Robert Koch

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Robert Koch

Excellenz Geheimrat Professor (of hygiene) Dr. med. Dr. h. c. mult.[1] Robert Koch
Born Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch
11 December 1843(1843-12-11)
Clausthal, Kingdom of Hanover, German Confederation
Died 27 May 1910 (aged 66)
Baden-Baden, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Empire
Nationality German
Fields Microbiology
Institutions Imperial Health Office, Berlin
University of Berlin
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Doctoral advisor Georg Meissner
Other academic advisors Friedrich Gustav Jakob Henle
Karl Ewald Hasse
Rudolf Virchow
Known for Bacterial culture method
Koch's postulates
Germ theory
Discovery of anthrax bacillus
Discovery of tuberculosis bacillus
Discovery of cholera bacillus
Influenced Friedrich Loeffler
Notable awards

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch (11 December 1843 – 27 May 1910) was a German physician and microbiologist. As the discoverer of the specific causative agents of deadly infectious diseases including tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax, he is regarded as the father of modern bacteriology. When Robert Koch died in 1910, his ashes were laid to rest in his Berliner institute and is now a "Graves of Honor of the State of Berlin".


Robert Koch's itineraries. Koch loved travelling and did so frequently – both privately and professionally.
Koch 1884.jpg
Robert Koch.jpg

Son of Herrmann Koch, an engineer and mining officer, and Mathilde Juliette Henriette, née Biewend, Robert Koch was born on 11 December 1843, in Clausthal, a small silver-mining city in the Harz Mountains, a Prussian town at that period, Clausthal is now located in the northwest Germany. Koch was the third oldest of 13 children. Two of his siblings died during childhood. At 5 years of age, with the aid of local newspapers, Koch taught himself how to read. He was a precocious reader, notably skilled in science and mathematics, and also fascinated by natural science – a joy that persisted all his lifetime. Koch was also a gifted chess player.

He studied medicine at Göttingen, and it was while he was practising as a physician at Wollstein that he began those bacteriological researches that made his name famous. He served the German Army as a volunteer doctor from 1870 to 1872, during the Franco-Prussian War.

In 1876 he obtained a pure culture of the bacillus of anthrax, announcing a method of preventive inoculation against that disease seven years later. He became a member of the Sanitary Commission at Berlin and a professor at the School of Medicine in 1880, and five years later he was appointed to a chair in Berlin University and director of the Institute of Health. In 1882, largely as the result of the improved methods of bacteriological investigation he was able to elaborate, he discovered the bacillus of tuberculosis; and in the following year, having been sent on an official mission to Egypt and India to study the aetiology of Asiatic cholera, he identified the comma bacillus as the specific organism of that malady. In 1890 great hopes were aroused by the announcement that in tuberculin he had prepared an agent which exercised and inimical influence on the growth of the tuberlce bacillus, but the expectations that were formed of it as a remedy for consumption were not fulfilled, though it came into considerable vogue as a means ofdiagnosing the existence of tuberculosis in animals intended for food.

At the Congress on Tuberculosis held in London in 1901 he maintained that tuberculosis in man and in cattle is not the same disease, the practical inference being that the danger to men of infection from milk and meat is less than from other human subjects suffering from the disease. This statement, however, was not regarded as properly proved, and one of its results was the appointment of a British Royal Commission to study the question. Dr Koch also investigated the nature of the rinderpest in South Africa in 1896, and found a means of combating the disease. In 1897 he went to Bombay at the head of a commission formed to investigate the bubonic plague, and he subsequently undertook extensive travels in pursuit of his studies of the origin and treatment of malaria. He was summoned to South Africa a second time in 1903 to give expert advice on other cattle diseases, and on his return was elected a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. In 1906-1907 he spent eighteen months in East Africa, investigating the sleeping-sickness. He died at Baden-Baden of heart-disease on the 28th of May 1910. Koch was undoubtedly one of the greatest bacteriologists ever known, and a great benefactor of humanity by his discoveries. Honours were showered upon him, and in 1905 he was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine.


