Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Scheele, Carl Wilhelm
From Chambers Biographical Dictionary


Swedish chemist

He was born in Stralsund (now in Germany) and was apprenticed to an apothecary. In 1775, the year that he was elected to the Stockholm Royal Academy of Sciences, he moved to Köping, where he became the town pharmacist. In the 1760s he began to investigate air and fire, and soon came to doubt the received view that substances contain a vital essence which they lose when they burn. He passed on information about his experiments to Antoine Lavoisier, who subsequently discovered the true nature of combustion and named the new flammable gas "oxigine". Scheele subsequently discovered a great many other substances, including hydrofluoric acid, chlorine, copper arsenide (known as "Scheele's green"), hydrogen sulphide, and many important organic acids. In 1781 he distinguished between two very similar minerals, plumbago (graphite) and molybdena, discovering the metal molybdenum in the process. His investigations of plant and animal material were fundamental to the development of organic chemistry.

  • Urdang, Georg, Pictorial Life History of the Apothecary Chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele (2nd edn, 1958).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

Related Articles

Full text Article Scheele, Carl Wilhelm 1742-1786
Reader's Guide to the History of Science

Swedish chemist Anonymous , “Carl Wilhelm Scheele - Pharmacist and Chemist: A Brief Account of his Life and Work , Pharmaceutical...

Full text Article Scheele, Carl Wilhelm (1742 - 1786)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

His greatest work in this field was the discovery of oxygen (c. 1771), but as his results were not published until 1777 ...

Full text Article Scheele, Karl Wilhelm
Philip's Encyclopedia

1742-86 Swedish chemist who discovered oxygen . He discovered it in 1771, but publication of his discovery was delayed, and the credit went to...

See more from Credo