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Dimitry Mendeleef.

posted Dec 30, 2014, 5:20 AM by Ranmini Perera   [ updated Jul 5, 2019, 11:35 PM by Upali Salpadoru ]

Dimitri Mendeleev..

1834 – 1907

Date of Birth:-
8 February Country of Birth:- Russian Empire.

"Mendeleev has two wives, yes, I have many fools but         only one Mendeleev," was the compliment paid by                  Czar Alexander when Prof. Dmitrii Mendeleev was accused         of bigamy. 

  The world only knows him as the author of ‘The Periodic Table     of Elements’, which has become the foundation of organic and inorganic chemistry. This alone would have been sufficient for a berth among the topmost scientists that ever lived. His contribution that elevated his motherland to a superior nation had been generally forgotten.

  Ivan Mendeleev and Marie Dmitrievna lived in Tobolsk, Siberia. They had seventeen children, 3 died even before naming them, five died in their childhood. The youngest Dmitrii, became  the apple of Mother’s eye. Ivan Mendeleev who was trained as a teacher in St. Petersberg was the director of the local gymnasium. They had an excellent library and lived in comfort.

1834  Age 0 yrs.

Dimitrii was born in February, just a few months later quite unfortunately the father developed cataract. As surgery did not give him much improvement, he retired.

1841 Age 7 yrs.

  Marie not being able to manage with the husband’s pension started managing her brother’s, almost abandoned glass factory. Dmitrii started schooling but spent most of the time in the factory. Three basic concepts were grilled into the young mind of Dimitri. Glass blower showed that , “Everything in the world is glass blowing”. According to the chemist in the factory, “Everything in the world is glass making” His sister Olga’s husband made him to believe, “Everything in the world is science”

  Dimitri was very good in science and maths but weak in language. Marie had farfetched dreams for him and started saving money for his education.

1847 Age 13 yrs.

  When he was blossoming to be a brilliant scholar, his mother’s factory completely gutted down by an accidental fire. Maria lost her income, yet determined to achieve her ambition pressed her son as much as she could to obtain a scholarship.

1849 Age 15 yrs.

   Marie packed her bag and baggage and led her family of son and daughter Liza on a 4,000 mile journey to Moscow where her well to do brother was living. As the Moscow University could not admit Dimitri as there was a University in their own district, they went to the capital. The same excuse was given to them by the St. Petersberg University. At last they appealed to the Main Pedagogical Institute which was his father’s alma mater. Here they met a course mate of Ivan who helped Dimitri to sit the entrance exam. The boy managed to gain admission to a Science Teacher Training Programme on a scholarship.

1850  Age 16 yrs.

  Three months on, Dimitri had to face another tragedy; his mother, Marie died. He was left alone as a loner to achieve what his mother wanted. Of his mother he writes, “She instructed by example, corrected with love, and in order to devote me to science she left Siberia, spending her last resources and strength. Her last request was, ‘Refrain from illusions .Insist on work and not on words. Patiently search divine and scientific truth”

End of the year exam placed Dimitrii at the 25th place in the class of 28 students.

1851 Age 17 yrs.

Added to his woes he lost his elder sister Liza, with whom he was living after mother’s death. The teenager had to manage everything on his own. His eldest sister and the uncle in Moscow would have supported him.

1852 Age 18 yrs.

His uncle in Moscow died and he was compelled to earn his living while schooling.

1853 Age 19 yrs.

His health deteriorated probably due to overwork. He started coughing out blood and had to be hospitalized. One physician thought he would never recover. His teachers and friends took care of him.

1854 Age 20 yrs.

His classmates brought the school work to his hospital bed.  When he recovered he sat the end of year exam. Dimitri progressed to the 5th position in his class.

1855 Age 21 yrs.

After the final exam Dimitri received the Gold medal as the best student in his class.

For the sake of his health, the doctors advised him to be in the South region. Dimitri selected a school in Odessa in Ukraine where the climate is warmer. His health rapidly improved. After six months he was back in St. Petersburg.   While teaching, adhering to his mother’s wishes, and according to his interest in science, he continued to study hard. Dimitri painstakingly prepared the thesis for a University degree.

