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Niels Bohr Institute > Who, What, When > > HC Ørsted > H.C. Oersted - a geniu...

28 May 2010

H.C. Oersted - a genius from the province

Although there were no schools in Rudkøbing when Oersted was born, his father made sure that he got an education anyway.

Hans Christian Oersted was born in 1777. Oersted's father who was a pharmacist made sure that Hans Christian and his brother Anders learned something. There was no school where they lived in Rudkoebing. But Oersted's father made an deal with the local wigmaker and he taught the brothers to read and to speak German. Later a surveyor taught the two boys mathematics, a Norwegian student reviewed literature with them and a magistrate taught them some English and French. The rest of the time they read books on their own and told each other what they had discovered.

As a 12 year old Hans Christian became an apprentice at the pharmacy. Here he discovered the chemical side of work. This interested him so much that he began to read all of the books on science he could get hold of.


The Statue in Rudkoebing: Oersted was born in Rudkoebing. There was no school at the time, but his father made sure that he was educated anyway. Among others the local wig maker was his teacher.

Hans Christians brother Anders studied law at the University, and later he became primeminister.

Brothers to audition at Copenhagen University

The two brothers were both very talented and five years later they agreed that they wanted to study. With their father's help they travelled to Copenhagen and in just a few months prepared themselves for the entrance exam for the University of Copenhagen. The exam included, among other things, Greek, Latin and philosophy. But they helped each other, as they had in the past, and passed with flying colours.

At that time the university was a place where you were trained either as a doctor, a priest or a lawyer. Natural sciences had no separate space, but only existed as a part of the medical studies. It was there that Ørsted was enrolled.

During his studies Oersted was an exceptionally talented student. He wrote such good papers that he was awarded a large travel grant and departed in 1801 on a three year long educational tour.


Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger, poet and playwriter in the Danish Golden Age, was born in Copenhagen in 1779 and died in 1850.

The author Adam Oehlenschlager wrote  about the two Oersted brothers in his memoirs

The famous danish author Adam Oehlenschlager wrote in his memoirs that: "The Oersteds lived very lonely lives".

The first winter I knew them, they went in long jackets that almost reached down to their heels, like dressing gowns; arm in arm they held onto each other - so that they almost resembled Siamese twins.

But for all of their fellow students they shined like Dioskouroi (Zeus's twin sons), and even the older scholars soon became aware of what lived in them.

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