George Cuvier


May 17, 2022

Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert, Baron de Cuvier (actually Jean-Léopold-Nicholas Frédéric Cuvier; born August 23, 1769 in Montbéliard; † May 13, 1832 in Paris) was a Württemberg-French naturalist and co-founder of zoology as comparative anatomy.


Georges Cuvier came from a Lutheran family from the then Württemberg County of Mömpelgard. He was the son of Jean Georges Cuvier (1716-1795), a former lieutenant in a Swiss regiment, and Anne-Clémence Catherine Châtel (1736-1792). He was baptized with the first names Jean-Léopold-Nicholas Frédéric, later the first name Dagobert was added. As his sole first name, he took over the first name of his older brother Georges Charles Henri (1765-1767), who died early. The zoologist Frédéric Cuvier was his younger brother. As a child he read the complete works of Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon and at the age of twelve he started his first natural history collection. From 1784 to 1788, Cuvier studied at the High Karlsschule in Stuttgart, where he mainly took courses in administrative, legal and economic sciences. During this time he became friends with Carl Friedrich Kielmeyer, from whom he learned dissection. In 1787 he was appointed Chevalier (German Knight), which gave him access to high society. After studying at the High Charles School, Cuvier found a job as a private tutor for the Count d'Héricy in Normandy for eight years. In his spare time he devoted himself to natural history studies, studying plants, seabirds and marine animals. Henri-Alexandre Tessier and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire recommended that Cuvier be appointed to the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris, and in 1795 he became a member of the Société d'histoire naturelle. Hilaire, who was professor of "Mammals, Cetaceans, Birds, Reptiles, and Fishes" there, followed this recommendation. In the same year, Cuvier became a member of the newly formed Institut de France. During Geoffroy's absence for the Egyptian campaign, Cuvier became more influential among the museum's zoologists. In 1800 he became professor of zoology and in 1803 secretary of physical sciences at the Collège de France. In 1801 he was elected a foreign member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. On April 17, 1806, the Royal Society accepted him as a member. In 1808 he was elected a foreign member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. On behalf of Napoleon, he reorganized the academic institutes in Italy, the Netherlands and southern Germany and was awarded the Order of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur for his services in 1811. In 1814 he was appointed Conseil d'État. In 1813 he became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1822 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1830 to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Shortly before his death he rose to the peer of France. In 1804 Cuvier married the widow Duvaucel, who brought four children into the marriage and with whom he had four more children. Georges Cuvier died in 1832 as a result of a cholera infection. He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


Georges Cuvier is considered the scientific founder of paleontology and made comparative anatomy a research discipline. He studied the anatomy of different living things and systematically compared all the similarities and differences. These studies enabled him to deduce from the existence of some bones the shape of other bones and their associated muscles. He finally succeeded in reconstructing an entire animal body from just a few parts. Among Cuvier's students were Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny, Achille Valenciennes,