On December 1, 1743, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, the chemist who discovered uranium, zirconium, and cerium, was born. Originally intended to be a clergyman, Klaproth attended Wernigerode Latin School until 1759 when he dropped out and became an apprentice in an apothecary shop. Klaproth worked until he became a journeyman, eventually moving to Hannover and then Berlin, where he began to practice chemistry.
While studying chemistry on the side, he supported himself by managing a deceased friend’s apothecary shop, until 1780 when his new wife’s wealth allowed him to go out on his own. This is where things begin to get interesting for Klaproth. He expanded his lecturing on chemistry and became a Pharmaceutical Assessor at a Berlin medical school.
In 1789, Klaproth discovered zirconium by recognizing “the presence… in the ore zirconia.” In the same year he discovered uranium, “in a precipitate of pitchblende.” While Klaproth, himself, did not isolate these elements, they were later isolated by Jöns Jacob Berzelius in 1824 and Eugène-Melchior Péligot in 1841, respectively.
In 1793, Klaproth “elucidated the composition” of strontium. Then, in 1795 Klaproth rediscovered titanium and named it, in addition to rediscovering chromium in 1798, after he became a member of the Royal Society of London. He also confirmed the discovery of tellurium and beryllium in 1798. Then in 1803, Klaproth discovered “cerium as the oxide (ceria),” in the same year it was identified by Jöns Jacob Berzelius and Wilhelm Hisinger, who were working collaboratively.
Towards the end of his career, between the years of 1807 and 1810, Klaproth published a five-volume chemical dictionary with F.B. Wolff. These five volumes were followed by a four-volume supplement, some published after January 1, 1817, when Klaproth died of a stroke.