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Karl Thiersch

Born  1822
Died  1895

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German surgeon, born April 20, 1822, Munich; died April 28, 1895, Leipzig?

Biography of Karl Thiersch

Karl Thiersch was born in Munich where he studied medicine and received his medical doctorate in 1843. He subsequently continued his studies at the universities of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, returning to Munich in 1847. During the campaign against Denmark in the 2nd Schleswig-Holstein War in 1850, Thiersch served as a military surgeon. His surgical education was greatly influenced by the surgeon to the general staff, Georg Friedrich Ludwig Stromeyer (1804-1876).

The war with Denmark interrupted his work as prosector of pathological anatomy in Munich, to which he had been appointed in 1848 and held until 1854. He was habilitated in 1849 and in 1853 became professor extraordinary.

In 1854 Thiersch moved to Erlangen to become professor of surgery. After thirteen years, in 1867, he moved on to the same position at Leipzig, remaining in that chair until his death in 1895.

At the age of almost fifty years, Thiersch was consulting physician general with the 12th royal Saxonian army corps during the Franco-Prussian war. Upon his return he became an ardent advocate of Lister’s antiseptic technique, and he was the first surgeon on the Continent to introduce this method as a standard procedure. He improved Lister’s method by replacing carbolic acid with salicylic acid.

Karl Thiersch was important both as a teacher and an innovative surgeon. He made contributions to epithelial cancer in 1865, wound healing in 1867, phosphorous necrosis of the jaw in 1867, and introduced split-skin grafting in 1874.

Thiersch disproved Virchow’s theory of the connective tissue origin of carcinoma, but so great was the latter’s authority that it was only after two further confirmatory papers by Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried Waldeyer (Wilhelm von Waldeyer-Hartz, 1836-1921) that it was accepted.

On the occasion of his 70th birthday Thiersch was made an honorary citizen of Leipzig. Thiersch was described as a benign and friendly person with a great sense of humour.


  • Zur Lehre von der Arzneiwirkung.
    Doctoral dissertation, Munich, 1843.
  • Bildungsfehler der Harn- und Geschlechtswerkzeuge eines Mannes.
    Illustrierte medizinische Zeitung, München, 1852; I.
  • Infectionsversuche an Thieren mit dem Inhalte des Choleradarmes.
    Munich, 1856. Won a prize from the French Academy in 1867.
  • Der Epithelialkrebs, namentlich der Haut. Eine anatomisch-klinische Untersuchung. Leipzig, 1865. With Atlas.
  • De maxillarum necrosi phosphorica. Leipzig, 1867.
  • Die feineren anatomischen Veränderungen nach Verwundungen der Weichtheile.
    In: Franz Freiherr von Pitha (1810-1875) and Christian Albert Theodore Billroth (1829-1894): Handbuch der allgemeinen und speciellen Chirurgie, 1867, volume I, 2, B.
  • Klinische Ergebnisse der Lister’schem Wundbehandlung und über den Ersatz der Carbolsäure durch Salicylsäure.
    (Volkmann’s) Sammlung klinisher Vorträge, Leipzig, No. 84, 85.
  • Wilhelm His (1831-1904):
    Karl Ludwig und Karl Thiersch - Akademische Gedächtnisrede.
    Leipzig, 1895.
  • Justus Thiersch:
    Carl Thiersch, sein Leben dargestellt. Leipzig, 1922.
    Carl Thiersch und die Studenten.
    Fortschritte der Medizin, 1922, 40: 14-19. Obituaries:
  • Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift, 1895, page 472. Alfons Landerer (1854-1904).
  • Deutsche Zeitschrift für Chirurgie, Leipzig, 1895, 41: 617.
  • Deutsche medicinische Wochenschrift, Berlin, 1895, page 311. Heinrich Adolf von Bardeleben (1819-1895).
  • Berliner klinische Wochenschrift, 1895, page 421. Robert Hermann Tillmanns (1844-1927).
  • [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie, und für klinische Medizin, Berlin, 1896, 143: 679.
  • Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 55: 254-263.
  • Karl Sudhoff (1853-1938) in Sächsische Lebensbilder. Volume I, Dresden, 1930, pp. 377-386.
  • Chirurg, 1931, 3: 25-30.

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