Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring

Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring
Death date
Fields of study


Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring was a German anatomist, anthropologist and paleontologist. Though famous mostly for his discoveries and investigations in the field of medicine, Sömmerring also made significant contributions in the field of electrochemical telegraphy.

Sömmerring was born in Polish Royal Russia in 1755. He studied medicine at the University of Gottingen and became a professor of anatomy first at the Collegium Carolinium in Kassel and then at the University of Mainz, where he became the dean of the medical faculty. He opened up his medical practice at Frankfurt.

Among Sömmerring’s contributions to the field of biology were his discovery of the macula in the retina of the human eye, studies on the brain, lungs, nervous system and embryonic malformations.He was the first person to give a fairly accurate representation of the female skeletal structure. He published a lot in the fields of neuroanatomy, anthropology and Paleontology. He also worked on fossil crocodiles and the Pterodactylus, then called Ornithocephalus. Sömmerring also worked on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy and other diverse fields. He investigated on the refinement of wines and on sunspots, among others. He designed a telescope for astronomical observations. In 1804, Sömmerring accepted an invitation from the Academy of Science of Bavaria, in Munich and eventually made became incorporated into the Bavarian nobility.

In 1809, Sömmerring designed a complex telegraphic system based on electrochemical current. This design was demonstrated before the Munich Academy of Science. An ally of Napoleon, Margrave Leopold of Bavaria commissioned Sömmerring’s telegraph. It consisted of thirty-five wires, one for each letter of the alphabet and one for each number. Sommering was influenced by the technique of Francesco Salva who designed a telegraph using an electric cable for each letter. Sömmerring’s telegraph used stronger batteries and was able to transmit over a distance of 3.5 kilometers. The telegraphic system that Sömmerring developed in Bavaria is housed in the German Museum of Science in Munich today.

In 1820, Sömmerring left Munich and returned to Frankfurt where he died in 1830.