Viktor Meyer


Viktor Meyer : biography

8 September 1848 – 08 August 1897

Scientific contributions

  • Synthesis of aromatic carboxylic acids from sulfonic acid and formates (1869).
  • Nitroalkanes from alkyl iodides and silver nitrite (1872).
 (used to distinguish 1°, 2°, 3° alcohols, known as Victor Meyer test.) 
  • Development of a method to distinguish primary, secondary and tertiary nitroalkanes (1875).
  • Starting with studying physical chemistry in 1876, Meyer created a new method for determining gas density in 1878. This method allowed him to demonstrate how arsenious oxide vapours corresponded to the formula As4O6, that mercury, zinc and cadmium yielded monatomic vapours, and that halogen molecules dissociated into atoms on heating, a phenomenon which he studied until his death. The Victor Meyer apparatus accurately measures the volume of a volatilized substance from which the vapor density of the gas can be derived and also the relative mass.
  • Proposing glucose is an aldehyde and not a ketone, hereby correcting von Baeyer and van’t Hoff (1880).
  • Synthesis of aldoximes and ketoximes from hydroxylamine and aldehydes or ketones, hereby discovering a new structural identification and elucidation method (1882, together with Alois Janny).
  • Identification of thiophene as a contaminant in benzene derived from coal (1882). Benzene produced by decarboxylation of benzoic acid did not contain this impurity.
  • First reliable synthesis of pure sulfur mustard (1886, also see Meyer’s account on sulfur mustard)
  • Coining of the concepts of stereochemistry and dipole in 1888. Meyer had always been interested in stereochemical problems and was one of the first ones to instruct his pupils with van’t Hoff’s theory of asymmetric carbon and the Hantzsch-Werner theory.
  • Discovery of iodoso compounds in 1892 by reacting o-iodobenzoic acid with nitric acid.
  • Observation (1892) that ortho-substituted benzoic acid derivatives are esterified with difficulty. This principle is now known as the Victor Meyer esterification law and was discovered in an attempt to esterify o-iodosobenzoic acid.
  • Discovery of iodonium compounds by reacting iodobenzene and iodosobenzene (1894).


Meyer wrote several notable books:

  • Tabellen zur qualitativen Analyse (1884, written together with Frederick Treadwell)
  • Pyrochemische Untersuchungen (1885)
  • Die Thiophengruppe (1888)
  • Chemische Probleme der Gegenwart (1890)
  • Ergebnisse und Ziele der Stereochemischen Forschung (1890)
  • Lehrbuch der organischen Chemie (1893, written together with Paul Jacobson. A very popular book at the time that has been reprinted and reedited several times)
  • Märztage im kanarischen Archipel, ein Ferienausflug nach Teneriffa und Las Palmas (1893, travel guide)


  • In recognition of his brilliant experimental powers, and his numerous contributions to chemical science, he was awarded the Davy Medal by the Royal Society in 1891.