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The Adventurous Life of an Esslinger

His Life Work: Plant Life of Alabama

In Celebration of the 150th Birthday of the Botanist and Pharmacist
This article appeared in the newspaper in Esslingen, Germany on Dec. 28, 1974.


Karl Theodor Mohr was born on 28 December 1824 in Esslingen am Neckar (Esslingen on the Neckar River) as the fourth child of the lam farmer August Ludwig Mohr (1795-1833) and Dorothea Catharina Friederica (nee Walker).

The first three years of school, Karl spent at the paedegogium of his home town. In 1822 the family moved to nearby Denkendorf where August Ludwig Mohr founded a mustard and vinegar factory. On the tenth of September of the same year, August Ludwig Mohr, died. Seemingly early, Karl Theodor had to work in his father's business. Through his great-uncle, the forester at the Denkendorf Convent and his son, a student at the agricultural college in Hohenheim, the interest in botany was awoke. Through the self-study of several books on botany, Karl learned further in this area and developed a taste for natural science. Following his mother's wishes, he attended the Polytechincal school in Stuttgart in the autumn of 1842. There he studied chemistry under Professor Herman von Fehling and learned the plant world of the tropics in the greenhouses of the imperial court garden where his childhood friend, Wilhelm Hochstetter, was an apprentice.

To Surinam

After finishing his studies, Karl was invited on a trip to Surinam by the explorer August Kappler (1815-1887). In November 1845 the two departed the port on the island on Texel aboard the sailing ship "Natalie" and in mid-March 1846 after a dangerous voyage, they reached New Guinea (sic). To the interior of the country they went from Paramaribo, where Mohr collected plants for European florists and herbariums. Severe fever attacks that tied Mohr to a sick bed for several months was the reason Mohr followed the advice of the doctors and returned home in November 1846.

From Brno to London to America

Prof Hochstetter, the father of his childhood friend, was the botanist and deacon of the Esslingen city church and had arranged a job for Mohr as chemist in his son's factory in Brno. In April, 1847, Mohr assumed his new position, which he lost during the revolution of 1848 because the factory went under. Mohr left Brno and traveled with his brother Paul Heinrich, who had been living in London for some time. They met in August 1848 and decided to emigrate to the United States.

Marriage in Louisville

Aboard an emigrant ship the brothers reached New York. From there, they went to Cincinnati where Mohr worked for a while in a German chemical business. On March 3rd, 1849, hit with gold fever, he set out with a group of 50 men for the gold mines of California, where they search for gold on the slopes of the Sierra in the Yuba Valley. The work of a gold miner attacked his health. So, in December 1850, he traveled to Cincinnati. On this trip, he met Baron Paul of Wuerttemberg, who was returning from an expedition. After Mohr worked for a short time as a farmer in Indiana, he moved to Louisville and married a countrywoman from Zweibrucken, Sofie Roemer, on March 12th, 1852. In Louisville he again met several friends from Wuerttemberg and made contact with several German pharmacists. Here Mohr again found more time for his botanical studies, which were supported by the Swiss pharmacist Leo Lesquereux (1806-1889).

First German Pharmacy in Alabama

For health reasons Mohr decided in 1857 to go south of the United States and worked as a pharmacist in Vera Cruz and Orziaba, Mexico. He wanted to become independent, but the Mexican Revolution forced him to return again the USA.

At the end of 1857, he opened the first German pharmacy in Mobile, Alabama whose business development was hurt by the outbreak of the Civil War. The government of the south tasked him with examining the medicines for the army. In the course of the war, his pharmacy was destroyed once, but he immediately built it up again. Despite the troubled times, Mohr continued his botanical work and contributed a collection of mosses of south Alabama to Lesquereux's 1884 work Mosses of North America. In his pharmacy laboratory, Mohr began examination of fertilizers and minerals, as well as explored the woods of Alabama for commercial timbers and "ground treasures". The results of this work was publicized in 1879 under the title The Forests of Alabama and Their Products.

For Harvard University

On behalf of the Departent of Agriculture in Washington, who took notice of Mohr's industrious activity, he undertook a wide reaching forest-botanical examination. Aside from this, he was busy working for Harvard University and other institutions, giving talks at large congresses and conducting a topographical examinations of north Florida in 1882. All this work demanded so much from him that his now grown son had to completely take over the pharmacy as Mohr's health had been overstrained by his exploration work. A year before his death, Mohr moved to Asheville, where he worked on the large Biltmore Herbarium as well as his Economic Borany of Alabama. about weeds, medicinal-, poisonous- and commercial-plants, which he wanted to complete. His death on July 17th 1901, brought an end to his life of exploration. Mohr was one of the most predominant botanists of the United States, whose services were honored by the University of Alabama in 1893 with a doctorate degree. Numerous articles and botanical works appeared in the German-language "Pharmaceutische Rundschau" in New York.

His life work, which consisted of over 40 years, was at the same time his most meaningful: Plant Life of Alabama. This work which appeared in Montgomery two weeks after his death, is above all of significance for the economic development of the southern states. On the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of the geology department of the University of Alabama in 1948, Karl Theodor Mohr was recognized along with other predominant explorers, as he was a pioneer in his field of expertise for America.

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