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Adam Politzer

Born  1835
Died  1920

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Austrian otologist, born October 1, 1835, Alberti, Hungary; died August 10, 1920, Vienna.

Biography of Adam Politzer

Adam Politzer was born in Albertirsa, about 35 km from Budapest. Little is known about his background, except that his father was a well-to-do Jewish merchant (some say he was a teacher), his grandfather a surgeon. As a young man he developed interests in both languages, particularly Latin and Italian, and science. He also had a love of art and had a great deal of artistic talent.

He studied in Vienna, particularly under Josef Skoda (1805-1881), Karl von Rokitansky (1804-1878), Johann Ritter von Oppolzer (1808-1871), and Carl Ludwig (1816-11895). Johann von Oppolzer was a professor who took special interest in Politzer. Oppolzer was an internist who made sickbed teaching, for which the Vienna School was known, so popular. Politzer received his doctorate at Vienna in 1859 and subsequently worked in Carl Ludwig's laboratory, where he undertook experiments in the physical principles involved in the auditory system. It was in Ludwig's laboratory that he introduced the method known as politzerisation. Politzer published his findings in 1861. Due to this experiment, practitioners were now able to treat ear diseases through his innovation of politzerisation rather than trying to do the difficult procedure of passing a catheter into the torus of the eustachian tube. Worldwide use of the politzerisation technique thus made Politzer very well known.

Politzer then trained with Anton Friedrich Freiherr von Troeltsch (1829–1890 in Würzburg, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821–1894) in Heidelberg, Claude Bernard (1813–1878) in Paris, and with Karl Rudolf König. Later, under the tutelage of Rudolf Albert von Kölliker (1817–1905) in Würzburg, and Joseph Toynbee (1815–1866) in London, Politzer learned microscopy.

Already four years after graduation, in 1863 he established the first clinic in the world devoted to the treatment of ear diseases. He was joined by Josef Gruber (1827–1900), who was in charge of the male patients, while Politzer housed a ward with only female patients. Politzer became a Dozent of otology at the University of Vienna in 1861, and ausserordentlicher professor of otology in 1870. The same title was awarded Josef Gruber. The two worked jointly, but not without friction, and when The University of Vienna Aural Clinic (Allgemeines Krankenhaus) was established in 1871, Adam Politzer and Josef Gruber were again promoted and appointed joint directors.

His teaching soon attracted large audiences. In 1873 he took over leadership of the university otological clinic at the Wiener allgemeines Krankenhaus, the first specialised otological clinic in the world, and lectured there from 1894 to 1906, becoming full professor in 1895, sole leader from 1898. Besides his hospital and university duties, Politzer attended his private clinic, which attracted patients from all over the world. In order to obtain a larger material for study, Politzer in 1864 persuaded the mayor of Vienna, Dr. Seeler, to allow him to treat indigent ear patients at the charity hospital, along with the population of the local home for the elderly. Politzer retired in 1907. At his retirement celebration 500 physicians from around the world showed up.

Politzer left the University og Vienna a fine collection of pathological-anatomical specimens of the hearing organ. However, he died in poverty, due to personal financial problems and the devaluation of Austrian currency after WWI. The financial situation in Austria at the time was similar to that of Germany a few years later, and no less devastating.


  • Die Beleuchtungsbilder des Trommelfells im gesunden und kranken Zustande.
    Wien, W. Braumüller, 1865. English translation, New York, 1869.
    This work laid the foundation for the classification and clinical diagnosis of aural diseases on a modern basis. Inspection of the tympanic membrane was a new diagnostic concept endorsed by Politzer whose intent was to create a teaching tool for the general practitioner in the diagnosis of ear disease. Politzer made the sketches himself, being a master of the brush and ink. The artist Carl Heitzmann then drew the chromolithographs. The book showed Politzer to be a complete clinician who made contemporary morphological as well as experimental methods subservient to the goals of otology.
  • Zehn Wandtafeln zur Anatomie des Gehörorgans. Wien, 1873.
  • Lehrbuch der Ohrenheilkunde.
    Stuttgart, F. Enke, 1878, 1882, 1893, 1902, 1908.
    English translation: Diseases of the ear and adjacent organs. Philadelphia, Henry C. Lea's Son & Co., 1883.
    This work became the most outstanding textbook of the ear in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its scope and content made it a historical document even in its own time. Today we note that basic material in anatomy and physiology are still relevant and useful. At the time of publication it was praised for its uniformity, conciseness, and harmonious treatment of the subject. It contained numerous illustrations along with an excellent bibliography.
  • Die anatomische und histologische Zergliederung des menschlichen Gehörorgans im normalen und kranken Zustande. Wien, 1889.
  • On a peculiar affection of the labyrinthine capsule as a frequent cause of deafness.
    Transactions of the 1st Pan-American medical Congress (1893), 1895, pt. 3: 1607–1608.
    First report of otosclerosis as a separate clinical entity.
  • Atlas der Beleuchtungsbilder des Trommelfells. Wien, 1899.
  • Geschichte der Ohrenheilkunde. 2 volumes. Stuttgart, F. Enke, 1907 and 1913.
    Reprinted in Hildesheim, 1967. English translation of volume 1, Phoenix, Columnella Press, 1981.
  • Atlas und Grundriss der Ohrenheilkunde. Unter Mitwirkung von A. Politzer herausgegeben von Gustav Brühl. München, 1901. Volume 24 of Lehmanns Medizinische Handatlanten.
We thank Rudolf Kleinert, Bad Reichenhall, Germany, for information submitted.

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