Alexander von Humboldt Biography

Alexander von Humboldt, a German geographer, naturalist, and explorer, dedicated his life to the study of nature and the earth. With a passion for collecting and categorizing plants, insects, and shells, he laid the foundation for the field of biogeography and modern monitoring of geomagnetism and meteorology. From a young age, Humboldt was drawn to the wonders of nature and embarked on expeditions to satisfy his curiosity and expand his knowledge of plant species. His studies in mineralogy and experiences in England further enriched his understanding of the earth. Although successful in his mining job in Berlin, Humboldt’s thirst for exploration led him to leave his position and embark on a new journey. With the support of his mother’s fortune, he uncovered many unknown secrets about nature, which he shared with the world in his renowned book ‘Kosmos’.

Quick Facts

  • German Celebrities Born In September
  • Also Known As: Alexander Von Humboldt
  • Died At Age: 89
  • Family: siblings: Wilhelm von Humboldt
  • Quotes By Alexander Von Humboldt
  • Child Prodigies
  • Died on: May 6, 1859
  • Place of death: Berlin
  • City: Berlin, Germany
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Humboldt University of Berlin
  • More Facts
  • Education: University of Göttingen
  • Awards: Copley Medal

Childhood & Early Life

Alexander von Humboldt was born on September 14, 1769, in Berlin, Prussia. His parents were Alexander Georg von Humboldt and Maria Elizabeth Colomb. He had a brother named Wilhelm. After the death of his father in 1779, Alexander’s mother took on the responsibility of raising her children. They were educated at home by private tutors in various subjects.

From a young age, Humboldt had a passion for observing and collecting specimens of plants, insects, and shells. This earned him the nickname “the little apothecary.” He briefly studied finance at the University of Frankfurt (Oder) before enrolling at the University of Göttingen in 1789. During this time, he went on an expedition to the Rhine River and wrote a piece called “Mineralogische Beobachtungen über einige Basalte am Rhein” (Mineralogic Observations on Several Basalts on the River Rhine).


At the university, Humboldt developed an interest in geology and mineralogy. He later joined the Freiberg Academy of Mines, where he trained under renowned geologist A.G. Werner. During this time, he also traveled throughout Europe with George Foster, the illustrator of famous explorer Captain James Cook.

In 1792, Humboldt got a mining job in Berlin and quickly rose through the ranks in the department. He also took on diplomatic undertakings. From 1792 to 1797, he settled in Vienna and published a book called “Florae Fribergensis Specimen” based on his study of flora in the mines. In 1794, he joined the coterie of Weimar and published an article called “Die Lebenskraft, oder der rhodische Genius” in the periodical “Die Horen.”

In 1796, Humboldt inherited a large amount of wealth after his mother’s death. The following year, he resigned from his job and embarked on an expedition with botanist Aimé Bonpland. They traveled to Marseille and then Madrid, where they were sponsored by the Spanish minister Don Mariano Luis de Urquijo to explore the Spanish American region. They traveled through Latin America from 1799 to 1804, making significant discoveries and drawing maps of the Orinoco River.

Major Works

Humboldt’s most significant work is his book “Kosmos,” in which he compiled all his knowledge about natural science. He believed that all physical sciences, such as meteorology, biology, and geology, are interconnected. He published around thirty volumes of scientific pieces during his time in Paris from 1804 to 1827.

Personal Life & Legacy

Not much is known about Humboldt’s personal life as he reportedly destroyed all his personal letters. He left his wealth to his domestic helper Seifert before his death on May 6, 1859, in Berlin. Humboldt discovered many species unknown to Europe, and several geographical features and places have been named after him. His legacy lives on in the numerous schools, colleges, and astronomical features named in his honor.

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