Ernest Solvay: The System, the Law and the Council

  • Didier Devriese
  • Grégoire Wallenborn
Part of the Science Networks · Historical Studies book series (SNHS, volume 22)


Born in 1838, Ernest Solvay is a figure who symbolises perfectly the Belgium of the 19th century. After Great Britain, Belgium was the second country where the industrial revolution took place. Immensely impressed by science and the technical developments it had brought about, Solvay was the prototype of a believer with absolute confidence in scientific progress. Over a twenty year period, he became extremely wealthy, after his process for making soda at low cost was widely adopted across the industrialised world. An heir of the industrial revolution, Solvay was a product of his times: he made far-reaching contributions to the chemical industry, and was instrumental in bringing about highly important changes to industry.


Industrial Revolution Modern Physic Scientific Committee Black Body Radiation Social Party 
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  1. 1.
    This article is a reworking of two articles that appeared previously in Les Conseils Solvay et les débuts de la physique moderne,ed. by P. MARAGE et G. WALLENBORN, Bruxelles, 1995.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See various historical documents from the Solvay Society, particularly J. BOLLE, Solvay 1863–1963. L’invention, l’homme et l’entreprise industrielle,Brussels. Many biographies have been written about Ernest Solvay and his entourage, some of them taking a rather apologetic stance. A good starting point is the article by E. GUBIN and V.PIETTE,Une histoire de familles dans Solvay et son temps , in Solvay et son temps,edited by A. Despy-Meyer and D. Devriese, Brussels, 1997, which provides an exhaustive and rigorous treatment of the subject. The most scrupulous biography was written by two of Solvay’s contemporaries and close friends, Ch. LEFEBURE and P. HÉGER, Vie d’Ernest Solvay,Lamertin, Brussels, 1929. For general works on Solvay, see D. DEVRIESE and F. FREDERIC, Ernest Solvay: de la réalité au mythe , in Ernest Solvay et son temps, op. cit. Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ernest Solvay’s works were published in part in a collection entitled Notes, lettres et discours d’Ernest Solvay. Vol. I. Gravitique et physiologie. Vol. II. Politique et science sociale,Lamertin, Brussels, 1929 (hereafter NLD I and NLD II). This collection was published with the biography cited in note 2. There is still an existing original version, which reveals that these pieces of work were collected while Solvay was still alive at least the items in Gravitique et physiologie by Emile Tassel, an engineer and chemist who worked as a professor at the ULB in Brussels. The second part of the collection seems to be the work of collaborators with Solvay, which was collected by P. Héger and Ch. Lefébure (private archives).Google Scholar
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    As well as the publications mentioned in note 2, Solvay had several pieces published in the Proceedings of the Belgian Royal Academy of Science.Google Scholar
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    Ch. LEFÉBURE P.HEGER,op cit.,p.53.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II,p.18.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II,p. 429–430.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD I,p. 261.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II,p 409–410.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II,p. 321–322Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD ll, p. 37Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD H, p. 37.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II, P. 394.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II, p. 394.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II, p. 395.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD I, p. 214.Google Scholar
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    E. SoLVAY, NLD II,p. 101.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in L. D’OR A.-M.WIRTz-CORDIER, Ernest Solvay, Mémoire de la classe des sciences, 2e série, t. XLIV, fasc 2, Académie Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles, 1981, p. 48.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II, p. 350.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD I, p. 94–95.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, Allocution à l’ouverture du Conseil de Physique, in La théorie du rayonnement et les quanta. Rapports et discussions de la réunion tenue à Bruxelles, du 30 octobre au 3 novembre 1911, sous les Auspices de M. E. Solvay, Publiés par MM. P. Langevin et M. de Broglie, Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1912, p. 2–3.Google Scholar
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    La Nature,janvier 1914.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD 11, p. 201.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II, p. 382.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD II, p. 183.Google Scholar
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    E. SOLVAY, NLD I, p. 130.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Nernst to Solvay, July 1910 (SIIPC).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Planck to W. Nernst, 11th June 1910 (SIIPC).Google Scholar
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    Extract from a press communiqué given by Édouard Herzen, 26th October 1911 (SIIPC).Google Scholar
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    Ostwald to Solvay (SIIPC).Google Scholar
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    Solvay to Lorentz, March 1912 (SIIPC).Google Scholar
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    Lorentz to Solvay (SIIPC).Google Scholar
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    Solvay to Ostwald, November 1911 (SIIPC).Google Scholar
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    Statuts, in La structure de la matière. Rapports et discussions du deuxième Conseil de Physique, Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1921, p. viiGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Sovay to Lorentz (SIIPC).Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Solvay to Héger, 26th March 1912 (SIIPC).Google Scholar

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© Springer Basel AG 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Didier Devriese
  • Grégoire Wallenborn

There are no affiliations available

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