1856 Age 22 yrs.

He entered St. Petersburg Imperial University for a masters degree in May. His area of study was  isomorphism and specific volumes’. He wrote a thesis on this topic and obtained ‘First Magister’ (Master)  in September. He did another thesis required to upgrade the degree on the ‘structure of silica compounds’. He successfully defended it in October. He also got an opportunity to be a ‘docent’ (part time lecturer) for two years which provided him with a small income.

In the meantime he fell in love with one Sofya Kash and got engaged but she let him down badly.

1859  Age. 25yrs.

It is very unusual for a University to grant a docent a foreign fellowship , but Dimitry was very lucky. He got the opportunity to visit foreign Universities starting in  April. He visited a number of European Universities. In Paris he met Berthelot, and Dumas, in Munich had a conversation with Liebig (who warmly recalled Voskresensky the famous Russian chemist.) Ultimately he decided to work at the Heidelberg University in Germany with Bunsen, Erlenmeyer, and Kirchhoff.

Not satisfying with the University labs, he installed a lab in his apartment. There he started measuring ‘specific volumes’. (Molecular weight divided by the density). One instrument he devised for his work, ‘picnometer, is still in use.  He also discovered the ‘Absolute boiling point’ now known as the ‘Critical temperature’.

1860 Age 26yrs.

Mendeleev participated with three other Russians, in the First Chemistry Congress at Karlsruhe. Over 100 famous European chemists were there (including Kekule, Bayer, Dumas and. Especially the presentation of Canizzaro  appealed to him the most.

1861 Age 27 yrs.

He came back to Russia, as a request to extend the stay made by him to complete his research was not granted. At the time there was political unrest in Russia and the University was closed. He wrote a detailed report on the Karlsruhe conference along with Voskresensky and got it published in the newspapers. This made him popular among the chemists in Russia.  But he was short of money. He started teaching in some schools and giving private lessons. He described the situation as, "debts to sew coat and boots, always hungry". He had borrowed a huge amount to support Rosa, actress Agnes Feuchtman's daughter who was left behind in Heidelberg.It may be interesting to know that he bought leather and made suit cases etc.

There was a handsome prize offered for a book. He started writing, sat on it day and night explaining, ‘Organic Chemistry’. He finished the 500 page book in 2 months to beat the clock, and won the Domidov Prize. The first edition got sold out in no time. The prize money settled all his debts and he earned a name as a ‘science writer’. This was the first Russian organic chemistry handbook and became very popular, It’s first edition was sold out quickly, and next year, the publishers printed the second edition.

With his knowledge and skill he was able to help a few industrialists. He helped a friend who had a wood distillation plant in Novgorod region to make the process more efficient.

he helped his friend Reichel (owner of a wood distillation plant in) to optimize the technology. Next year he did a similar job at oil-refinery in for, dissatisfied with low output of his plant.

1962 Age 28yrs.

Kokorev, a millionaire in Caucasus who was planning to close down his oil refinery due to low output obtained his help. Expert advice from Mendeleev helped Kokorev to tide over the situation.

Mendeleev obtained an editor post in a project to translate a German book on Technology to Russian. This induced him to write on local industries such as starch, Sugar, Alcohol and Glass. Ultimately the book came out as the ‘Technical Encyclopaedia’ in 4 volumes.

1863 Age 29yrs.

Mendeleev had published a theory on the origin of oil. He predicted that oil would become an invaluable commodity in the future. His help was solicited in the building of the first oil refinery in Russia. The use of a pipeline to transport oil was primarily an idea of Mendeleev.

Mendeleev married Nikitchna Leshcheva the daughter of a well known poet. It was his elder sister that convinced him to marry. On their honeymoon they visited the World Exhibition in London.

1864 Age 30yrs.

He was appointed as the Professor of Chemistry at the Technological Institute even before he obtained the doctorate.  He also did some work at the University as a docent. (parttime lecturer)

Mendeleev loved out doors. He spent quite some time in his estate  sometimes engaged in various experiments especially on the use of chemical fertilizer. What he discovered he always shared with the peasants. He used to travel third class to be with them.

1965  Age 31yrs.

He was having domestic problems with Nikitchna. When she asked him, if he was married to her or to science; his response was, “I am married to both. If ther’s an objection toward bigamy, I say am married to science”.

