Richard Willstätter

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Richard Willstätter, around 1916

Richard Martin Willstätter (born August 13, 1872 in Karlsruhe , Grand Duchy of Baden ; died August 3, 1942 in Muralto , Canton Ticino ) was a German chemist. In 1915 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry . From 1939 he lived as an emigrant in Switzerland.


Richard Willstätter grew up in Karlsruhe and Nuremberg in a wealthy Jewish merchant family. After the family moved to Nuremberg in 1883, he attended the royal Bavarian secondary school there from 1884 . There he also joined the student association Red-White-Red Absolvia . After graduating from high school in 1890, he began his scientific career.

In 1903 Richard Willstätter married the professor's daughter Sophie, née Reader, from Heidelberg. Their children Ludwig and Margarete were born in Zurich in 1904 and 1905. His wife died in Zurich as early as 1908 (who was admitted to the Krönlein clinic too late with acute appendicitis .) His son Ludwig died in a diabetic coma in a Berlin hospital in 1915 . Richard Willstätter did not remarry. His daughter Margarete Willstätter studied physics in Munich and did her doctorate with Arnold Sommerfeld . In early 1925 he commissioned the architect Oswald Bieber to build his Munich villa at Möhlstrasse 29. Richard Willstätter fled to Switzerland in 1939 and died there in 1942. His daughter Margarete emigrated to the USA in 1936 and died there in 1964 in Winnebago (Illinois).

Education and university career

Willstätter at the Munich Institute of Adolf von Baeyer shortly before his doctorate, in the picture on the right above Baeyer or behind the laboratory servant (1893)
Willstätter in the new Berlin laboratory of the KWI for Chemistry, on the left his assistant Arthur Stoll (1913)
Willstätter's teacher Adolf von Baeyer in front of the new Willstätter building in 1922

After graduation Richard Willstätter studied chemistry at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich with Adolf von Baeyer and was in 1894 when Alfred Einhorn in Munich for his thesis "On the Constitution and Reduction of p-Methylendihydrobenzoesäure" doctorate . It was not until 20 years later that Willstätter was able to fully clarify the constitution of the cocaine on which it was based .

After his habilitation in 1896 with "Investigations in the Troping Group" he worked as a private lecturer until 1902, when he was appointed by Baeyer as extraordinary professor and successor to Johannes Thiele in Munich. In 1905 he accepted the chair for general chemistry at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich .

From October 1912 on, Richard Willstätter became a scientific member of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem. Fritz Haber had been able to win him over to a leading role in this newly founded and purely research institution of the German Reich through his correspondence . As an honorary professor, he was also authorized to teach at the Chemical Institute of the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin, led by Emil Fischer . In the first half of World War I, its premises were increasingly used as “laboratories of the state” under military aspects. B. from the "test department of the aerial photo command of the airmen and airship troops ". An effective three-phase gas mask filter was developed under Willstätter's direction, for which he was awarded the “ Iron Cross II. Class on the white-black band ” in early 1917 .

On September 4, 1915, Richard Willstätter received a call to the Ludwig Maximilians University to succeed the emeritus Adolf von Baeyer in Munich, which he accepted immediately. His successor in Berlin was Alfred Stock . On April 1, 1916, Willstätter took up his new position as full professor in Munich and became director of the state chemical laboratory. Willstätter's official apartment was a “splendid house” on Arcisstrasse. When Fischer died three years later in Berlin, Willstätter was offered his successor in Berlin in vain. Both Nobel Prize winners, Willstätter and Fischer, had had a lively correspondence since 1901. In 1921/22 Willstätter initiated a large extension ("Willstätter Building") at the Munich Institute with a large Baeyer monument in the access area.

