Rudolf Wagner
Rudolf Wagner was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 anatomist and physiologist and the co-discoverer of the germinal vesicle. He made important investigations on ganglia
In anatomy, a ganglion is a biological tissue mass, most commonly a mass of nerve cell bodies. Cells found in a ganglion are called ganglion cells, though this term is also sometimes used to refer specifically to retinal ganglion cells....

, nerve
A peripheral nerve, or simply nerve, is an enclosed, cable-like bundle of peripheral axons . A nerve provides a common pathway for the electrochemical nerve impulses that are transmitted along each of the axons. Nerves are found only in the peripheral nervous system...

-endings, and the sympathetic nerve
Sympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic nervous system is one of the three parts of the autonomic nervous system, along with the enteric and parasympathetic systems. Its general action is to mobilize the body's nervous system fight-or-flight response...



Rudolf Wagner was born at Bayreuth, where his father was a professor in the gymnasium
Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

He began the study of medicine at Erlangen in 1822. Wagner completed his curriculum in 1826 at Würzburg
Würzburg is a city in the region of Franconia which lies in the northern tip of Bavaria, Germany. Located at the Main River, it is the capital of the Regierungsbezirk Lower Franconia. The regional dialect is Franconian....

, where he mainly studied under JL Schönlein
Johann Lukas Schönlein
Johann Lukas Schönlein was a German naturalist, and professor of medicine, born in Bamberg. He studied medicine at Landshut, Jena, Göttingen, and Würzburg...

 in medicine and to Karl Friedrich Heusinger
Karl Friedrich Heusinger
Karl Friedrich Heusinger was a German pathologist who was a native of Farnroda.He studied medicine in Jena and Marburg, and afterwards was an assistant to Karl Gustav Himly at the University of Göttingen...

 in comparative anatomy
Comparative anatomy
Comparative anatomy is the study of similarities and differences in the anatomy of organisms. It is closely related to evolutionary biology and phylogeny .-Description:...

. Aided by a public stipend
A stipend is a form of salary, such as for an internship or apprenticeship. It is often distinct from a wage or a salary because it does not necessarily represent payment for work performed, instead it represents a payment that enables somebody to be exempt partly or wholly from waged or salaried...

, he spent a year or more studying in the Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is the main botanical garden in France. It is one of seven departments of the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle. It is situated in the 5ème arrondissement, Paris, on the left bank of the river Seine and covers 28 hectares .- Garden plan :The grounds of the Jardin des...

, under the friendly eye of Cuvier
Georges Cuvier
Georges Chrétien Léopold Dagobert Cuvier or Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier , known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist...

, and making zoological discoveries at Cagliari
Cagliari is the capital of the island of Sardinia, a region of Italy. Cagliari's Sardinian name Casteddu literally means castle. It has about 156,000 inhabitants, or about 480,000 including the outlying townships : Elmas, Assemini, Capoterra, Selargius, Sestu, Monserrato, Quartucciu, Quartu...

 and other places on the Mediterranean.

On his return to Germany he set up a medical practice at Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, where his father had been transferred. A few months later he found an opening for an academic position when he was appointed prosector
A prosector is a person with the special task of preparing a dissection for demonstration, usually in medical schools or hospitals. Many important anatomists began their careers as prosectors working for lecturers and demonstrators in anatomy and pathology....

 at Erlangen. In 1832 he became full professor of zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

 and comparative anatomy there, and held that office until 1840, when he was called to succeed JF Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was a German physician, physiologist and anthropologist, one of the first to explore the study of mankind as an aspect of natural history, whose teachings in comparative anatomy were applied to classification of what he called human races, of which he determined...

 at Göttingen
Göttingen is a university town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Göttingen. The Leine river runs through the town. In 2006 the population was 129,686.-General information:...

. He remained at the Hanoverian university until his death, being much occupied with administrative work as pro-rector for a number of years, and for nearly the whole of his residence troubled by ill health from tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...


In 1860 he gave over the physiological part of his teaching to a new chair, retaining the zoological, with which his career had begun. While at Frankfurt, on his way to examine the Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

 skull at Bonn
Bonn is the 19th largest city in Germany. Located in the Cologne/Bonn Region, about 25 kilometres south of Cologne on the river Rhine in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of united Germany from 1990 to 1999....

, he was struck with paralysis
Paralysis is loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor. A study conducted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, suggests that about 1 in 50 people have been diagnosed...

. Wagner died at Göttingen a few months later on 13 May 1864.


Wagner's activity as a writer and worker was enormous, and his range extensive, most of his hard work having been done at Erlangen while his health was good. His graduation thesis was on the progress of the working classes. The ambitious title of The historical development of epidemic and contagious diseases all over the world, with the laws of their diffusion showed the influence of Schönlein.

