6 Historical Deaths That Read Like Crazy Myths (But Aren’t)

3. Karl Scheele Tasted Poisonous Chemicals For Science (Because Someone Had To)

Dr. Carl Wilhelm Scheele was a chemist credited with discovering nitrogen, manganese, chlorine, hydrogen, cyanide, molybdenum, barium, tungsten, and many more of the compounds and gasses which today we either use or try to avoid because, as the good doctor also discovered, they’ll kill the shit out of us if we put them in our mouths. We know this because Dr. Scheele put them in his mouth.

Why would a scientist turn to toddler tactics in his professional quest for discovery? To understand the answer, we have to briefly explore what it meant to be a chemist back then. Dr. Scheele was a pharmacist by trade, and he did his research in the pharmacy, with the tools available to him. Without computers, mass spectrometers, and all that sciency stuff we get to play with today, that meant using touch, smell, and yes, taste. He did this with everything, but one particular example sticks out.

At one point, Scheele accidentally created Prussian blue, aka hydrogen cyanide, aka one of the deadliest poisons ever made. He thought it smelled “almondy.” He understood the risks, but none of this really bothered him. In his own words, this was simply “the trouble of all apothecaries.” His devotion to his art was so great that he married the widow of another pharmacist so she could inherit all of his many poisons, lab equipment, and notes. Also, he was so modest that he lost the credit for many of his findings. (Or maybe he ate his notes.) Tragically, one thing he was credited for was one of his mistakes. Copper arsenite, or “Scheele’s Green,” was used to decorate candy for 50 years or so before someone realized feeding children copper and arsenic wasn’t so good for them.

Anyways, Carl “Yes, I Know I’m Dying, Did You Want Something?” Scheele succumbed to arsenic/cyanide/mercury/everything poisoning on May 26, 1786, at the age of 43. He was last seen being pulled to the heavens in a chariot driven by white, fire-breathing stallions.

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