwissenschaft Gesellschaft
(1896), 364-401; F. X. Hoeherl, “J. J. Scheuchzer,
der Begrunder der physischen Geographie des Hochgebirges”
(diss., University of Munich, 1901); and B.
Peyer, “J. J. Scheuchzer im europaischen Geistleben
seiner Zeit,” in Gesnerus, 2 (1945), 23-33.