- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Wilhelm His

Born  1831
Died  1904

Related eponyms

Swiss anatomist and embryologist, born July 9, 1831, Basel; died May 1, 1904.

Biography of Wilhelm His

Wilhelm His was educated in Basel and Bern, in Berlin under Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) and Robert Remak (1815-1865), in Würzburg under Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), and also studied in Prague and Vienna. He obtained his medical doctorate in 1854, and was habilitated in Basel two years later. In 1857 he became professor ordinarius of anatomy and physiology at Basel. In 1872 he moved to Leipzig to assume the chair of anatomy. Here he also had a strong influence on planning of the new anatomical institute that was opened in Liebigstrasse in 1875.

His took a part in the founding of the journal Archiv für Anthropologie, and in 1876-1878, with Christian Wilhelm Braune (1831-1892), established the journal Zeitschrift für Anatomie und Entwicklungsgeschichte. He remained the editor of this also after it became the anatomical part of the Archiv für Anatomie und Physiologie. He published many papers in this journal, as well as in Abhandlungen der Königlich sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, in particular on the developmental history of the nervous system.

His taught at the universities of Basel (1857-72) and Leipzig (1872-1904), where he founded an institute of anatomy. In 1865 His invented the microtome, a mechanical device used to slice thin tissue sections for microscopic examination.

Wilhelm His created the science of histogenesis, or the study of the embryonic origins of different types of animal tissue. He is also one of the originators of the neuron theory. In October 1886, he put forward the idea that the nerve-cell body and its prolongations form an independent unit. In 1889 he coined the term dendrite for some of the appendices in nerve cells.

Wilhelm His succeeded in demonstrating that human remains found in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig were in fact those of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). He thus showed that Bach was of medium build He helped the sculptor Carl Seffner create a possibly authentical Bach monument that still stands outside the Thomaskirche. This was unveiled in 1908.

    "For the progress and success of one's own intellectual labours it is more advantageous to be burdened with a moderate number of obligations than to possess absolute freedom. In particular I have often found that at the beginning of a desired vacation, simultaneously with the appearance of the ability to dispose freely of one's time, there is also a relaxation of intellectual tension which can only be overcome gradually and by compulsion."
    Lebenserinnerungen, "Abschluss der Studienzeit".

    «Ich bin nicht für ein blindes Hinwegräumen aller Studienschranken, für ein Loslassen aller Realschüler und Frauen auf unsere edle und schwierige Wissenschaft.»
    Prof Dr. med. Wilhelm His (1831-1905)

His son, Wilhelm His Jr. (1863-1934) became a famous biochemist, internist and cardiologist. In 1887, he discovered the body's ability to methylate organic compounds by isolating N-methyl pyridinium hydroxide from the urine of dogs dosed with pyridine acetate. He is best remembered for his discovery in 1893 of the specialized muscle fibres, known as the "bundle of His", the only known direct connection between the ventricles and the atria that conducts impulses to the ventricular heart muscle. In 1907, he became director of the First Medical Clinic Charité in Berlin. He pioneered studies in cardiac conduction and coined the term "heart block", which he identified as the cause of Adams-Stokes syncopes. He also campaigned to promote disclosure of the composition of proprietary drugs.

We thank Guido Constant Miescher, Switzerland, for information submitted.


