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Real-Life Mad Scientists: Dippel & Aldini

In movies, such as Dr. Frankenstein, there is a “mad scientist” who conducts experiments that break the rules of humanity and ethics. Sometimes the mad scientist is testing his inventions on humans and animals, while others are trying to create new species. In this article, you will encounter some of the mad scientists that do not appear in books or movies, but who exist in real life.

Johann Conrad Dippel

Johann Conrad Dippel was actually born at Castle Frankenstein near Darmstadt, Germany. His main course of studies involved theology, philosophy and alchemy at the University of Giessen. However, he soon found himself in hot water over his opinions regarding theology. During his dabbling in the world of alchemy, he grew interested in creating artificial life. His escapades would involve robbing graves and performing horrific experiments on cadavers. It was his goal to achieve what he called a ‘soul transplant.’

Interestingly, there is a legend that tells of Dippel being run out of town by upset locals after a tower at Castle Frankenstein had been blown up with nitroglycerine. However, this is just a rumor because the substance didn’t even exist at the time of his exploits. There is also no connection between Dippel and the character that Mary Shelley created.

All of Dippel’s work was not at a complete loss. During one of his alchemical experiments, he did come up with “Prussian blue” dye, which enjoyed a great deal of commercial accolades. Other experiments that he conducted included the creation of an animal oil made out of bones, blood and other animal products. This was called Dippel’s Oil and was promoted as an ‘elixir of life.’ Some say that he also boiled human body parts in large vats.

Giovanni Aldini

Aldini had scientific success running through his family tree. He was the nephew of the man who developed the theory of muscular electricity. The field of science that interested Aldini was galvanism and electricity. He spent his time taking a look at the medical uses of electricity, how to power lighthouses, and conducted experiments on how to use electricity for preservation. However, he became a mad scientist because of his traveling horror show that made stops throughout Europe.

He would electrify human and animal bodies for entertainment purposes. Aldini gave a performance in 1803 at the Royal College of Surgeons in London that attracted bad publicity. With his conducting rods, he caused the muscles in the body of a hanged criminal named George Foster to contract and distort. The crowd became instantly frightened.

Interestingly, Aldini was rewarded for his efforts by the emperor of Austria when he was made a knight of the Iron Crown and a councilor of state at Milan. When he died, he bequeathed a large sum to establish a school of natural science for artisans at Bologna.