Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried Waldeyer-Hartz

Born 1836
Died 1921

Related eponyms


German anatomist, born October 6, 1836, Hehlen an der Weser, Braunschweig; died January 23, 1921, Berlin. Formally, his complete name is: Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried von Waldeyer-Hartz, but he never used the formal term of von.

Biography of Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried Waldeyer-Hartz

Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried Waldeyer named the chromosome in 1888 , and in 1891 he proposed the neuron theory of the nervous system.

He was the son of Johann Gottfried Waldeyer, an estate manager, and Wilhelmine von Hartz, the daughter of a schoolteacher. He received his early education at Paderborn, then in 1856 entered the University of Göttingen to study mathematics and natural sciences. However, through his acquaintance with the great anatomist Friedrich Gustav Jacob Henle (1809-1885), whose lectures he attended, he was influenced to change his study, and commenced the study of medicine under Henle in Göttingen

Waldeyer attended the University of Göttingen from 1856 to 1859. However, he was unable to complete his studies at Göttingen, since it was the university of the kingdom of Hannover and did not, at that time, grant examination certificates to Prussians. He therefore transferred to Greifswald, where he was assistant in the anatomical institute under Julius Ludwig Budge (1811-1888) and frequented the clinics of Heinrich Adolf von Bardeleben (1819-1895), Felix Von Niemeyer (1820-1871), and Hugo Rühle (1824-1888).

From Greifswald he moved on to Berlin, drawn by the reputation of Karl Bogislav Reichert (1811-1884), the anatomist and embryologist. In Berlin he also attended the lectures and clinics of Emil Heinrich Du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896), Johann Christian Jüngken (1793-1875), and Friedrich Theodor von Frerichs (1819-1885). Believing that a sound knowledge of embryology was essential to an anatomist, Waldeyer finished his studies with Reichert, under whose direction he prepared a doctoral dissertation on the structure of function of the clavicle. He obtained his doctorate in 1861, and his dissertation was published in 1862. That year he also passed his state examination.

Waldeyer then went to the University of Königsberg in Prussia as an assistant under Wilhelm von Wittich (1821-1882) in the department of physiology. He also taught histology, and became acquainted with the anatomist and physiologist Friedrich Leopold Goltz (1834-1902). In 1864 he moved on to the same position with Rudolf Heidenhain (1834-1897) at the University of Breslau (Wroclaw), where he had been appointed lecturer in anatomy and physiology and was also responsible for a service department in pathology.

In 1865, aged twenty-nine, he was appointed as ausserordentlicher professor of pathology and director of a department of post-mortem investigations. In 1866, soon after he received this post, Waldeyer married Emilie Dillenburger in Breslau. In 1868 he was appointed to the chair of pathology at Breslau. In 1868 Carl Weigert (1845-1904) was his assistant. His work at this time was chiefly concentrated on the diagnosis of early cancer, and won him considerable renown; in 1887 he was one of the German doctors called upon to diagnose Emperor Frederick III’s tumour of the vocal cords.

In 1872 Waldeyer went to the University of Strasbourg. The conquest of Alsace by Prussia in the preceding year had resulted in the forced resignation of French professors from that university, and both Waldeyer, who was appointed to the chair of anatomy, and Goltz, who became professor of physiology, were among the Germans who were installed in their stead. The staff also included teachers like Friedrich Daniel von Recklinghausen (1833-1910) and Adolf Kussmaul (1822-1902)l, all contributing greatly to making the medical faculty more attractive. In 1877 he Waldeyer directed Ludwig Edinger (1855-1918) in his initial studies, and influenced Bernhard Sachs (1858-1944), of Tay-Sachs repute. Sachs quoted a comment of Wilhelm von Waldeyer-Hartz (1836-1921) who did not like any of the textbooks of anatomy except Josef Hyrtl's (1810-1894) because “it contains anecdotes: you will remember the anecdotes and promptly forget the anatomy.”

Waldeyer remained at Strasbourg for eleven years, then, in 1883, returned to Berlin to succeed Reichert at the Charité. At Berlin he found an outdated laboratory and a large number of students, but he proved to be a highly successful administrator and teacher, deeply engaged in the efforts of building the institute of anatomy, and remained there as director of the anatomy department for over thirty-three years. His academic duties required his full time and energies, and after his relocation in Berlin Waldeyer performed little original research. He was an excellent teacher of both anatomy and histology, however, and he and his student Johannes Sobotta (1869-1945) offered courses that must remain unsurpassed in their careful and varied presentation.

From 1896 to 1919 he was secretary to the mathematisch- physikalische Klasse der Akademie der Königlich- preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, and 1898/99 he was rector of the Friedrich-Wilhelm- Universität Berlin. He taught anatomy to more than 20.000 students. However, he was a strong opponent of women's right to study, and arranged for a separate dissection room for women.

He published a significant number of papers on a wide variety of morphological subjects, including studies of the urogenital system, anthropology, the spinal cord of the gorilla, and topographical observations of the pelvis. He was receptive to new ideas, and quickly grasped the importance of, for example, the neurohistological studies of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934).

Today, Wilhelm von Waldeyer-Hartz is remembered as the founder of the neurone theory, coining the term "neurone" to describe the cellular function unit of the nervous system and enunciating and clarifying that concept in 1891. In 1873, Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) devised the silver nitrate method of straining nerve tissue. The nitrate stain system allowed him to prove the existence of a specific kind of nerve cell, which later became known as the Golgi cells. This cell contains many branching dendrites and connects other nerve cells to one another. By proving that the Golgi cell does exist, the Wilhelm Von Waldeyer-Hartz was able to postulate and Ramon y Cajal was able to establish that the nerve cell is the basic structural unit of the nervous system.

He also coined the term “chromosome” (1888) to describe the bodies in the nucleus of cells and invented a number of embryological terms, including those describing the structure of developing teeth that are still in use. Waldeyer also published the first description – both embryological and functional – of the naso-oro-pharyngeal lymphatic tissue;

Waldeyer remained at the University of Berlin until he was eighty years old, carrying out all the duties that his position imposed. He remained physically and mentally fit until his death, following a stroke, five years later. Of the four children who survived him, none entered medicine or science.

Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried von Waldeyer-Hartz was raised to the nobility in 1916, but did not use the formal form of von. He lived in Lutherstraße 35 (1892). The Waldeyerstrasse in Friedrichshain, between Frankfurter Allee and Pettenkoferstraß, was named in his honour as early as in 1907.

We thank Bob Penhale for correcting an error in the original entry.

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