In mid-1924, Willstätter was elected President of the German Chemical Society in Berlin as the successor to Fritz Haber for two years ; his deputies in these two terms were Max Bodenstein , Heinrich Wieland , Willy Marckwald and Fritz Raschig . Willstätter suffered greatly from the anti-Semitic actions taking place in Munich. There were posters like “No young German will be allowed to sit at the feet of a Jewish teacher” or “German students, don't let foreign teachers teach you” on the walls of the university. In the context of the Munich Hitler putsch of November 1923, he experienced a burgeoning "riot anti-Semitism " on the street, which also found fertile ground in academic circles. During this time Richard Kuhn , a sympathizer of this movement, worked with him on his habilitation. Within the faculty, there were internal anti-Semitic actions against Willstätter in 1924 in connection with a proposed successor to Victor Goldschmidt for the emeritus crystallograve Paul von Groth . Willstätter's friends, the surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch (from 1928 in Berlin, before that in Munich, where they had met as part of a treatment for Willstätter's daughter by Sauerbruch) and the internist Friedrich von Müller , defended him as best they could; Sauerbruch's academic student Rudolf Nissen witnessed a solidarity meeting among Willstätter's students, a declaration on which 337 students had signed.

After Willstätter had asked the university department to be released from the Bavarian civil service on July 14, 1924 due to the previous events, he resigned as full professor at the end of the summer semester of 1925 (despite attempts to change his mind from among his students and colleagues) some professors, in particular the physicist Wilhelm Wien , attached more weight to anti-Semitic considerations than scientific achievements in appointment procedures. After his resignation, he moved into a smaller house in Möhlstrasse that he had built based on the model of his house in Arcisstrasse. He spent a few vacations together with his friend Sauerbruch. The two were also friends with the industrialist Carl Duisberg . In the winter semester of 1925/26, Heinrich Wieland from Freiburg took up Willstätters chair successor and Richard Kuhn took up a private lecturer position for general and analytical chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

In 1926, Wieland made it possible for Willstätter's doctoral students and private lecturer Heinrich Kraut to complete their academic work, which meant that Willstätter could continue to supervise them. From 1928 Margarete Rohdewald (1900–1994) remained loyal to him as a private assistant for ten years. Until 1932 he was able to publish previously unpublished results and review articles in German-language journals. Until his flight from Germany, foreign companies supported his reputation with numerous honors for the Nobel Prize winner from 1915. In June 1933 he was still referred to as the “world leader in organic chemistry” in the USA.

After Hitler's speech in the Reichstag on January 30, 1939 and previous racist persecution, Willstätter fled to Switzerland on March 4, 1939, losing almost all of his property . With the help of his former and most successful colleague Arthur Stoll, he became a scientific advisor at Sandoz in Basel. Richard Willstätter spent the last three years of his life in Locarno .

Willstätters research focus

Willstätter's interest was focused on problems of general scientific importance, that is, life processes or biochemistry - a topic that is still topical to this day. His main research areas were the dye chemistry of chlorophyll , hemoglobin , anthocyanins and the beginnings of biochemistry. With means that seem simple today, he tackled problems that opened up new territory at the time. His research was successful because he planned the experiments clearly and took the view that nature should be explored using gentle, natural methods. It is essential for the assessment of Willstätter's scientific achievement that he made epoch-making discoveries in classical organic chemistry as well as working on complex, novel questions - as in his studies on chlorophyll, photosynthesis and enzymes  .

Willstätter's pioneering work

Willstätter did pioneering work in the field of organic chemistry. He specialized in the study of complex organic compounds, including chlorophyll and enzymes. He succeeded in the multi-step total synthesis of the alkaloid cocaine. He was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1915 for his investigations into the dyes in the plant kingdom , especially chlorophyll and anthocyanidins .

