Subject Notes

Martin Hans Boyč, chemist

born: December 6, 1812, Copenhagen Denmark died: March 6, 1907, Coopersburg, Pennsylvania

Martin Hans Boyč was the son of the chemist/superintendent of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Copenhagen. He attended the University of Copenhagen and the Polytechnic School in Denmark before emigrating to the United States in 1836. The next year, he was assistant geologist and chemist in the geological surveyor the anthracite coal regions along the Kiskiminetas and Allegheny rivers and Beaver Creek. He spent most of his working life in the Philadelphia area. He served assistant to Robert Hare in the laboratory at 9th and Chestnut Sts. and at the State Laboratories at 208 Chestnut Street, and was a lifelong friend of chemist James Curtis Booth.

He was the subject of some early daguerreotype portraits made in Philadelphia by Robert Cornelius (1840-1843), now in the collection of the George Eastman House. In 1844, he received an MD degree from the University of Pennsylvania. His graduate thesis was "the Structure of the Nervous System." Boyč preferred the field of chemistry, but he was equally at home in geology and physics. In 1847, he invented a process of refining cottonseed oil which he later manufactured on a large scale to be used as a cooking oil as as an ingredient in toilet soap.

Other researches included development of perchloric ether used as a smokeless gunpowder, analysis of feldspar, a treatise on the composition of water in the Schuykill River, an analysis of concretion from a horse's stomach, analysis of Chinese artificially colored tea, and an investigation of the Aurora Borealis. In 1851, he was Chair of Chemistry in Central High, Philadelphia, but resigned in 1859 because of poor health. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Society of Geologists and he published widely on scientific, medical and literary topics.


Smith, Edgar F. Martin Hans Boyč, Chemist Philadelphia, 1924

Stapp, William F. Robert Cornelius: Portraits From the Dawn of Photography Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983

Joseph Struble, 2001