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American Economic Association

Revolution from above: The Role of the State in Creating the German Research System,
1810-1910
Author(s): Timothy Lenoir
Source: The American Economic Review, Vol. 88, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the
Hundred and Tenth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1998),
pp. 22-27
Published by: American Economic Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/116886
Accessed: 26-05-2017 14:19 UTC

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Revolution from Above: The Role of the State in Creating
the German Research System, 1 81 0-1 910

By TIMOTHY LENOIR *

Discussions of modem scientific research's the creation of organizations to generate de-


organization point to the 19th-century emer- velopment funds for new industrial start-ups
gence of German research universities as evi- to actively building state-financed industries
dence that state investment in nondirected employing the newest technologies and organ-
academic research, when coupled with bene- izational techniques, all in order to pressure
ficial relations between academic research and Prussian industry to modernize its production
industry, and when stimulated by appropriate methods (see William D. Henderson, 1958;
incentives such as protection of intellectual Ulrich Peter Ritter, 1961; Ilja Mieck, 1965;
property in an open, competitive system, can Wolfgang Radtke, 1981; Hubert Kiesewetter,
lead to explosive growth in scientific knowl- 1989; Hermann Fernholz, 1991; Werner
edge and rapid improvement of industry. This Vogel, 1993).
paper examines three episodes in the evolution Another key feature of the Prussian plan to
of Germany's research system pointing to the modernize German industry was new types of
roles of state interests and innovative minis- educational institutions to free industry from
terial leadership in fashioning the research sys- its tradition-bound practices. Stein and Kunth
tem to meet state needs. identified "Bildung" as the most useful form
of state aid, and Beuth argued that where sci-
I. Economic Engineering: 1806-1848 ence is not introduced into industry, there can
be no securely based industry or progress.
The first period considered is that bracketed Beuth opened the Gewerbeschule (School of
by the Prussian defeat by Napoleon's armies Trade and Industry) in Berlin in 1821, to
and the 1848 Revolution. Discussions of the provide rudimentary instruction to handwork-
research university quite naturally focus on ers and manufacturers in mechanics and
the Humboldt reforms and the University of chemical-technical subjects. The school was
Berlin's founding in 1810. But the Humboldt expanded within a few years to include a third
reforms should be considered together with class, the "Suprema,9' which treated the sci-
the Stein-Hardenberg economic reforms entific basis of technology as a unified field of
aimed at fostering private initiative throughstudy.re-
moving guild restrictions on trade as well as a The Humboldt university reforms were also
sweeping set of anti-feudal land and labor re- conceived as regenerating the nation's spiri-
forms. In a nearly unbroken line of policy until tual foundation, particularly through institu-
1845, Karl H. F. Stein, Karl A. F. Hardenberg, tion of the seminar, nourishing intellectual
and their successors, Gottlieb J. C. Kunth, independence and initiative. Elite young
Ludwig F. V. Billow, and especially Christian minds trained in close interaction with faculty
Beuth and Christian Rother, attempted to working on independent research problems
stimulate industrial development. They em- would become the new generation's bulwark.
ployed a variety of means, from dissemination But the university Humboldt envisioned did
of technical information to handing over not include laboratory training as a regular part
government-purchased foreign technology to of the science curriculum. In fact, Humboldt's
private parties as capital investment, and from planned science curriculum was primarily de-
voted to "pure" theoretical science, par-
ticularly mathematics and physics. While
chemistry
* Department of History, Stanford University, Stan- and physiology were included in
ford, CA 94305. this picture, laboratories were only deemed
22

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VOL. 88 NO. 2 CLIO AND THE ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION OF SCIENCE 23

important for supporting lecture demonstra- tion existed among the leading state ministries
tions and for the professor's private research of culture and education to stock their univer-
needs. The model of Wissenschaft um sich sel- sities with the best professors, now defined as
ber willen that emerged in this environment discoverers of new knowledge. A state min-
was heavily opposed to any association with istry's appointments were based on interna-
handwork. Between 1830 and 1848, labora- tional reputation for research and publication
tory exercises were tolerated as entrepreneu- as evaluated by a review process established
rial activities professors might initiate for fees within the ministry and drawing on faculty
which they would plow back into lab equip- peer review. In an environment where several
ment (R. Steven Turner, 1971, 1974; Charles universities could compete for a single profes-
McClelland, 1980). sor' s talents, highly visible scientists were able
The response of the Prussian ministry and to make laboratory space, assistants, and
university faculty to a scathing critique of the equipment a condition of their acceptance.
system launched in 1840 by Giessen chemist These academic market forces meant that
Justus Liebig sums up the pre-1848 situation nearly every German university got at least a
of natural sciences in universities. To Liebig's small institute of chemistry, and similar de-
claim that chemistry was an independent dis- velopments occurred in physics and physiol-
cipline worthy of its own institute, rather than ogy. Having grown out of traditional teaching
simply an adjunct field for medical students, functions in which laboratory work was seen
leading faculty members responded that as at best formalizing traditional student train-
Liebig's recommendations to combine the ing, once the new labs were in place entrepre-
pursuit of new chemical knowledge with lab- neurial directors were recruited who would use
oratory work based on standardized and easily the facilities to advance their own research and
taught methods of analysis undermined the to encourage research among advanced stu-
university's purpose. Liebig's program com- dents, in turn reinforcing the scientific
bined pursuit of pure knowledge, typical of achievement of the professor/lab director.
science academies, with work appropriate to While the open system blossomed during
technical institutes, which trained students in this brief period of German academic history,
material production. According to an old- the earlier mercantilistic concerns of state min-
guard professor, Liebig personified the time's istries were nonetheless still present. In my
central academic evil: lust after discovery in view, interaction between these two tenden-
order to attract more students. The true pur- cies gave the system its distinctive features.
pose of university science, according to this Recruiting star faculty was only one of the
professor, was to transmit solid, proven items on state ministers' agendas during this
knowledge to men training in useful profes- period, characterized at best by modest eco-
sions to serve the state (Turner, 1982). nomic growth and more often by stagnation
and decline. Enhancing their universities'
II. Research Imperative, Decentralized prestige was an important goal, but increas-
Competition, and Institute-Building: 1848-1871 ingly for the smaller German states, stimulat-
ing their economies was another. While
A fundamental shift occurred in the orga- universities competed for faculty, they also
nization of academic science in Germany from competed with one another for students; a rea-
the mid-1840's through the mid-1870's, con- son for recruiting star faculty was to increase
nected with the emergence of a prestige mar- student enrollments. Since the largest growth
ket driven by a new research ethos (Joseph sector of student matriculation in this middle
Ben-David, 1971). This shift in many ways period was in medicine, ministers tried to in-
realized Liebig's vision of science. As Ben- crease their competitive advantage for medical
David argued persuasively, in large part the students by hiring the faculty and constructing
shift during this period was due to competition the ancillary support facilities for medical ed-
among different German states for intellectual ucation. A second, larger, area of concern of
talent as they vied for cultural leadership of a state ministers during the late 1840's--1850's
hoped-for unified Germany. Intense competi- was the need to stimulate the economy. While

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24 AEA PAPERS AND PROCEEDINGS MAY 1998

states like Prussia could appoint a few profes- in the Leipzig medical stable, the clinician
sors in highly visible universities without Karl Wunderlich. Since the late 1850's,
consideration of the support facilities' integra- Wunderlich had been deeply involved in his
tion with other programs, smaller states felt studies on thermometry, strengthening his
increasing pressure to utilize their resources conviction that the closest cooperation ought
efficiently, dovetailing appointments with to develop among experimental physiology,
other initiatives. Peter Borscheid's (1976) chemistry, pathological anatomy, and diag-
study of Baden illustrates how this competi- nostic techniques for the clinic. Falkenstein
tion for students, combined with the effort to built new institutes for physiology and pa-
harness chemistry to stimulate agricultural thology, each with positions for assistants in
production, led to impressive expansion of physiological chemistry and microscopic
chemistry facilities at the University of anatomy, the goal being to integrate these
Heidelberg. various enterprises into a collaboration be-
Elsewhere (Lenoir, 1997), I have shown tween Ludwig and Wunderlich. In order to
that a similar pattern can be seen in the build- promote this cooperation, these institutes
ing of first-class science and medical institutes were all situated adjacent to one another with
at the University of Leipzig by Johannes connecting corridors and walkways. The in-
Falkenstein, the director of the Saxon Kultus- tegration of experimental clinical medicine,
ministerium. Falkenstein was to Saxony what long considered a defining moment of the
Beuth and Rother were to Prussia (see David 19th century's medical revolution and the
Cahan, 1985; Alan J. Rocke, 1993; Lenoir, first step toward rational science-based med-
1997). As Kultusminister of the most indus- icine, can be considered the outcome of stra-
trialized German state, Falkenstein was not as tegic planning on the part of enlightened state
pressed as his Baden colleagues to generate bureaucrats (see Kiesewetter, 1988).
immediate economic benefit to industry and The efforts of ministers like Falkenstein to
agriculture from investment in the natural sci- optimize interactions among their different re-
ences, but he had consistently promoted eco- search faculty and to coordinate facility use
nomic modernization and industrialization as led to systemic interactions among disciplines,
a means to long-term prosperity and social sta- improving the content of science in ways that
bility. But one of his concerns as Kultusmin- no one could have predicted by simply betting
ister was to boost enrollment at Leipzig, on each discipline's stars pursuing their own
particularly by attracting students from other personal research programs. While this system
German and foreign states. Leipzig had not building was considerably short of targeted re-
done particularly well in student enrollment search and development, it prepared the way.
during the 1840's and early 1850's. In an era
when the medical faculty was a university's HIl. Academic Science and Industry's Needs:
"bread and butter," Falkenstein concentrated 1877-1910
his resources in the area of his existing
strength: clinical medicine. He made plans to The final phase of development I want to
improve the Leipzig natural-science faculties consider is between 1871 and 1910, culminat-
and build a new science and medical campus. ing in the formation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm In-
The retirement of the professor of physi- stitutes. As the two periods I have already
ology allowed Falkenstein to implement his discussed demonstrate, the view that state-
plan. He recruited Carl Ludwig, Germany's supported research at the universities should
leading physiologist, for Leipzig's clinical stiinulate industry in certain ways was at best
medicine program. Although Ludwig was fa- a rhetorical position in the German nation's
mous for introducing physics-based instru- political and cultural transformation. For the
mentation into physiology, his work had most part, few scientists other than Liebig
never had much direct contact with clinical thought their work had direct relevance to in-
medicine. Falkenstein perceived a perfect fit dustry, and the highest rewards were to be ob-
between Ludwig's advancing research pro- tained by emerging as "bearers of culture,"
grams and the work of the star he already had rather than as scions of industry. In the period

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VOL. 88 NO. 2 CLIO AND THE ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION OF SCIENCE 25

between 1871 and 1910, however, this situa- links between industry's demands and aca-
tion shifted radically, when the tensions that demic science's interests were forged. A con-
had earlier characterized the relations between stellation of factors stimulated research and
academic and industrial cultures dissolved. development in the field of pharmaceuticals at
This cultural shift was as important as the in- Hoechst. Foremost among these was the eco-
creased relevance of scientific research to the nomic crisis faced by the industry, most severe
economic performance of German industry. In between 1881 and 1885. The increased costs
bringing about this transformation, the work of finding new dyes in an evermore competi-
of enlightened state ministers, particularly tive market and dyestuffs' actual decline in
Friedrich Althoff, was once again crucial (see price forced major chemical firms producing
Karl-Heinz Manegold, 1970; Frank R. Pfetsch, dyes, such as Hoechst, to seek to diversify
1974; Bernhard vom Brocke, 1980). their products (John Joseph Beer, 1959;
In the previous sections I have described the Borscheid, 1976).
conditions for a powerful set of institutions for Hoechst moved into pharmaceuticals by es-
generating scientific research and the produc- tablishing consulting arrangements with the
tion of new knowledge. But by 1890 the rec- directors of university laboratories, supplying
ognition dawned that the fusion of teaching them with both funding and materials to work
and research providing the rationale for de- on subjects of potential interest to the firm.
veloping these institutions in fact hindered sci- Within a few years, owing to the increasing
ence's advance, since the bulk of resources complexity of research requiring facilities un-
had to go into supporting time-consuming available routinely in universities and prob-
low-level training. The progress of science at lems of reliably managing such consulting
the turn of the century depended on more than arrangements, firms like Hoechst moved to in-
simply providing good scientists with time for ternalize these research capabilities. Early ex-
research by reducing their teaching. In addi- periences with the privatization of Emil
tion, I have suggested in the previous section Behring's work on sera at Hoechst led Althoff
that developments such as those connected to be concerned about insuring the expansion
with Ludwig's call to Leipzig pointed toward of basic research, but also nmaking it available
another refinement of the system through stim-for commercial development. A first experi-
ulating interconnections between otherwise ment was the establishment of the Frankfurt
autonomous disciplines. Although favorably Institut fur Serum-Priifung-und-Forschung
disposed to such cross-fertilization, Althoff with Paul Ehrlich as director. Though not yet
did not hold out much prospect for its reali- a for-profit research institute, the Institut was
zation, given the rigid hierarchies and social firmly based on mutual cooperation among
divisions in German universities. The solution state, industry, and academic science. This in-
to these structural problems depended on es- stitute prefigured a more ambitious endeavor
tablishing an Archimedean point outside the to pursue rational drug therapeutics and pro-
universities. The impetus for change and the duction of artificially synthesized drugs based
specific solutions to the problems of establish- on Ehrlich's discoveries of certain dyes' abil-
ing the necessary institutional conditions for ity to block trypanosomes' toxic capabilities
advanced research came about as a result of (see Ernst Bauemler, 1984; Lenoir, 1997 pp.
acute awareness of the increasing importance 179-202).
of academic science for industry, and the cen- The Georg-Speyer-Haus that Ehrlich pro-
trality of industry to the German Imperial posed and eventually constructed was an in-
State. terdisciplinary institution whose director
The relationship between Farbwerke would define problems to be attacked through
Hoechst, a dyestuffs manufacturer, and the re- exchange of ideas among physiologists, bio-
search workers in Robert Koch's laboratory at chemists, microbiologists, bacteriologists,
the Imperial Institutes of Health (Reichsge- pharmacologists, and clinicians working in-
sundheitsamt), following the discovery in house. An unspecified percentage of the profits
Koch's lab of the first biological antitoxins from patents was reinvested in the institute to
(diphtheria, tetanus) illustrates how closer cover its operating costs, including the costs

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26 AEA PAPERS AND PROCEEDINGS MAY 1998

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