Childhood & Early Life
Christian Andreas Doppler was born on 29 November 1803, in Makart Platz area of Salzburg, Austria. At that time, the square was known as Hannibal Platz after Hannibal von Raitenau, brother of Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich.
His father, Johann Evangialist Doppler, was a well-to-do stonemason. His mother, Therese Doppler, was the daughter of a middle-class comb maker. She had brought in considerable dowry, which added to the family’s wealth and made their life quite comfortable.
Christian Doppler was his parents’ fifth child, having an elder brother named Johann Doppler and three elder sisters named Katharina Doppler Mullbauer, Anna Doppler and Theresia Doppler. It is possible that he also had a few younger siblings; but no detail is available about them.
Information available on Christian’s early life is also very scarce and vague. However, it is certain that although Christian’s elder brother Johann was predestined to inherit the family business his father had planned the same profession for him.
In the trade licensing register of 1804, he had declared that he would not use the second licensed stonemasonry he had bought for 600 guilders in 1797, but would “someday hand it over to a son”. By this, he must have meant his second son, born in the previous year.
Christian, with his weak constitution, was not at all suited for the work of a stonemason. Yet, he showed certain talent in the craft and so his father hoped he would take it up one day, keeping the license for him until 1821 before handing it over to firstborn Johann.
Christian must have begun his education at home. The first information available in public domain is that he enrolled at the German School in Salzburg in 1816. Next in 1819, he joined the Standard School in Linz, where he studied for one year before joining business apprenticeship course in 1821-1822.
In the autumn of 1822, possibly on the recommendation of Simon Stamper, the professor of mathematics at the Salzburg Lyceum, 18 year old Christian enrolled at Vienna Polytechnic Institute with mathematics and physics. It was expected that the course would provide him with practical qualification for starting his own business.
In January 1823, a few months after he joined the Institute, his father passed away. However, it did not have any immediate impact on his education as his mother continued to support him. He thus continued his studies at the Institute.
Although he excelled in his studies he found the curriculum much too one sided. It is not known if he graduated from there; but in 1825 he returned to Salzburg, where with the permission of his mother, he decided to finish his schooling.
As he was above age, he studied in private, concurrently earning money by giving tuitions in mathematics and physics at the Lodron-Rupertinisch-Marianischen Collegium. It helped him to pay his tuition fees at the school.
From the information recorded in the Salzburg Gymnasium register, we know that he took the third year examination on May 23, 1826, achieving good grade in religion, Latin and Greek and ‘excellent’ in mathematics, geography and history. Thereafter, he spent one more year studying philosophy at the Salzburg Lyceum.
In 1827, Christian Doppler enrolled at the University of Vienna with mathematics, mechanics and astronomy; graduating from there in 1829. At that time he was 26 years old and still dependent on his mother.
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In 1829, shortly after graduating from the University of Vienna, Christian Doppler received an appointment as the assistant to Adam Burg, the professor of higher mathematics and mechanics at the Vienna Polytechnic Institute. Since Burg was from Salzburg, it is believed that he had a hand in the appointment.
During his assistantship at the Vienna Polytechnic Institute, Doppler published four mathematics papers, the first being ‘A contribution to the theory of parallels’. However, it was only a temporary post and he remained there only up to 1833. Meanwhile, he continued to look for a permanent position.
At that time, getting a permanent job in the academic field was not at all easy. It involved a long written test as well as a short probationary lecture on any unpredictable topic before an appointed commission. Moreover, signs of higher learning also went against the candidate.
Doppler applied for the chair of higher mathematics at Vienna Polytechnic and also to schools in Linz, Salzburg, Gorizia and Ljubljana. On 23 March 1833, he applied for the post of a professor of mathematics at the Technical Secondary School in Prague, but failed to get any response.
The period between 1833 and 1835 was very bad for Doppler. Forced to return home to Salzburg, he maintained himself by working as a bookkeeper at a cotton spinning mill. After 18 months, he became disillusioned about his chances in Austria and decided to migrate to the USA.
He now started making preparation for the journey, selling his possessions and visiting the American Consul in Munich. But in March 1835, as everything was being finalized, he received a call from Technical Secondary School in Prague, inviting him to join a post he had applied two years ago.
Although Doppler joined his post as the professor of arithmetic, algebra, theoretical geometry and accountancy at the Technical Secondary School, it could not satisfy him. He tried for a post in the Polytechnic in Prague, but failed to get it initially.
From 1836 to 1838, he taught higher mathematics for four hours a week at the Polytechnic. At the end of 1837, while Doppler was still teaching there, the post of professor in practical geometry and elementary mathematics became vacant at the Polytechnic and Doppler was formally appointed to it in March 1841.
In 1842, Doppler gave a lecture to the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences. In the same year, he published his most famous work, "Über das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einiger anderer Gestirne des Himmels" (On the colored light of the binary stars and some other stars of the heavens).
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Teaching at the Polytechnic was very stressful. In spite of that, Doppler published over 50 articles on mathematics, physics and astronomy during this period. His frail health could not bear such strain and he fell ill in 1844, remaining on sick leave for around two years.
In 1846, he returned to his duty at the Polytechnic in Prague; but due to some professional problems, he began to look for new situation. By that time, he had become famous for his 1842 work and therefore did not have to wait for long.
In 1847, he joined the Academy of Mines and Forests in Banská Štiavnica (Selmecbánya in Hungary) in Slovakia, at that time under the Kingdom of Hungary, as Bergrat and Professor of mathematics, physics, and mechanics. But his tenure was cut short by the revolution that erupted in 1848.
In 1849, Doppler fled to Vienna, where on January 17, 1850 he was appointed Director of the Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Vienna by an imperial decree. This time, his tenure was cut short by illness and he went on a sick leave, never to return.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1836, Christian Doppler married Mathilde Sturm, the daughter of a middle-class goldsmith, Franz Sturm. She stood by her husband all through his life, giving him the required support whenever he faced any problem. The couple had three sons and two daughters.
Doppler had developed a chest problem in Prague. His condition began to deteriorate as he returned to Vienna in 1849. In November, 1852, he traveled to Venice, hoping warmer climate would help him to recover; but it did not.
By March 1853, his condition deteriorated further and he began to sink very fast. On hearing the news, Mathilde, who had remained at Vienna with their five children, rushed to Venice.
Doppler passed away in Venice on 17 March 1853, at the age of 49, from some kind of pulmonary disease. He lies buried at Venetian island cemetery of San Michele, just inside the entrance.
Lunar Crater Doppler, located at 12.6° S 159.6° W as well as Asteroid 3905 Doppler are named after him.