- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Richard Friedrich Johannes Pfeiffer

Born  1858
Died  1945

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German physician and bacteriologist, born March 27, 1858, Zduny, Posen (Posnanie) province, Poland, died 1945, Bad Landbeck.

Biography of Richard Friedrich Johannes Pfeiffer

Richard Friedrich Johannes Pfeiffer is remembered for his many fundamental discoveries in bacteriology, particularly for the phenomenon of bacteriolysis. In 1892 he discovered Haemophilus influenzae, the influenza bacillus and in 1896 micrococcus catarrhalis. He was also a pioneer in typhoid vaccination.

Pfeiffer studied at the Kaiser-Wilhelms-Akademie in Berlin from 1875 to 1879. After completing his studies he was conferred doctor of medicine in 1880 and subsequently served as an army physician and bacteriologist until 1889. During the years 1884 to 1887 Pfeiffer introduced bacteriology in Wiesbaden. He was a student of Robert Koch (1843-1910), and from 1887 to 1891 worked as Koch's assistant in the Institute of Hygiene in Berlin. He was habilitated for bacteriology and hygiene in 1891 and was entrusted with the leadership of the scientific department of the Institute of Infectious Diseases in Berlin, becoming titular professor at the institute in 1894.

In 1897 Pfeiffer joined the German expedition under Robert Koch to India to investigate the plague. The following year he went to Italy with Koch to do research on Malaria. He moved to Königsberg to enter the chair of hygiene in 1899, succeeding Erwin von Esmarch (1855-1915). He remained in that city until 1909, when he moved on to the same chair in Breslau. Pfeiffer retired there as emeritus in 1925.

Pfeiffer's most important achievements were in the fields of bacteriology and immunology. He discovered the life cycle of the cocci, he found methods of immunisation against typhus, pest, and cholera, and discovered the endotoxins. He also discovered the specific bacteria-dissolving immune bodies in cholera, typhus, etc. In 1894 he found that live cholera vibrios could be injected without ill effects into guinea pigs previously immunised against cholera, and that plasma from these animals added to live vibrio caused them to become motionless and to lyse. This could be inhibited by previously heating the serum. He called this bacteriolysis and it became known as the Pfeiffer Phenomenon, or Isayev-Pfeiffer phenomenon. He also invented a universal staining for histological preparations.


  • Mikrophotographischer Atlas der Bakterienkunde. With Carl Fränkel (1861-1915).
    Berlin, Verlag von August Hirschwald, 1889; 2nd edition, 1892.
  • Vorläufige Mittheilungen über den Erreger der Influenza.
    Deutsche medicinische Wochenschrift, Berlin, 1892, 18: 28.
  • Beiträge zur Protozoenforschung. Die Kokzidienkrankheit der Kaninchen.
    Berlin, 1892.
  • Die Aetiologie der Influenza. Zeitschrift für Hygiene und Infektionskrankheiten, Leipzig, 1893, 13: 357-386.
  • Ueber die specifische Bedeutung der Choleraimmunität (Bakteriolyse). Zeitschrift für Hygiene und Infektionskrankheiten, 1894, 17: 355-400. 1895; 18: 1-16.
  • Encyclopädie der Hygiene. With Bernhard Proskauer (1851-1915). Leipzig, 1905.
  • Lehrbuch der Mikrobiologie. With Ernst Friedberger (1875-1932). Jena, 1919. Bibliography in Zentralblatt fur Bakteriologie, Parasitenkunde und Infektionskrankheiten, 1928, 106: 426.

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