Wislizenus, Friedrich A.

Born: 1810-05-21 Germany

Died: 1889-09-22 Saint Louis, Missouri

Friedrich A. Wislizenus was a physician, explorer, and botanist best known for memoirs of his travels in Northern Mexico and New Mexico. Born in Königsee in the German principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Wislizenus was raised along with his two siblings in the home of his maternal uncle, having been orphaned at an early age. After completing his high school studies at the Rudostadt Gymnasium, Wislizenus matriculated to the University of Jena, where he studied medicine. He continued his medical education at the universities of Göttingen and Würzburg. In April 1833, he was forced to flee Germany for Switzerland after becoming involved in an abortive student revolt against the Germany monarchy at Frankfurt-Am-Main. Arriving in Zurich, he resumed his medical studies at the University of Zurich, graduating with high honors in 1834. He moved to Paris to study in the city's hospitals, and in the fall of 1834, he immigrated to New York City, where he opened a medical practice. In 1836, Wislizenus moved to St. Clair County, Illinois, opening a practice at Mascoutah. Finding life in Mascoutah difficult and eager for more financial remuneration, Wislizenus decided to move to St. Louis in 1839. Prior to settling in St. Louis, he travelled with a group of fur traders on a trek on the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Fort Hall in present-day Idaho. Upon his return, he published an account of his trip in German entitled Journey to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1839 (1840). Settling in St. Louis, he entered into a medical partnership with fellow German emigre George Engelmann. Achieving financial security through his medical practice, Wislizenus set out in the spring of 1846 on a scientific expedition to New Mexico, California, and Northern Mexico. The onset of the Mexican War interfered with the expedition, and in September 1846, Mexican forces captured Wislizenus and imprisoned him in Chihuahua. In March 1847, U.S. Army forces under Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan freed Wislizenus. Accepting an appointment as a temporary surgeon, Wislizenus continued his scientific explorations as part of Doniphan's command, making notations of weather patterns and geological formations and collecting a large number of plant specimens. Wislizenus published his scientific findings and personal recollections in Memoirs of a Tour of Northern Mexico (1848). In 1850, he married Lucy Crane, and in 1852, he established a permanent residency in St. Louis. In 1854, Wislizenus became one of the incorporators of the St. Louis School of Midwives, and he was a charter member of the Academy of Sciences of St. Louis, serving as president in 1859.

Robert E. Schlueter, "Frederick Adolphus Wislizenus (1810-1889), Pioneer Meteorologist, Physician and Natural Scientist," Isis 28 (February 1938), 38-52.