He was awarded the PhD for his dissertation "On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol.".

He became the Professor of Chemistry at the St. Petersburg University.


1869  Age 35 yrs.

He started writing the second volume of his book ‘The Principles of Chemistry’.

He wondered how to organize all elements in a logical way?

He knew about the Dobereiner’s triads. He may have known about the cylindrical arrangement of elements by A.E.Beguyer de Chancourtois which showed orderly properties in rows and columns.

John Newlands had grouped over 50 elements according to an order he called ‘Law of octaves’.


Dmitri Mendeleev completed the two-volume textbook, ‘Principles of Chemistry’.

1874 Age 40yrs.

He had been playing solitaire for quite some time. It was with a pack of 63 cards that represented the known elements. His intention was to organise the elements in better way than shown in the existing charts. According to legend, one night he started arranging and re arranging in different rows and columns. In a dream he supposed to have seen the perfect table with a gradation of properties.

He wrote the names and their properties 63 elements on cards and ad been doing this for quite some time) when he slept he dreamt the Periodic Table, all the elements in proper rows and columns. Yet he was not satisfied. (This is what the Russiapedia says about the dream: The origins of the myth are not known for sure, but it was probably due to the chemist’s impatient temper and his reluctance to explain for a hundredth time how he came up with the discovery. The actual work behind the breakthrough took years, if not decades.)

In order to perfect the table he had to alter some known atomic weights and leave some gaps. He even named 8 elements that would fit into the gaps and even predicted their properties. Three names he gave for some undiscovered elements are eka-aluminum, eka-boron, and eka-silicon. He published the paper, “The Relation between the Properties and Atomic Weights of the Elements”.

You can state what he discovered as follows;- the properties of basic elements repeat periodically when they are arranged by their atomic number.


Eka – aluminium he predicted was discovered by Lecoq de Boisbaudran and named as Gallium. (Latin for France)

1876 Age 42yrs.

Mendeleev lived alone while Nikitichna and the children, Volodya and Olga, lived in his country estate.

He met the 17 year old Anna Ivanovna Popova at her sister’s place and developed a very close friendship. In spite of objections from both sides they became inseparable.

1879  Age 45yrs.

Eka- boron was named as Scandium after the discovery of Swedish chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson.

1880 Age 46yrs.

Academicians proposed his name for the post of a professorship in the Imperial Academy of Sciences. When this was rejected, five Russian Universities elected Mendeleev as an honorary member.

Royal Society of London awarded him the Copeley Medal.

1881 Age 47yrs.

He divorced Feozva Nikitchna and married Anna.

1882   Age 48yrs.

Russian Orthodox Church objected as seven year period has not elapsed after separation. Then only the Czar Alexander made the comment, “. Mendeleev has two wives! I have many fools but  only one Mendeleev”.

Eka silicon he predicted was named as Germanium. Discovered by Clemens Winkler in Germany.

1887 Age 53yrs.

His services as a professor exceeding 23 years was not confined to his students. He used to mingle with the peasants and explain how his findings could help them in industry and agriculture. He prepared extensive papers for the development of Industry and Agriculture of his motherland. However it was ‘The Law of the Periodicity of Elements’ that brought him worldwide recognition. His philosophy has been expressed in these terms. “The most all penetrating spirit before which will open the possibility of tilting not tables, but planets, is the spirit of free human inquiry. Believe only in that.”

He had taken many risks for the sake of scientific investigations. Once he obtained the services of an expert balloonist to ascend into the upper atmosphere in order to observe an eclipse. When he found that the balloon was not lifting to his expectations he got the expert to eject and carried on regardless and ultimately landed over 150 km away from the starting point. French aerostat meteorology academy awarded him a medal for it.

Although certain officials did not like him, for his open criticisms and radical views he remains as one of the greatest Russian Patriots and the Father of Inorganic Chemistry.

1892  58 yrs.

.He became the scientific curator of the Depot of Weights and Measures.

1906 72yrs

His name came up for the Nobel Award. It was Svante Arrhenius that canvassed against him due to a personal grudge. Although he was not a member of the Committee, he had much influence. The reason was that he had opposed Arrhenius's dissociation theory.

1907 Age 73yrs.

He died of pneumonia.