In the history of Organic Chemistry, to the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz (1829 – 1896) is reserved for a pre-eminent place. In 1858 he wrote an article listing two fundamental properties of the carbon atom: valence four and the ability of carbon atoms to bind together. In 1865 he published another paper in which he defined the hexagonal structure of the benzene molecule. These discoveries gave an extraordinary boost to the chemistry of the nineteenth century. Today they constitute the axioms of organic chemistry.
But there’s another chemist
But in the same year 1858, a few weeks after the publication of Kekulè and in a completely independent way, another Scottish chemist Archibald Scott Couper (1831-1892) at only twenty-seven years old published an article “On a new chemical theory ” with the same conclusions to which Kekulè had arrived. The life of this chemist is as interesting as it is tragic. He was born in a small village a few miles from Glasgow in 1831. He was the only surviving son of Archibald Couper, a large cotton weaving plant owner that employed more than 600 workers. Of unsteady health, he had a good and scrupulous upbringing at home. In 1851 he began his undergraduate studies at Glascow in Latin and Greek, traveled to Germany, then continued his studies at the University of Edinburgh in philosophy, logic, metaphysics and moral philosophy. So far there are no references in his notes to chemistry studies.