Horace-Bénédict de Saussure and the Mount Blanc

Christian von Mechel, Descent from Mont-Blanc in 1787 by Horace Bénédicte de Saussure, copper engraving. Collection Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Christian von Mechel, Descent from Mont-Blanc in 1787 by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, copper engraving. Collection Teylers Museum, Haarlem

On August 3, 1787Swiss physicist and Alpine traveller Horace-Bénédict de Saussure made the third ascent of the Mount Blanc and determined via scientific measurement Mont Blanc to be the highest mountain in Europe.

Horace Bénédicte de Saussure was born on February 17, 1740 near Geneva and studied nature science at Geneva starting from 1754. At the age of only 22, Saussure was appointed professor at the University of Geneva. During his years as a scientist, Saussure traveled through France, the Netherlands, England, Italy as well as Sicily and Alps. In the AlpsSaussure mostly focused on the Chamonix area. In 1760, it is believed, Saussure first began to plan his ascent to Mount Blanc and tried to find an adequate route.

In 1787, one year after Mount Blanc had been successfully ascended by two Chamonix men by way of the Grands Mulets, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure also reached the mountain top among with several servants and guides. There, he also was able to perform the first scientific experiments and observations. For instance, on the summit, Saussure made first barometric measurements and on August 3, 1787 came to the result, that Mount Blanc was the highest mountain in Europe.

During his career, Horace Bénédicte de Saussure made several inventions including (possibly) the electroscope and the hygrometer, which (as it is believed) were used by Alexander von Humboldt during his expeditions. Saussure made many important contributions to science and included the fields of meteorology, geology, glaciology, magnetism and astronomy. However, Saussure’s most important field of research remained the study of the Alps and he was one of the first men to systematically explore the regions of ice and snow. Saussure’s most notable written work is probably ‘Voyages dans les Alpes’. His descriptions of seven of his Alpine journeys, with his scientific observations gathered en route, were published by him in four quarto volumes from 1779 to 1796.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture titled ‘Life at Top‘ by Kenton Cool at the University of Leeds.

References and Further Reading:

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