Chloroform (CHCl3) is a heavy volatile liquid with a sweet taste and odour, used as a solvent and cleansing agent and in refrigerants; formerly used as an inhalation anaesthetic.
A German pharmacist by the name of Moldenhawer synthesised chloroform in 1830 when he was trying to remove fusel alcohols from ethanol that was prepared from potatoes.
Fusel alcohol is a volatile, poisonous mixture of isoamyl, butyl, propyl, and heptyl alcohols produced as by-products in alcoholic fermentation of starches, grains, or fruits to produce ethanol.
However, he mistook the chloroform for “chloric ether” (1,2-dichloroethane) as these two compounds have a similar smell. Here is how he synthesised chloroform:
- 2.5 grams of chloride of lime were added to one litre of ethanol and the mixture was shook for 20-24 hours.
- He then distilled the alcohol but found fusel alcohols in the distillate.
- He noticed that after the shaking a strong smell was produced which he mistook for “chloric ether”.
Not much is known about Moldenhawer other than what was mentioned.