His first treatise was Die Naturgeschichte des Menschen (in 2 vols, Kempten, 1831). Frequent journeys to the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and the North Sea gave him abundant materials for research on invertebrate anatomy and physiology, which he communicated first to the Munich academy of sciences, and republished in his Beiträge zur vergleichenden Physiologie des Elutes (Leipzig, 1832–1833, with additions in 1838). In 1834-1835 he brought out a text-book on the subject he chaired (Lehrbuch der vergleichenden Anatomie, Leipzig), which recommended itself to students by its clear and concise style. A new edition of it appeared in 1843 under the title of Lehrbuch der Zootontie, of which only the vertebrate section was corrected by himself.

The precision of his earlier work is evidenced by his Micrometric Measurements of the Elementary Parts of Man and Animals (Leipzig, 1834). His zoological labours may be said to conclude with the atlas Icones zootomicae (Leipzig, 1841). In 1835 he communicated to the Munich academy of sciences his researches on the physiology of generation and development, including the famous discovery of the germinal vesicle of the human ovum
An ovum is a haploid female reproductive cell or gamete. Both animals and embryophytes have ova. The term ovule is used for the young ovum of an animal, as well as the plant structure that carries the female gametophyte and egg cell and develops into a seed after fertilization...


These were republished under the title Prodromus historiae generationis hominis atque animalium (Leipzig, 1836). As in zoology, his original researches in physiology were followed by a students' text-book, Lehrbuch der speciellen Physiologie (Leipzig, 1838), which soon reached a third edition, and was translated into French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

. This was supplemented by an atlas, Icones physiologicae (Leipzig, 1839).

To the same period belongs a very interesting (but now little-known) work on medicine proper, of a historical and synthetic scope: Grundriss der Encyklopadie and Methodologie der medicinischen Wissenschaften nach geschichtlicher Ansicht (Erlangen, 1838). It was translated into Danish
Danish language
Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...

. About the same time he worked at a translation of JC Prichard
James Cowles Prichard
James Cowles Prichard MD FRS was an English physician and ethnologist. His influential Researches into the physical history of mankind touched upon the subject of evolution...

's Natural History of Man, and edited various writings of ST Sommerring, with a biography of that anatomist (1844), which he himself fancied most of all his writings.

In 1843, after his removal to Göttingen, he began his great Handwörterbuch der Physiologie mit Rücksicht auf physiologische Pathologie123.13.24, and brought out the fifth (supplementary) volume in 1852. His only original contributions to this work were on the sympathetic nerve, nerve-ganglia and nerve-endings, and he modestly disclaimed all merit except as being the organizer. While resident in Italy for his health from 1845 to 1847, he occupied himself with research on the electrical organ of the torpedo genus of electric eels
Torpedo (genus)
Torpedo is a genus of rays, commonly known as electric rays, torpedo rays, or torpedoes. It is the sole genus of the family Torpedinidae. They are slow-moving bottom-dwellers capable of generating electricity as a defense and feeding mechanism...

 and on nervous organization generally; these he published in 1853-1854 (Neurologische Untersuchungen, Göttingen), and therewith his physiological period may be said to end.


He boldly stood against materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 and avowed himself a Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 believer. This lost him the respect of a number of his old friends and pupils, and was unfeelingly told that he was "suffering from an atrophy of the brain." His quarrel with Carl Vogt and other materialists began with his oration at the Göttingen meeting of the Naturforscher-Versammlung in 1854, on "Menschenschöpfung und Seelensubstanz." This was followed by a series of "Physiological Letters" in the Allgemeine Zeitung, by an essay on "Glauben and Wissen," and by the most important piece of this series, "Der Kampf um die Seele vom Standpunkt der Wissenschaft" (Göttingen, 1857).

Having come to the consideration of these philosophical problems late in life, he was at some disadvantage; but he endeavoured to join as he best could in the current of contemporary German thought. He had an exact knowledge of classical German writings, especially of Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

's, and of the literature connected with him.


In what may be called his fourth and last period, Wagner became an anthropologist and archaeologist. He occupied himself with the cabinet of skulls in the Göttingen museum collected by Blumenbach and with the excavation of prehistoric remains, corresponded actively with the anthropological societies of Paris and London, and organized, in co-operation with the veteran Karl Ernst von Baer
Karl Ernst von Baer
Karl Ernst Ritter von Baer, Edler von Huthorn also known in Russia as Karl Maksimovich Baer was an Estonian naturalist, biologist, geologist, meteorologist, geographer, a founding father of embryology, explorer of European Russia and Scandinavia, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a...

, a successful congress of anthropologists at Göttinger in 1861. His last writings were memoirs on the convolutions of the human brain, on the weight of brains, and on the brains of idiots (1860–1862).

External links

  • Picture, short biography, and bibliography in the Virtual Laboratory of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
    Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
    The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin was established in March 1994. Its research is primarily devoted to a theoretically oriented history of science, principally of the natural sciences, but with methodological perspectives drawn from the cognitive sciences and from...

  • Biography from, a dictionary of medical eponyms
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