The Benzene Ring

The chemist, Friedrich August Kekule (b. Sept. 7, 1829, Darmstadt, Hesse -- d. July 13, 1896, Bonn) laid the groundwork for the modern structural theory in organic chemistry. Intending to be an architect, he entered the University of Giessen but came under the influence of Justus von Liebig and switched to chemistry.

After receiving his doctorate (1852) he studied at Paris, where he met Charles-Frédéric Gerhardt, from whose type theory of organic structure Kekule developed his own ideas. He became a lecturer at the University of Heidelberg (1856) and professor of chemistry at Ghent, Belg. (1858). He moved to Bonn in 1865.

His early training in architecture may have helped him conceive his structural theories. In 1858 he showed that carbon is tetravalent and that its atoms can link together to form long chains. This idea, which opened the way to an understanding of aliphatic compounds, was announced almost simultaneously, but independently, by Archibald Scott Couper.

One night in 1865 Kekule dreamed of the benzene molecule as a snake biting its tail while in whirling motion. From that vision his concept of the six-carbon benzene ring was born, and the facts of organic chemistry known up to that time fell into place.

He also carried out valuable work on mercury fulminate, unsaturated acids, and thio acids and wrote a four-volume textbook of organic chemistry. When he was ennobled he added "von Stradonitz" to his name.

-- Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line, April, 1997

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