Illustrated Glossary of Organic Chemistry

Vitalism: A theory that an organic molecule cannot be produced from inorganic molecules, but instead can only be produced from a living organism or some part of a living organism. The theory was disproved in the early part of the 19th century.


Ag+ Cl-
Silver cyanate
Ammonium chloride

Silver chloride
Vitalism suggested that an organic molecule such as urea cannot be synthesized solely from inorganic sources. It was believed that synthesis of urea required a living organism or some part of a living organism, such as a kidney. The theory was disproved by Friedrich Wohler, who showed that heating silver cyanate (an inorganic compound) with ammonium chloride (another inorganic compound) produced urea, without the aid of a living organism or part of a living organism.