Robert Koch Mausoleum (Berlin)
  • Final school-leaving certificate (Abitur) on 2 April 1862
  • Married, Emmy Adolfine Fraatz (1847–1913) on 16 July 1867 (divorced in June 1893)
  • Assistant in the General Hospital at Hamburg in 1867
  • Served as volunteer in Franco-Prussian War
  • District Medical Officer at Wollstein, Germany in 1872
  • Discovered cause of Anthrax in 1870s
  • Appointed member of Imperial Health Bureau in Berlin in 1880, and invented new method of cultivating pure cultures of bacteria in solid media
  • Appointed as government advisor with the Imperial Department of Health in Berlin in 1880
  • Started using methylene-blue for staining technique developed by his colleague in 1880
  • Discovered tuberculosis bacillus and method of growing it in pure culture in 1882
  • Led a German expedition to Egypt and India, where he discovered the cholera bacillus (1883)
  • Hygienic Institute in Berlin (Professor and Director, 1885)
  • Discovered the cause of bacterial infections of wounds in 1887
  • Appointed (Generalarzt)
    • II. Klasse in 1888
    • I. Klasse in 1892
  • Freeman of the City of Berlin in 1890
  • Institute for Infektions-Krankheiten (Institute of Infectious Disease, Berlin – Director 1891)
    • In 1891, Koch was appointed director of the newly-founded Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases, today's renowned Robert Koch Institute
  • Became Honourary Professor of medical faculty and Director of the new institute of infectious diseases
  • Second Marriage with artist and actress Hedwig "Hedchen" Freiberg (1872–1945) on 13 September 1893
  • Announced new tuberculin-discovery of substances of diagnostic value of tuberculosis in 1896
  • He worked in India and Africa on Malaria, Black-water fever, Sera of cattle and horses and Plague in 1898
  • Worked on Typhus
  • Earned many awards and prizes
  • Retired from Director of Berlin’s Institute of Infectious Diseases in 1904
  • Awarded by Nobel Prize for medicine in 1905
  • Returned Central Africa for experimental work on bacteriology and serology in 1906
  • Died at the German Health Resort of Baden-Baden on 27 May 1910

Awards, decorations and Honours (excerpt)

  • 10 January 1866: PhD with distinction
  • 1872: Kaiserliche Kriegsdenkmünze 1870/71
  • 1883: Tiedemann-Preis
  • 1884: Honorary degree (Dr. med.) of University of Groningen
  • 1884: Order of the Crown (Prussia), 2nd Class with Star
  • Privy Imperial Councillor (Geheimer Reichsrat)
  • 1886: Honorary degree (Dr. med.) of University of Heidelberg
  • 1887: Order of Saint Stanislaus (House of Romanov), 1st Class
  • 1889: Honorary degree (Dr. med.) of University of Bologna
  • 1890: Honorary citizen of Berlin
  • 1890: Honorary citizen of Clausthal
  • November 1890: Red Eagle Order, Grand Cross
  • January 1891: Rinnecker-Preis
  • 1891: Order of Osmanieh, Grand Cross
  • 1904: Member of the Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften
  • 1904: Grand prize of the St. Louis World's Fair
  • 1904: Wilhelmsorden[2] (other sources claim 1906)
  • 1905: Nobel Prize
  • 1906: Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts
  • November 1909: Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art

Koch was made a Knight Grand Cross in the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle on 19 November 1890, and was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1897. In 1905, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine "for his investigations and discoveries in relation to tuberculosis." In 1906, research on tuberculosis and tropical diseases won him the Order Pour le Merite and in 1908, the Robert Koch Medal, established to honour the greatest living physicians. Kaiser Wilhelm I awarded him the Order of the Crown, 100,000 marks and appointment as Privy Imperial Councillor, Surgeon-General of Health Service, and Fellow of the Science Senate of Kaiser Wilhelm Society (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft). He was member, mostly honorary member, of at least 21 international academic societies.

Koch established the Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin 1891. After his death it was renamed Robert Koch Institute in his honour. The World Health Organization observes "World Tuberculosis Day" every 24 March since 1982 to commemorate the day Koch discovered tuberculosis bacterium. Koch's name is one of 23 from the fields of hygiene and tropical medicine featured on the frieze of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine building in Keppel Street, Bloomsbury. A large marble statue of Koch stands in a small park known as Robert Koch Platz, just north of the Charity Hospital, in the Mitte section of Berlin. His life was the subject of a 1939 German produced motion picture that featured Oscar winning actor Emil Jannings in the title role. On 10 December 2017, Google showed a Doodle in celebration of Koch's birthday. Koch and his relationship to Paul Ehrlich, who developed a mechanism to diagnose TB, were portrayed in the 1940 movie Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet.

Selected works

  • Weitere Mitteilungen über ein Heilmittel gegen Tuberkulose (Leipzig 1891)
  • Reiseberichte über Rinderpest, Bubonenpest in Indien und Afrika, Tsete- oder Surra-Krankheit, Texasfieber, tropische Malaria, Schwarzwasserfieber (Berlin, 1898)
    • His valued assistant in South Africa 1896/97 was Oberstabsarzt I. Klasse Prof. Dr. med. Paul Martin Julius Kohlstock, who would become an international respected specialist for African sleeping sickness and Rinderpest, an infectious viral disease of cattle, domestic buffalo, and many other species .
  • From 1886 onwards he edited, with Dr Karl Flugge, the Zeitschrift für Hygiene und Infektionskrankheiten (published at Leipzig). See Loeffler, "Robert Koch, zum 60ten Geburtstage" in Deut. Medizin. Wochenschr. (No 50, 1903).

Further reading

See also

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  1. Dr. h. c. mult. is the abbreviation for Doctor honoris causa multiplex, the academic Latein term for having more than one honorary doctorate.
  2. Ragnhild Münch: Robert Koch und sein Nachlaß in Berlin, 2012, p. 94