Ferdinand von Richthofen

Most Popular

From Richthofen’s work in China, he coined the terms “Silk Road” and “Silk Route” for the country’s overseas trade routes. He also called the steep red sandstone plain in Sichuan province, southwest China, “Red Basin”. He traveled extensively across eleven of China’s eighteen provinces performing geological and geographic research and later wrote the amazing five volume geological treatise and two volume atlas titled “China Cartographica.” It was the first major European study of Chinese geography, and it set the norm for years. During his career, he worked in the Dolomite Alps, Japan, the Philippines, Ceylon, Myanmar, Bangkok, and California. In his later years, he taught geography in various German universities. On the other hand, he standardised chorography, the art of mapping or characterizing a territory. He is now a stratigrapher. Richthofen helped create geomorphology as a science and is regarded as one of the field’s modern pioneers.

Early Childhood of Ferdinand von Richthofen

Born in Carlsruhe, Prussian Silesia, on May 5, 1833, parents Karl and Ferdinande Richthofen.
His secondary education was completed at the Catholic Gymnasium in Breslau (now Wroclaw). In 1850, he entered the ‘University of Breslau’ to study geology.

After a few years he enrolled in the ‘University of Berlin’, graduating in 1856.
The Vorarlberg and Tyrol Alps geological trip in 1857. He was tasked with compiling the report while conducting the survey. His 1860 paper ‘Geognostische Beschreibung der Umgegend von Predazzo…’ earned worldwide acclaim.

He explained the Triassic succession in South Tirol and its formation. Contrary to prior catastrophic perceptions, Richthofen attributed landscape and tectonic changes to moderate crustal processes.
With the help of the ‘Austrian Imperial Geological Institute’, he studied the trachytic mountains of Transylvania.

A Career of Ferdinand von Richthofen

In 1860, he joined the Prussian government’s “Eulenburg Expedition” as a geologist and travelled to Japan, Ceylon, Celebes, Taiwan, the Philippines, Java, Burma, and Siam. The mission had no notable results, and most of his documents and collections were lost.

He went to California in June 1862 and worked as a geologist until 1868, reporting to German newspapers on mineral wealth and gold strikes. Igneous rocks from propylite to trachyte are clearly seen in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Richthofen’s geological explorations led to the discovery of goldfields.

Despite his efforts to travel China earlier, the continuing ‘Taiping insurrection’ (1850-64), made the nation inaccessible. His objective to tour the country was only accomplished in September 1868, four years after the Civil War.

The voyage to China was funded by the ‘Bank of California’ and then the ‘Chamber of Commerce of Shanghai’, in exchange for reports in English on the regions’ economic resources.

He traveled eleven out of eighteen Chinese provinces till 1872, and his reports were collected in ‘Letters on China’ (Shanghai, 1870–72). These studies were the first to mention the Shantung coalfield and the commercial possibilities of Tsingtao, a port later captured by the Germans.

Richthofen was the first to notice how the fine Aeolian dust from the western deserts accumulated in China over time. It was the origin of northern China’s loess soil. He also found Lop Nur’s dried-up lake bed in China.

He returned to Germany in 1872 and spent the next 33 years educating and writing about China and campaigning for geography in German institutions.

He was appointed Professor of Geology at the ‘University of Bonn’ in 1875, but he could only start work on the first book and a part of the second on China in 1879.
In 1877, he invented the phrases ‘Seidenstraße’ and ‘Seidenstraßen’ for the commercial routes that connected China to the Mediterranean Sea.

As a Professor of Geography at the ‘University of Leipzig’ from 1883.
From 1886 until his death, he taught Geography at Berlin’s Friedrich Wilhelm University.

Many of his students, including Sven Hedin, Alfred Philippson, Wilhelm Sievers, and Arthur Berson, became famous geographers.
He was President of the ‘German Geographical Society’ for many years.
A notable presentation entitled ‘Triebkräfte and Richtungen der Erdkunde am neunzehnten Jahrhundert’ was delivered in 1903. His successor, Albrecht Penck, built the ‘Museum für Meereskunde’ at the university.

He established the Berlin Hydrographical Institute.
His German writings included ‘Die Kalkalpen von Vorarlberg and Nordtirol’ (1859–1861), ‘Die Metallproduktion Kaliforniens’ (1865), ‘China, Ergebnisse eigner Reisen und darauf gegründeter Studien’ (1877–1912), five volumes and atlas (A guide for the traveling researcher, 1886).

Comstock Lode: Its Character, and the Probable Mode of Continuance in Depth’, 1866; ‘Principles of the Natural System of Volcanic Rocks’, 1867; and ‘Letters to the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce’, 1869–1872 were all published in English.

Grandiose of Ferdinand von Richthofen

His significant contributions were to Alpine stratigraphy, Chinese geography and geology, standardizing chorology and chorography, and establishing geomorphology.

Personal Legacy of Ferdinand von Richthofen

He married Irmgard von Richthofen in 1879.
He was an uncle of the legendary Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen.
On October 6, 1905, at the age of 72, he died suddenly in Berlin.

Estimated Net Worth

Estimated net worth of Ferdinand von Richthofen is N\A.


The ‘Richthofen Range’ (today known as the ‘Qilian Mountains’) lies between Gansu and Qinghai provinces in northern China.
His name is also given to the 12940 ft high ‘Mount Richthofen’ in the Rocky Mountain National Park.