Kapp, Ernst (1808–1896)

By: Terry G. Jordan

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 14, 2016

Ernst Kapp, early Texas geographer, was born on October 15, 1808, in Ludwigstadt, Bavarian Oberfranken. He became a follower of the great German geographer Carl Ritter, who, with Alexander von Humboldt, helped found the modern academic discipline of geography. Linked to the political dissent of the late 1840s in Germany, Kapp sought refuge in America; he arrived with his family at Galveston in 1849. He, his wife, Ida Kapell, and five children settled at Sisterdale in Kendall County, one of the so-called "Latin" communities, where educated, intellectual Germans (Lateiner) had taken up residence. There the scholarly and intellectual Kapp became, in his middle age, a farmer, carpenter, and stock raiser. On the basis of this experience he later wrote a book, Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik ("Fundamentals of a Philosophy of Technical Science," 1877), in which he addressed societal problems associated with the rise of machines. The relevance of Kapp's geographical philosophy to the modern age is suggested by the availability of this book and his Vergleichende allgemeine Erdkunde ("General Comparative Geography," 1869) in modern editions in Germany. His political activities did not cease with his move to Texas. In 1853 he was elected president of the Freier Verein (Free Society), a group of German intellectuals and freethinkers. The society convened in San Antonio in May 1854 and produced a platform containing a number of provisions for political, social, and religious change, many of which might still be considered liberal today. The greatest public reaction to the group's proposals came in response to their call for the abolition of slavery, a position that created an uproar throughout the state. At Sisterdale, Kapp also operated a spa called Badenthal, offering "Dr. Ernest Kapp's Water-Cure." Treatment included not only hydropathy, but also gymnastic exercises. The Kapp log home and the adjacent patient quarters survive, and Badenthal has been restored by the Woolvin family.

In 1865 Kapp returned for a visit to Germany and, due to illness, remained there permanently. His later German years witnessed the publication of the two previously mentioned books. He died on January 30, 1896, in Düsseldorf on the Rhine, and was subsequently honored by inclusion in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, the German equivalent of the Dictionary of American Biography.

S. W. Geiser, "Dr. Ernst Kapp, Early Geographer in Texas," Field and Laboratory 14 (January 1946). Dr. and Mrs. Ernst Kapp, "Briefe aus der Comalstadt, 1850," Jahrbuch der Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung für 1936 (1936). Hans-Martin Sass, "Man and His Environment: Ernst Kapp's Pioneering Experience and His Philosophy of Technology and Environment," in German Culture in Texas, ed. Glen E. Lich and Dona B. Reeves (Boston: Twayne, 1980).

  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
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  • Activism and Social Reform
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Terry G. Jordan, “Kapp, Ernst,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kapp-ernst.

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April 14, 2016