  • Beiträge zur normalen und pathologischen Anatomie der Cornea. 1856.
  • Untersuchungen über den Bau der Lymphdrüsen.
    Leipzig, W. Engelmann, 1861.
    Histology of the lymphatics. He himself drew the illustrations.
  • Ueber das Epithel der Lymphgefässwurzeln und über die von Recklinghausen'schen Saftcanälchen.
    Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftliche Zoologie, 1863, 13: 455-473.
  • Crania helvetica, Sammlung schweizerischer Schädelformen.
    With Ludwig Rütimeyer (1825-1895).
    7 Hefte in one volume. Basel und Genf, H. Georg, 1864.
    In 2000 this extremely rare book was on sale for 2.280 Swiss Francs, about $1.600.
  • Beobachtungen über den Bau des Säugethier-Eierstockes.
    Archiv für mikroskopische Anatomie, Bonn, 1865, 1: 151-202.
    His was the greatest of the 19th-century embryologists.
  • Die Häute und Höhlen des Körpers. Basel, Schwighauser, 1865.
    A new classification of tissues based on histogenesis. In the present work, His put forth the basic concepts of tissue embryology. Using serial sections and three-dimensional models to illustrate his theories, he showed that the serous spaces in the embryo are mesodermal in origin and that they are lined by the special layer which he was the first to term "endothelial"
  • Ueber die erste Anlage des Wirbelthierleibes. 1868.
  • Theorie der geschlechtlichen Zeugung. Archiv für Anthropologie, 1869, 1870.
  • Beschreibung eines Mikrotoms.
    Archiv für mikroskopische Anatomie, Bonn, 1870, 6: 229-232.
    His was, more than any other man, responsible for the introduction of the microtome, although Louis Antoine Ranvier (1835-1922) and other Frenchmen had earlier employed microtomes of simpler types.
  • Unsere Körperform und das physiologische Problem ihrer Entstehung. 1875.
  • Anatomie menschlicher Embryonen.
    3 parts and atlas. Leipzig, F. C. W. Vogel, 1880-1885.
    This first accurate and exhaustive study of the development of the human embryo stimulated further investigation in a field in which His stood highest among his contemporaries. He was the first to study the human embryo as a whole.
  • Zur Geschichte der menschlichen Rückenmarkes und der Nervenwurzeln. 1886.
    Abhandlungen der Königlichen sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-physische Classe, Leipzig, (1886), 1887, 13: 477-514.
    His discovery (1886) that each nerve fibre stems from a single nerve cell was essential to the development of the neuron theory, which states that the neuron, or nerve cell, is the basic unit of the nervous system.
  • Zur Geschichte des Gehirns sowie der zentralen und peripherischen Nervenbahnen. 1888.
  • Die Neuroblasten und deren Entstehung im embryonalen Mark. 1889.
  • Die Formentwicklung des menschlichen Vorderhirns am Ende des 1. bis zum Beginn des 3. Monat. 1889.
  • Die Formentwicklung des menschlichen Rautenhirns am Ende des 1. bis zum Beginn des 3. Monat. 1891.
  • Anatomische Forschung über Johann Sebastian Bach's Gebeine und Antlitz nebst Bemerkungen über dessen Bilder. 1895.
  • Die anatomische Nomenklatur. Leipzig, Veit & Co., 1895.
    English translation by F. Barker, 1907.
    His was largely responsible for the Basel Nomina Anatomica, the first attempt to produce a standard anatomical nomenclature.
  • Über Zellen- und Syncytienbildung. Studien an Salmonidenkeim.
    Abhandlungen der Königlichen sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Leipzig, 1898.
  • Protoplasmastudien am Salmonidenkeim.
    Abhandlungen der Königlichen sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Leipzig, 1899.
  • Beobachtungen zur Geschichte der Nasen- und Gaumenbildung beim menschlichen Embryo. Leipzig, B.G. Teubner, 1901.
  • Lecithoblast und angioblast der wirbelthiere : histogenetische studien.
    Leipzig : B. G. Teubner, 1900.
    In the series: Abhandlungen der mathematisch-physische Classe der Königlich sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, volume 26, no. 4.
  • Das Princip der organbildenden Keimbezirke und die Verwandtschaften der Gewebe; historisch-kritische Bemerkungen.
    Offprint from Archiv für Anatomie und Physiologie. Anatomische Abtheilung, 1901.
  • Lebenserinnerungen. Leipzig, 1903. Works relating to the neuron theory:
  • Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930):
    The structure and combination of the histological elements of the central nervous system.
    Bergens Museums Aarsberetning, 1886, 29-214.
    Nansen, better known for Polar exploration, was the first to point out that the posterior root fibres divide on entering the spinal cord into ascending and descending branches.
  • Wilhelm His:
    Zur Geschichte der menschlichen Rückenmarkes und der Nervenwurzeln. 1886.
    Abhandlungen der Königlichen sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, mathematisch-physische Classe, Leipzig, (1886), 1887, 13: 477-514.
    He clearly stated the neuron theory in 1886.
  • Auguste Henri Forel (1848-1931):
    Einige hirnanatomische Betrachtungen und Ergebnisse.
    Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, Berlin, 1887, 18: 162-198.
    Independently of Wilhelm His, Forel formulated the Neuron theory. Nansen, His and Forel share the priority in establishing the anatomical independence of the nerve cell.
  • Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934):
    Nuevas aplicaciones del metodo de coloración de Golgi.Barcelona, 1888.
    Nuevo concepto de la histologia de los centros nerviosos.
    Revista de ciencias medicas, Barcelona, 1892, 18: 457-476.
  • Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried Waldeyer-Hartz:
    Ueber einige neuere Forschungen im Gebiete der Anatomie des Centralnervensystems.
    Deutsche medicinische Wochenschrift, Berlin, 1891: 17: 1213-1218, 1244-1246, 1287-1289, 1331-1332, 1350-1356. A statement of the neuron theory, to which Waldeyer gave the name. Biographical
  • Albrecht Ludwig Agathon Wernich (1843-1896):
    Wilhelm His. In: August Hirsch, publisher: Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker. Urban & Schwarzenberg. 2nd edition. Berlin, 1929. Volume 3: 240.
    First published in 6 volumes 1884-1888. 3rd edition, München 1962.
  • No author listed:
    Wilhelm His. In: Julius Pagel, publisher: Biographisches Lexikon hervorragender Ärzte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin and Vienna, 1901. Pp. 748.

What is an eponym?

An eponym is a word derived from the name of a person, whether real or fictional. A medical eponym is thus any word related to medicine, whose name is derived from a person.

What is Whonamedit?

Whonamedit.com is a biographical dictionary of medical eponyms. It is our ambition to present a complete survey of all medical phenomena named for a person, with a biography of that person.


Whonamedit? does not give medical advice.
This survey of medical eponyms and the persons behind them is meant as a general interest site only. No information found here must under any circumstances be used for medical purposes, diagnostically, therapeutically or otherwise. If you, or anybody close to you, is affected, or believe to be affected, by any condition mentioned here: see a doctor.