Johann Heinrich Lambert Biography

Johann Heinrich Lambert, a Swiss mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and philosopher, made significant contributions in various fields. He was the first person to prove that ‘Pi’ is an irrational number and introduced hyperbolic functions in trigonometry. Lambert also played a crucial role in the development of map projection and invented the hygrometer for measuring atmospheric moisture. His research on light measurement led to the publication of the book ‘Photometria.’ Additionally, Lambert engaged in philosophical discussions with Immanuel Kant and developed a theory on the generation of the universe, similar to the nebular hypothesis proposed by Thomas Wright and Kant.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In August Died At Age: 49
  • Family: father: Lukas Lambert, mother: Elizabeth Schmerber
  • Born Country: France
  • Physicists
  • Astronomers
  • Died on: September 25, 1777
  • Place of death: Berlin, Germany
  • Discoveries/inventions: Hygrometer

Childhood & Early Life

Johann Heinrich Lambert was born on 26 August 1728 in the city of Mulhouse in Switzerland, which is now in France. His family came from a humble background, but not much is known about his parents and family. Due to financial pressures, Lambert had to give up formal education at a young age. However, he continued to study in his free time, focusing on subjects like Latin and French. At the age of twelve, he started working as an assistant to his father, who was a tailor.

Early Career

Lambert found a job as a clerk and later as a secretary to the editor of a magazine called ‘Basier Zeitungh’ when he was twenty years old. During this time, he also dedicated himself to learning humanities and sciences. He later became a private tutor for the children of Count Salis in Chur, a job he held for nearly ten years. In addition to helping the children with their studies, Lambert was able to satisfy his own hunger for knowledge by using their family library.

In 1756, Lambert embarked on an expedition to Europe with his students, which gave him the opportunity to meet established mathematicians in countries like France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. He formed a lasting friendship with astronomer Tobias Mayer during this time. Lambert also participated in meetings of the Learned Society in Gottingen and became a corresponding member before leaving the city in 1757 due to the French occupation.


After returning to Chur, Lambert published his first book on cosmology and hoped to secure a chair at the University of Gottingen. When this did not happen, he went to Zurich and worked with Gessner. He became a member of the city’s Physical Society and published his next book, ‘Die freye Perspektive.’ Lambert also corresponded with instrument maker Georg Friedrich Brander for twelve years, which helped him publish his books ‘Photometria’ and ‘Cosmologische Briefe.’

Although Lambert was offered a position at the St. Petersburg Academy, he had originally hoped for a position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Eventually, he was able to secure the desired post, despite initial delays due to his unusual appearance and behavior. He became a member of the new economic commission of the Academy and contributed to land surveying and building administration, earning the title of ‘Oberbaurat’ in 1770. Lambert remained a member of the Academy until his death at the age of 49.

Major Works

In the field of mathematics, Lambert introduced hyperbolic functions into trigonometry and made conjectures about non-Euclidean space. He proved that “Pi” is irrational and solved goniometric equations using infinite series. Lambert also developed tetragonometry, a doctrine of plane quadrangles.

In the field of map projection, Lambert discussed the properties of conformality and equal area preservation, pointing out that they were mutually exclusive. He published seven new map projections in 1772.

Lambert is credited with creating the first hygrometer in the field of physics. In his book ‘Photometria,’ he made important assumptions about illumination and formulated the law of light absorption.

In the field of philosophy, Lambert wrote his first work ‘New Organon’ in 1764, where he discussed distinguishing subjective from objective appearances.

In the field of astronomy, Lambert developed a theory about the origin of the universe similar to the nebular hypothesis theory. He published about it in his book ‘Cosmologische Briefe uber die Einrichtung des Weltbaues.’ He also made efforts to improve communication and collaboration in astronomy.

Personal Life & Legacy

Johann Heinrich Lambert never married and remained a bachelor throughout his life. He passed away at the age of 49 on September 25, 1777. The exact cause of his death is unknown, although some sources claim he died of tuberculosis.

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