Memorial plaque on House Faradayweg 10, Berlin-Zehlendorf

Scientific awards and honors

  • Honorary doctorates
1913 Dr. med. hc from the University of Halle
1918 Dr.-Ing. hc from the Technical University of Munich
1922 Dr.-Ing. hc from the Technical University of Darmstadt
1922 Dr. phil. nat. hc from the University of Frankfurt a. M.
1925 Dr. hc of technical sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich , Switzerland
1928 D. Sc. hon. of Manchester University , England
1931 Dr. hc of technical sciences of the German Technical University in Prague, Czechoslovak Republic
  • Awards
1914 Adolf von Baeyer commemorative coin from the Association of German Chemists
1915 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his "Investigations of the dyes in the plant kingdom, especially the chlorophyll"
1920 appointment to the " secret council "
1924 Pour le Mérite for Science and the Arts
1925 Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art
1927 Faraday Lectureship Prize from the Royal Chemical Society , London
1932 Davy Medal from the Royal Society in London
1932 Goethe Medal for Art and Science
1933 Willard Gibbs Medal from the American Chemical Society
  • other
1910 corresponding member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences , from 1920 external member
1914 full member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences , from 1916 honorary member, from 1926 external member, on July 13, 1939 cancellation.
1914 corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences , from 1916 full member - exclusion 1938/39
1919 Member of the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina - expelled 1938/39
1920 Foreign member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences
1922 honorary citizen of the Technical University of Karlsruhe
1923 Foreign member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome
1923 Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences ; Honorary member from 1929
In 1924 and 1925 he was elected President of the German Chemical Society .
1926 Foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA
1926 Foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in Haarlem
1927 Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
1928 Foreign member of the Royal Society in London
1932 honorary member of the Leopoldina
1932 honorary citizen of the Technical University of Stuttgart
1932 Foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm
1934 Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston
1936 Foreign member of the Indian Academy of Science in Bangalore,
1936 Foreign member of the Physiological Society in England
1936 Foreign member of the Society of Biological Chemistry in India
  • posthumously
1964 Richard-Willstätter Allee in Karlsruhe
1965 renaming of the former royal. Realgymnasium in Willstätter-Gymnasium Nürnberg.
1975 Swedish Postage Stamp (90 ore)
1993 to date annual Richard Willstätter lecture by the Society of German Chemists in Germany and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Web links

