Carl (sometimes spelled Karl) Wilhelm Scheele (1742 – 1786) was a Swedish-born chemist who did wonders to advance modern organic chemistry, but who had a lot of professional bad luck. A few weeks ago I blogged about another chemist who had bad luck–Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, who was sent to the guillotine for having insulted Marat. Scheele had a different kind of bad luck. Professionally, he kept identifying or inventing things but not getting credit for them. He identified several elements, including chlorine fluorine, nitrogen, and oxygen, plus others I can’t spell, but he delayed publication of his findings and other chemists got credit for the discoveries.
He also created several compound acids and gases (like hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen cyanide) and he was one of the first to experiment with light on silver compounds, which would eventually lead to the invention of photography.
I’ve blogged about Scheele before, in my post about arsenic, because in 1778 he derived–from copper arsenate–a beautiful synthetic shade of green that became known as Scheele’s green, and loyal readers know I am semi-obsessed with arsenic. Scheele’s green became a wildly popular shade during the Victorian era. Fully eighty percent of all wallpaper during the Victorian era contained arsenic, and the greens were especially adored by the public. Wallpaper hangers also mixed arsenic into their paste to prevent rats from nibbling on it.
Unfortunately, Scheele had a bad habit of tasting and smelling the substances he worked with, and in 1786 was found dead at his worktable.