Georgius Agricola (1494-1555), Father of Modern Metallurgy

If you’re involved in mining, smelting, refining – or any process that has to do with metals – you’re using techniques developed by a Georgius Agricola, a German scientist who is often called the father of metallurgy. His book, De Re Metallica (“On the Nature of Metals”) was published in Latin in 1556, a year after he died. Georgius described techniques of mining and smelting in such a practical way that the book remained a standard handbook for nearly 200 years.

This guy was ahead of his time. In fact, all of us in the metals business are still doing a lot of the things that he wrote about, including . . .

16th Century Mining Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas 'De re metallica libri XII'

16th Century Mining Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas 'De re metallica libri XII'

  • Smelting ores to extract the metals they contain.
  • Finding veins of precious metals like gold and silver in rock and underground.
  • Separating gold from silver, lead from gold or silver, and silver from copper.
  • Surveying mine sites and safely digging mine shafts.
  • Selecting the right tools and machines to extract ore from mines.
  • Extracting, crushing and washing ores from mining concentrates.

Some Trivia about De Re Metallica

Agricola’s real name was Georg Bauer, which means “George Farmer” in German. But he used the name Georgius Agricola – which means the same thing in Latin - when he published his book. Back in the sixteenth century, Latin was the language of scientific discourse.

In 1912, the first English edition of De Re Metallica was published in London. One of the translators was none other than Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer who later became president of the United States. You can still buy a copy of his translation in a modern edition from Dover Books.

If you’re involved in mining or recycling precious metals, Georgius Agricola still has some lessons to teach you, even though he died way back in 1555.

It’s all part of the colorful history of precious metals recycling. Thanks for joining us for this little history lesson today.

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