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Johannes Friedrich August von Esmarch

Born  1823
Died  1908

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German surgeon, born January 9, 1823, Tönning, Schleswig-Holstein; died February 23, 1908, Kiel.

Biography of Johannes Friedrich August von Esmarch

Johannes Friedrich August von Esmarch was the first to introduce a first-aid kit on the battlefield.

He was the son of Physikus Theophilius Christian Kaspar Esmarch (died 1864). He matriculated at the University of Kiel and completed his education at Göttingen. He qualified as a physician and obtained his medical doctorate at Kiel on October 7, 1848, after having been an assistant to Bernhard Rudolf Konrad von Langenbeck (1810-1887) at the Kiel surgical hospital since 1846.

In 1848 Esmarch was called up to serve as a junior surgeon in the war against Denmark. He was taken prisoner by the Danes, but afterwards exchanged, and was then appointed as surgeon to a field hospital. During the truce of 1949 he qualified as a Privatdozent at Kiel, but on the fresh outbreak of war he returned to the troops and was promoted to the rank of senior surgeon.

After the war he returned to Kiel where he was director of the surgical clinic from 1854, and was appointed head of the general hospital and professor of surgery in 1857. He remained in this position until 1899.

In 1864 he once more participated in the Schleswig-Holstein war with Denmark, distinguishing himself with his efforts at the field hospitals of Flensburg, Sundewitt and Kiel. In 1866 he was called to Berlin as a member of the commission on military hospitals and also to take the superintendence of the surgical work in the hospitals there.

When the Franco-German War broke out in 1870, Esmarch was appointed surgeon-general – Generalarzt – to the army. He first worked in Kiel and Hamburg with the organizing of the voluntary aid, and later in Berlin as a consultative surgeon at the great military barracks hospital on Tempelhofer Feld.

Esmarch was one of the greatest authorities on hospital management and military surgery. He introduced first aid training for both military and civilian personnel, and his handbooks of military surgical techniques were the best in the field and were used extensively.

Esmarch was married twice, first to the daughter of his teacher Bernhard Langenbeck and, in 1872, to a royal princess, Henriette von Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augusten¬burg, aunt of Empress Auguste Victoria. The second marriage made him an uncle to Wilhelm II. He was raised to the heritable nobility by Wilhelm II in 1887

When he retired voluntarily in 1899 he was a Geheimrat (Privy Counsellor) and Ober-Medizinalrat and was titulated Exzellenz


  • Über Resectionen nach Schusswunden. Kiel, 1851.
  • Beiträge zur praktischen Chirurgie. Kiel, 1859-1860.
  • Die Anwendung der Kälte in der Chirurgie.
  • Über chronische gelenkentzündungen. 1867.
  • Verbandplatz und Feldlazarett. 1868.
  • Über den Kampf der Humanität gegen die Schrecken des Krieges. 1869.
  • Der erste Verband auf dem Schlachtfelde. 1870.
    Esmarch introduced the first-aid bandage for the battlefield.
  • Über Vorbereitung von Reservelazarethen. 1870.
  • Über Gelenkneurosen. 1872.
  • Die Krankheiten des Mastdarmes und des Afters. 1873.
  • Über künstliche Blutleere bei Operationen. 1873.
    Volkmann’s Sammlung klinischer Vorträge, Leipzig, 1873, 58,
  • Die erste Hilfe bei Verletzungen. 1875.
  • Die antiseptische Wundbehandlung in der Kriegschirurgie.
  • Aphorismen über Krebs.
  • Handbuch der kriegschirurgischen Technik.
    2 volumes. Hannover 1872. 5th edition, 1901.
    This book was written for a prize offered by the empress Augusta, on the occasion of the Vienna Exhibition of 1877, for the best handbook for the battlefield of surgical appliances and operations. It is illustrated by admirable diagrams, showing the different methods of bandaging and dressing, as well as the surgical operations as they occur on the battlefield.
  • Die erste Hilfe bei plötzlichen Unglücksfällen. Ein Leitfaden für Samariter-Schulen in fünf Vorträgen.
    Leipzig, 1882. 8 + 81 pages. Translated into a couple of dozen foreign languages.
    This book is the substance of a course of lectures delivered by him in 1881 to a Samaritan School, the first of the kind in Germany, founded by Esmarch in 1881, in imitation of the St Johns Ambulance classes which had been organized in England in 1878.
  • Elephantiasis. With Keulenkampff. 1885.
  • Samariterbriefe. 1886.

  • Chirurgische Technik. Ergänzungsband zu: Handbuch der kriegschirurgischen Technik enthaltend die übrigen Operationen. With Ludwig Theodor Ernst Kowalzig (born 1863).
    Leipzig : Verlag von Lipsius & Tischer, 1892. 866 pages.
    English translation by Professor Ludwig Heinrich Grau and Willam N. Sullivan, edited by Nicholas Senn (1844-1908):
    Surgical technic : a text-book on operative surgery, with fourteen hundred and ninety-seven illustrations and fifteen colored plates.
    New York : The Macmillan Co., 1901.

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