Commons : Richard Willstätter  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Richard Willstätter  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Father: Max Willstätter (1840–1912), mother: Sophie, b. Ulmann (1849–1928), a brother.
  2. Annual report of the Realgymnasium school year 1888/1889, Willstätter's penultimate school year.
  3. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff : That was my life. Kindler & Schiermeyer, Bad Wörishofen 1951; cited: Licensed edition for Bertelsmann Lesering, Gütersloh 1956, p. 288 f.
  4. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff: That was my life. (1951) 1956, p. 289.
  5. ^ Villa Willstätter . - From the winter semester 1925/26, Richard Willstätter and his daughter Margarete lived in the two-storey building.
  6. R. Rürup, Schicksale und Karrieren: Memorial book for the researchers expelled from the KWG by the National Socialists. Because of her place of birth in Zurich, she was a Swiss citizen.
  7. ^ Results from A. Einhorn and R. Willstätter: About the isomeric p-methylenedihydrobenzoic acids . In: Reports of the German Chemical Society . 27 : 2823-2829 (1894). doi : 10.1002 / cber.18940270338 .
  8. ^ Letter from Haber-Willstätter 1910–1934 ( Memento from January 6, 2016 in the Internet Archive ).
  9. Communications . In: Angewandte Chemie . 30 , p. W384 (1917). doi : 10.1002 / anie.19170306003
  10. Chronology of the KWI for Chemistry in Berlin .
  11. ^ Hochschulnachrichten Chair succession on April 1, 1916. In: Angewandte Chemie . 28 , page W 384 (1915). doi : 10.1002 / anie.19150285404 .
  12. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff: That was my life. Kindler & Schiermeyer, Bad Wörishofen 1951; cited: Licensed edition for Bertelsmann Lesering, Gütersloh 1956, p. 288.
  13. ^ Wilhelm Schlenk took over the chair from Emil Fischer in 1921.
  14. Correspondence between Fischer and Willstätter 1901–1918 ( memento from January 6, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) in the university network .
  15. By Hermann Hahn (sculptor) , today in House F of the new building of the Chemistry Department of the LMU in Munich-Großhadern.
  16. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff: That was my life. Kindler & Schiermeyer, Bad Wörishofen 1951; cited: Licensed edition for Bertelsmann Lesering, Gütersloh 1956, p. 289 f.
  17. Historical Lexicon Bavaria .
  18. ^ Habilitation thesis R. Kuhn 1925 "Contribution to the configuration problem of strength" .
  19. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff: That was my life. Kindler & Schiermeyer, Bad Wörishofen 1951; cited: Licensed edition for Bertelsmann Lesering, Gütersloh 1956, p. 288.
  20. ^ Richard Willstätter: From my life , Verlag Chemie, Weinheim / Bergstrasse, 2nd reprint of the 2nd edition, 1973, p. 344f, ISBN 3-527-25322-X .
  21. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff: That was my life. Kindler & Schiermeyer, Bad Wörishofen 1951; cited: Licensed edition for Bertelsmann Lesering, Gütersloh 1956, pp. 289–292.
  22. Historical LMU personal directories 1925 (p. 36) and 1925/26 (p. 37). - At the Ludwig Maximilians University from 1892 the chemistry and pharmacy departments were no longer medicine. Faculty, but assigned to the Phil. Faculty. The designation "Philosophical Faculty (II. Section)" was introduced to differentiate. - Willstätter's institute at Arcisstrasse 1 is referred to in the historical registers as the “ State's chemical laboratory ”, although Willstätter's publications invariably use the name “ Chemisches Laboratorium der Bayer. Academy of Sciences in Munich ”.
  23. Willstätter: From my life , 1973, p. 343f
  24. ^ Ferdinand Sauerbruch, Hans Rudolf Berndorff: That was my life. (1951) 1956, p. 292.
  25. ETH database entry for R. Kuhn .
  26. Willstätter: From my life , 1973, pp. 355f.
  27. Margarete Rohdewald (April 1, 1900 in Düsseldorf - 1994), - stud. in Freiburg, Munich (SS 24 - SS 26), Zurich (from WS 26/27?), - Inaugural dissertation “ On vegetable and animal saccharases ”, submitted on October 1, 1928 LMU Munich phil. Faculty (II section), dissertation 1929, reporter: Prof. Dr. H. Wieland (1877-1957). - Habil. 1953 and professorship at the University of Bonn.
  28. ^ B. Witkop, Memories of Heinrich Wieland , page 11.
  29. Willard Gibbs Medal 1933 .
  30. DIE ZEIT of January 27, 1989 . - Original text of Hitler's speech on January 30, 1939 .
  31. Willstätter: From my life , 1949, p. 413.
  32. VDCh awards
  33. See also LMU personal directories, WS 1922/23 p. 58.
  34. Admission to the Order Pour le mérite on January 31, 1924 ( Memento of January 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  35. Admission to the Bayer. Maximilian Order
  36. ^ Faraday Lectureship Prize winners
  37. ^ Davy Medal, complete list of all winners
  38. ^ Description of the original Goethe medal up to 1934
  39. Press release in The Chemical Bulletin June 1933 . - Willard Gibbs Medal 1933 . - Picture of the presentation on September 13, 1933 . - FW Breuer and FC Whitmore, Richard Willstatter, Willard Gibbs Medalist for 1933 in The Scientific Monthly 37 , 376-377 (1933).
  40. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 261.
  41. ^ Database of the Preuss. academy
  42. Bayer database. academy
  43. Leopoldina members with Nobel Prize
  44. ^ Royal Danish Academy of Sciences on April 9, 1920.
  45. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei - Annual Volume 2014, p. 492
  46. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724: Willstätter, Richard Martin. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed April 23, 2020 (Russian).
  47. See General Assembly Reports in April j. Year, printed in Ber. d. German Chem. Ges. - Willstätter's term of office lasted from June 1, 1924 to May 30, 1926, successors from June 1, 1926 Wilhelm Schlenk and from June 1, 1928 Heinrich Wieland .
  48. ^ National Academy of Sciences - Membership
  49. Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences cannot be verified , it is possible that it was deleted after the occupation of the Netherlands by the National Socialists.
  50. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed April 23, 2020 .
  51. ^ Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences . - Date 1932 cannot be verified.
  52. ^ American Academy of Arts and Sciences Directory of Members, p. 264
  53. 90 ore - postage stamp (Sweden)
  54. GDCh: Name Lectures , accessed on January 14, 2018.