Dmitri Mendeleev was born in Tobolsk, Siberia, on February 7, 1834 . He was the youngest of 14 children born to Maria Dmitrievna Korniliev and Ivan Pavlovitch Mendeleev. His father was director of the local gymnasium. Maria Korniliev’s family settled in Tobolsk in the early 1700’s and introduced paper- and glass-making to Siberia. Unfortunately, Ivan died when Dmitri was quite young, leaving his wife to support the large family. The death hit them hard economically especially for a large family, which meant that Maria had no other choice but to find work.
Maria’s family owned a glass factory and they allowed her to take over managing the company so she could support the family. Dmitri, being the youngest, appears to have been his mother’s favourite child and was provided as many opportunities as she could afford. From his early years, she began to save money for Dmitri to attend the university. As he grew older, it became apparent that he had a bright future. At the age of 14, he was attending the Gymnasium in Tobolsk and his mother was continuing to plan for his future.
In that year, however, a second major family tragedy occurred; the glass factory burned to the ground. The family was devastated. Maria was not about to give up her dreams for her son. She knew at this point that Dmitri’s only hope to go on to school was to win a scholarship. So in his final years at the gymnasium, Maria pushed Dmitri to improve his grades and prepare for entrance exams. After much nagging from his mother and Bessargin, Mendeleev passed his gymnasium exams and prepared to enter the university. In 1849 they moved Moscow.
At this point the family included Maria, Dmitri, and Elizabeth (Dmitri’s older sister). In Moscow, they entered a climate of considerable political uproar, which made the university reluctant to admit anyone from outside of Moscow. Mendeleev was rejected. Maria did not give up, however, and the family headed for St. Petersburg. Mendeleev was left alone to face his work at the university. Dmitri fell right into his work at St. Petersburg. Mendeleev graduated and was awarded the medal of excellence for being first in his class.
Mendeleev already had his life’s ambitions in mind and, hoping to extend his life as long as possible, he moved to Simferopol in the Crimean Peninsula near the Black Sea in 1855 as chief science master of the gymnasium. He was 21 years old. In 1856, Mendeleev returned to St. Petersburg and defended his master’s thesis: “Research and Theories on Expansion of Substances due to Heat. ” Following his masters program, Dmitri focused his life on his career of teaching and research. He was essentially a teacher devoted to his work .
The first led to his books and the periodic table. In 1859, he was assigned by the Minister of Public Instruction to go abroad to study and develop scientific and technological innovations. Between 1859 and 1861 he studied the densities of gases with Regnault in Paris and the workings of the spectroscope with Kirchoff in Heidelberg. He also tested for the critical temperature. While in Heidelberg he met A. P. Borodin, a chemist . In 1860 at the Chemical Congress at Karlsruhe, Mendeleev had the opportunity to hear Cannizzaro discuss his work on atomic weights.
Following his trip abroad, the Russian chemist returned to his homeland where he settled down to a life of teaching and research in St. Petersburg. In 1863 he was named Professor of Chemistry at the Technological Institute and, in 1866, he became Professor of Chemistry at the University and was made Doctor of Science for his dissertation “On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol”. As will be seen, his research findings were expansive and beneficial to the Russian people. Dmitri was always in touch with the classroom. Much of his lab work, including that on the periodic chart, occurred in his spare time following his lectures.