Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot

On this date (some sources give Oct. 29) in 1827, the founder of organic chemistry, Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot, was born in Paris, the son of a doctor. Educated at College Henry IV, Berthelot became professor of chemistry at the School of Pharmacy in 1859, where he completed his greatest work, the 2-volume Chimie organique fondee sur la synthese (1860), the basis of modern organic chemistry. Berthelot was one of the first to produce organic compounds synthetically. He argued and demonstrated that chemical phenomena are not governed by any peculiar law subject only to chemicals. The College de France created a chair of organic chemistry for him in 1865. He was admitted to the Academy of Sciences in 1873. Berthelot was elected a life senator in 1881, was given the Legion of Honor in 1886, and made Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in 1889, succeeding Louis Pasteur. An honorary associate of the Rationalist Press Association, "He would listen to no compromise whatever with religion," wrote freethought historian Joseph McCabe: "See his Science et Morale (1897) and Science et Libre Pensee (1905)." When he died abruptly after his wife's death, he was buried at the Pantheon. D. 1907.

“In a letter addressed to the Rome Congress of Freethinkers in 1904 he scorns 'the poison vapours of superstition' and longs for a 'reign of reason.'”

—Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot, quoted in Dr. J.B. Wilson's Trip to Rome, (p. 158.) (Sources for all quotes: Joseph McCabe's A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920.)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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