Alexander von Humboldt was an iconic explorer, scientist, and naturalist. His incredible contributions to our understanding of nature remain crucial to this day.
He was one of the first to recognize the unity of life with his visits to many countries, including Spain and South America.
He dedicated his life to studying the relationship between apparently isolated phenomena, such as plant life, climate, and geography, while advocating for the conservation and protection of nature.
His research on volcanic activity was amongst his most famous contributions to world science.
Alexander von Humboldt’s greatest legacy is being a powerful advocate for preserving nature through researching it from new perspectives.
Alexander von Humboldt Facts for Kids
- Alexander von Humboldt was a German scientist and explorer.
- He traveled to South and Central America in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
- He studied plants, animals, and natural resources in these regions.
- He published many books about his travels and findings.
- Humboldt was the first person to describe the relationship between plant distribution and climate.
- He is considered one of the founders of modern geography.
Overview of His Life and Family
Alexander von Humboldt had a long and fascinating life. Born in Berlin, Prussia, during the Holy Roman Empire, he was baptized as a Lutheran with the Duke of Brunswick as his godfather.
His father, Alexander Georg von Humboldt, was a prominent Pomeranian and served with the Duke of Brunswick in the Prussian Army. His mother, Maria Elisabeth Colomb, married Georg in 1766. They had three children, with their daughter passing away young, leaving behind two sons, Wilhelm and Alexander.
Wilhelm grew up to become an important Prussian statesman, linguist, and philosopher, while Alexander is known for his exploration work across Central and South America. Having survived almost 90 years, Humboldt passed away in his home in Berlin within the German Confederation.
The formative years and education of Alexander von Humboldt
Losing their father at a young age, Wilhelm and Alexander were left in the care of their distant mother. Four years after his passing, she recruited two excellent tutors to teach and nurture the brothers.
Despite not coming from a scientific background, Humboldt had an aptitude for collecting diverse specimens like plants, shells, and insects – earning him the nickname ‘little apothecary.’
In 1787 he matriculated to study finance at the University of Frankfurt – chosen due to its proximity to their home.
Then just two years later, Humboldt transferred to the University of Göttingen. This new institute gave him access to Professor Georg Forster, who accompanied British explorer James Cook on his travels around Europe.
The pair made some remarkable journeys across the continent, visiting places like England, France, and the Netherlands, and this was when Humboldt really began to pursue his passion for exploration in earnest.
Exploring. Sir Joseph Banks was an English naturalist and botanist who sparked Humboldt’s interest in science, and the two quickly became close friends. With this connection, inspired by what he saw, Humboldt wrote a treatise on mineralogic observations about basalts on the river Rhine in 1789.
Studying. After making his name known, Humboldt enrolled in the School of Mines in Freiberg, Saxony, and graduated after two years. His classes were in the afternoon, while his mornings were spent mining, and his evenings were filled with plant-searching walks – an ideal schedule for the inquisitive explorer!
Inventing. From 1793 to 1797, Humboldt worked as a government inspector, where he invented a safety lamp to protect miners from explosions while being underground while also founding a technical school to teach aspiring miners of all ages how to pursue their dreams!
Humboldt’s Travels and Expeditions
Humboldt was driven by the adventure of uncovering new knowledge. He traveled four continents and wrote 36 books and 25,000 letters to document his research and findings. When his mother died in 1796 at the age of 27, Humboldt inherited a large sum he used as part of his expeditions.
In 1797 he left government work and set out with Aimé Bonpland, a French botanist and explorer. They departed on June 5, boarded the Pizarro ship, and stopped at Tenerife to explore the Teide volcano before finally arriving in Cumana, Venezuela.
They studied South America’s topography, plants, and animals and mapped out 1,700 miles of the Orinoco River within a year. In the Andes mountains, Humboldt attempted to climb Mt. Chimborazo, which many thoughts were the world’s highest peak, yet only got 18,000 feet up.
In 1803 they reached Acapulco city in Mexico before Humboldt made an unexpected trip to America where he met scientists and Thomas Jefferson then finally ended his Latin American travels in 1804.
Significant Achievements and Accomplishments
Alexander von Humboldt was an adventurer and scientist. He spent almost five years traveling through Latin America, speaking at public lectures in Berlin in 1827, and observing Mercury’s transit in Lima, Peru.
During his travels, he discovered the Humboldt Current, charted mean temperatures with isotherms, and proposed the theory of plate tectonics. He was among the first to suggest that South America and Africa were once joined, charting air and water movements based on latitude and altitude.
His multi-volume treatise ‘Cosmos’ aimed to explain different branches of science in a harmonious way.
Alexander von Humboldt was all of these things and more. His exploration of nature had no boundaries, leading him to both ends of the world to uncover its secrets.
He started with a lecture series at the University of Berlin that grew into five volumes between 1845 and 1862 – Cosmos. This then evolved into 30 volumes compiled from his travels, discussing fields like botany, geology, astronomy, mineralogy, and zoology.
In 1804 he moved to Paris for 23 years – where he mingled with intellectuals – before touring Russia in 1829 at the invitation of the King of Prussia. It was there that Humboldt discovered diamonds in the Ural gold mines and created an isothermal world map using data collected along his journey.
Throughout it all, Humboldt connected local climate change and deforestation, proving just how far ahead of his time he really was even before the advent of modern technology that let us understand Earth’s impacts even better than before.
He has proved an enduring influence over countless generations since then, inspiring people around the globe to keep pushing boundaries in their own explorations too!
News of Alexander von Humboldt’s health suddenly took a turn for the worse on February 24, 1857, when he had a slight stroke. Despite all his efforts to recover, two years later, he succumbed to death at the grand age of 89.
His passing on May 6, 1859, was marked with deep sadness. A man regarded as one of the greatest global explorers of his time was gone.
But what made him a true titan in science and exploration wasn’t simply accolades or prestige – it was his unbridled passion for adventure and intellectual curiosity that led him to explore so many uncharted waters.
Though he may be gone, the world still bears traces of his spirit and influence to this day. He continues to show us what is possible when we reach beyond our comfort zones and take the daring path ahead.