Astronomer; brother of Giacomo Meyerbeer, the composer, and of Michael Beer, the poet; born in Berlin Jan. 4, 1797; died there March 27, 1850. Wilhelm shared with his brothers the advantages of a liberal and modern education. At the age of sixteen he joined the ranks of the volunteers and took part in the campaigns of 1813 and 1815 against Napoleon. He did not remain long in the military service, but entered the banking-house of his father, whom he succeeded after the death of the latter in 1826. His leisure hours were devoted to the study of astronomy under the guidance of his friend J. H. Mädler, with whose assistance he erected and equipped an excellent private observatory at his villa in the Thiergarten, Berlin.
Beer and Mädler together made a number of observations of the planet Mars during the oppositions of 1828, 1832, 1835, and 1837, and published the results of the first series under the title "Physische Beobachtungen des Mars in der Erdnähe," in 1830. Their most important work was a map of the moon, "Mappa selenographica totam lunæ hemisphæram visibilem complectens observata," in four sheets (Berlin, 1834-36). This map was incomparably superior to anything of its kind previously attempted, being executed with the utmost care and representing years of laborious micrometric measurements. Each landmark discovered on the moon's surface was noted with great precision, and 919 spots and 1,095 determinations of the heights of lunar mountains were measured by the two astronomers, who described the results of their work in "Der Mond nach Seinen Kosmischen und Individuellen Verhältnissen, oder Allgemeine Vergleichende Selenographie" (two vols., with maps, 1837). The map of Beer and Mädler—which is extremely rare to-day—remained for a long time a standard work in selenography.
Another valuable contribution to astronomy by Beer and Mädler appeared in 1841; namely, the "Beiträge zur Physischen Kenntniss Himmlischer Körper im Sonnensystem." This was the last astronomical work in which Beer participated. His friend Mädler accepted a call from the University of Dorpat to take charge of the observatory there; and Beer, without altogether losing interest in the science for which he had done so much, gradually drifted into politics. In 1846 Beer was elected to a seat in the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, and published his political ideas and sentiments in a number of pamphlets, among which was "Die Dreikönigsverfassung in Ihrer Gefahr für Preussen," Berlin, 1849.
- Brockhaus, Konversations-Lexikon, 14th ed.; s.v.;
- Meyer, Konversations-Lexikon, 5th ed.;
- La Grande Encyclopédie;
- Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie.