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Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich

Born  1815
Died  1877

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German clinician, born August 4, 1815, Sulz on the Neckar; died September 25, 1877, Leipzig.

Biography of Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich

Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich was the son of a chief district physician – Oberamtsarzt, later Medcinal-Rath. Following the death of his father in 1824, he moved to Stuttgart with his mother. He graduated from the Gymnasium in 1832. His mother then wanted him to study for the priesthood, but Wunderlich wanted otherwise.
He spent a year in Stuttgart and made the friendship of the psychiatrist and neurologist Wilhelm Griesinger (1817-1868), and the surgeon Wilhelm Roser (1817-1888). In 1833 he entered the University of Tübingen to study medicine. He was not satisfied, however, as all the members of the medical faculty strictly adhered to the ruling system of medicine, ignoring or rejecting the advances made in France and England.

Besides his youth friends Griesinger and Roser, Wunderlich was influenced by the then newly appeared textbook of physiology by Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) and from 1835 by the Privatdozent Albert Friedrich Schill (1812-1839), who communicated many of the latest advances in medical theory and practice, and made English and French works available.

After passing the Rigorosum with distinction in Tübingen in 1837, Wunderlich went to Paris, staying for one year to attend the clinics and lectures of the luminaries of the medical sciences.

From July 1, 1838, Wunderlich held the position of an assistant at the Katherinen-Hospital in Stuttgart. He obtained his doctorate in Tübingen in November 1838. Late in 1839 he went to Paris once more for some months, before staying the winter in Stuttgart, giving lectures to military physicians. The death of Dr. Schill occasioned his habilitation at the University of Tübingen in early 1840. In Tübingen, after having stayed for a sustained period of time in Vienna, he wrote the Wien und Paris, a paper that was met with great attention.

In April 1841, despite some doubts in the medical faculty, Wunderlich was made the assistant to the ailing clinical professor Georg Heermann (1807-1844). In 1843 he became Heermann's deputy and from 1846 he was ordentlicher Professor and director of the medical clinic in Tübingen.

Wunderlich remained in these positions until he was called to Leipzig to succeed Johann von Oppolzer (1808-1871) as professor and head of the St. Jakob university clinic. He commenced his teaching on October 27, 1850, and St. Jakob soon became one of the best attended teaching hospitals in Germany.

Besides his ordinary duties, Wunderlich gave annual lectures on special pathology and therapy, repeatedly on psychiatry, balneology and Klimacurorte, on sickness thermometry, and once, in 1858, on the history of medicine. Besides his duties as an academic teacher Wunderlich ran a rather busy consultative private practice, and from 1854 he was in charge of the Geschäfte des Medicinalbesitzers bei der k. Kreishauptmannschaft zu Leipzig.

Wunderlich’s capacity was used fully during the severe cholera epidemic that broke out in Leipzig in 1866, and during the Franco-Prussian war the entire Kriegs-Medicinalwesen in Tübingen was under his directorship.

In 1859 Wunderlich turned down an invitation to Breslau, and in 1871 was offered to change his tenure at Leipzig for the position of personal physician (königlicher Leibarzt) as well as president of the Landes-Medicinal-Collegium in Dresden. In 1871 he was appointed to the Department of Medicine's organisational commission for the construction and design of psychiatric hospitals.

He enjoyed a strong health until November 1866, when he fell ill with a severe pneumonia, which left him with an increased irritability for a long time. He recovered, however, not least due to a sustained stay in southern France, and was able to resume his work. His son, however, also a physician, fell severely ill in the winter of 1869/1870, and this had a deteriorating effect on the health of the father. He recovered once more, but after the sudden death of his son in 1873, he was unable to recover once more. He died four years later,

From 1842 to 1859 Wunderlich, Roser and Griesinger (from 1847) published the journal Archiv für physiologische Heilkunde.

Today Wunderlich is particularly remembered for pioneering efforts in the use of the thermometer in diagnostic work, introducing the fever graph. Before him, French physicians had suggested that the average body temperature was about 37 °C (98.5F).

Wunderlich set out to prove it. Using a foot-long thermometer that took more than 15 minutes to give a reading, he took the underarm temperature of 25,000 patients several times over, a total of more than a million readings.


  • Works by others:
  • George Martine (11702-1741):
    Essays medical and philosophical. London, A. Millar, 1740.
    First important work on clinical thermometry, and the only scientific treatment of the subject before Wunderlich.
  • Johannes Müller:
    Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen für Vorlesungen. 2 volumes. Coblenz, 1834-1840.
    English translation by Baly (London, 1840-1843); French translation by Jourdan (Paris, 1845). Works by Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich:
  • Ueber die Nosologie des Typhus. Doctoral dissertation, Stuttgart, 1838.
  • Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Beurtheilung der gegenwärtigen Heilkunde in Deutschland und Frankreich. Wien und Paris, 1841.
  • Versuch einer pathologischen Physiologie des Blutes.
    Stuttgart : Ebner & Seubert, 1845.
  • Ueber Pulsdifferenz. Tübingen, 1850. With Benno Heilbut.

  • Handbuch der Pathologie und Therapie.
    Stuttgart, 1850-1852; 2nd and expanded edition in 4 volumes, 1852-1856.
    In this work Wunderlich emphasised the importance of strict scientific methods.
  • Adnotatiunculae quaedam de viribus herbae digitalis. Leipzig, 1851.
  • Ein Plan zur festeren Begründing der therapeutischen Erfahrungen.
    Rede, gehalten beim Antritt der Professur zu Leipzig.
    [Schmidt’s] Jahrbücher der in- und ausländischen gesammten Medicin, Leipzig, volume 70, 1851.
  • De actionibus quibusdam acidi nitrici caustici in corpus humanum intromissi.
    Leipzig, 1856.
  • Grundriss der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie. Stuttgart, 1858.
  • Geschichte der Medicin.
    Stuttgart, Ebner & Seubert, 1859; Dutch translation, Tiel, 1861.
  • Cholera-Regulativ, herausgegeben mit Griesinger, Pettenkofer und Hirsch.
    München : Oldenburg, 1866-1867.
    Wilhelm Griesinger, Max Josef von Pettenkofer (1818-1901) and August Hirsch (1817-1894).
  • Das Verhalten der Eigenwärme in Krankheiten.
    Leipzig, Verlag von Otto Wigand, 1866; 2nd edition, 1870; translated into several languages. English translation by the New Sydenham Society in 1871.
    This classic work on temperature in disease laid the foundation of modern knowledge regarding clinical thermometry. Garrison said of Wunderlich that he "found fever a disease and left it a symptom".
  • Erfolge der Behandlung der progressiven Spinalparalyse durch Silbersalpeter.
    Archiv der Heilkunde, Leipzig, 1860, 2: 193-208.
  • Ein weiterer Fall von postmortaler Temperatursteigerung bei einem Tetanischen.
    Archiv der Heilkunde, 1862, 3: 175-178.
  • Weitere Erfahrungen über die Heilwirkung des Silbersalpeters bei progressiver Spinalparalyse (Ataxie locomotrice progressive).
    Archiv der Heilkunde, 1863, 4: 43-46.
    Bulletin général de thérapeutique médicale et chirurgicale, Paris, 1863, 64: 249-254
  • Ueber die Eigenwärme am Schluss tödtlicher Neurosen.
    Archiv der Heilkunde, 1864, 5: 205-227.
  • Ueber Fälle von epidemischer Cerebrospinal-Meningitis in Leipzig.
    Archiv der Heilkunde, 1864, 5: 417.
    Archiv der Heilkunde, 1865, 6: 268.
  • Nachruf auf Griesinger. Archiv der Heilkunde, 1869, 10: 113-150.
    Archiv der deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und gerichtliche Psychologie verbunden mit dem Correspondenz-Blatte, 1869, 16: 70-91, 170-183. Leipzig: Wigand, 1869?

  • W. Griesinger, biographische Skizze.
    Lepizig, 1869, from Archiv der Heilkunde, Leipzig.
  • Ueber die Gesundheitsverhältnisse in den productiven Lebensaltern. Rede beim Antritte des Rectorats 1871.
  • Ueber luetische Erkrankungen des Gehirns und Rückenmarks.
    [Volkmanns] Sammlung klinischer Vorträge, Leipzig, Nr. 93, 1875.
    Wiener medicinische Presse, 1876, 17: 607, 647.
    Clinical Lectures by German Authors, London, 1877. 2nd series: 377-402. On Wunderlich and his work:
  • W. Roser:
    Zur Erinnerung an C. A. Wunderlich. On Wunderlich’s life until 1844.
  • Johann Otto Leonhard Heubner (1843-1926):
    Carl August Wunderlich. Nekrologisches Archiv der Heilkunde, volume 19, 1878.
  • Wolfgang H. T. Schürmann:
    Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich und die „Physiologische Heilkunde“.
    Hochschulschrift: Hannover, Med. Hochsch., Diss., 1989.
  • I. Kästner:
    [Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich (1815-1877) – an important clinician of the 19th century] [Article in German]
    Zeitschrift fur ärztliche Fortbildung, Jena, 1990, 84 (15): 783-786.
  • R. Walsa:
    [W. Griesinger and the "Thübingen Triad"] [Article in Hungarian]
    Orvosi Hetilap, Budapest, August 22, 1993, 134 (34): 1878-1882.
  • P. A. Mackowiak, G. Worden:
    Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich and the evolution of clinical thermometry.
    Clinical Infectious Diseases, Chicago, March 1994, 18 (3): 458-467.

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