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Alexander Von Humboldt


The indefatigable Prussian explorer Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859) brought South America to the salons and houses of Europe in the 19th century. He became the greatest figure in the natural sciences of his era. Indeed, in Europe only Napoleon was more famous at the time.

Charles Darwin described him as ‘The greatest traveling scientist who ever lived.’

Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt traveled to the Americas, exploring it as a natural scientist. Later his description of the journey was written up and published in an enormous set of volumes over 21 years. He was one of the first scientists to propose that South America and Africa were once joined.

Humboldt and his companion Aimée Bonpland reached Quito in 1802, after a long journey through Colombia. Their stay was marked by the ascent of the Pichincha and Chimborazo volcanoes. Humboldt and his party reached an altitude of 19,286 feet on Chimborazo, a world record at the time. Through his attentive study of the volcanoes he encountered in Ecuador, he showed that they fell naturally into linear groups, presumably corresponding with vast subterranean fissures. This in turn, would lead to the theory of plate tectonics.

Following his time in the Andes, Humboldt returned to the Amazon on an expedition to find the source of the great river.

As Simón Bolívar said of him “Alexander von Humboldt has done more for America than all its conquerors. He is the true discoverer of America.”

In Quito Humboldt received a stunning setback to his plans. He learned that the Baudin expedition would not be calling on the South American coast after all. The hoped-for rendezvous – which Humboldt had traveled more than eight months and some eight hundred backbreaking miles to achieve – would never happen. Yet Humboldt preferred to focus on the positive … Thrown back on his own resources, Humboldt immersed himself in his study of the Andes with a ferocity that left little time for anything else.
Humboldt’s Cosmos

Elsewhere on the Web
Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America – Project Gutenberg
Alexander von Humboldt – the remarkable career of the Prussian naturalist

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