Hermann Staudinger (23. 3. 1881 – 8. 9. 1965) gave plastics chemisty its theoretical foundations. Although his outstanding career as a scientist – doctorate at 22, professorship at 26 – culminated in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Staudinger has remained largely unknown – as a public figure too – and only specialists are familiar with his life and work nowadays. The following report portrays Staudinger as a productive and unorthodox thinker, who refused to accept conventional arguments in both his scientific and political activities – until his ideas finally became mainstream convictions.
The years 1881-1919
“Pioneer of polymer research”, “founder of plastics chemistry”, “father of macromolecules”: all chemistry textbooks abandon their normal matter-of-fact style when they start talking about Hermann Staudinger. Tribute is still being paid to him for his achievements even though he died 47 years ago now. Just about every chemist is still familiar with the name “Staudinger”, which plays a prominent role in the history of the field rather than being a mere footnote. Flashback to Stockholm on 10. December 1953, when Staudinger was presented the Nobel Prize in Chemistry by King Gustav Adolf of Sweden at the age of 72, after he had retired from his professorship. The absolute highlight of Staudinger’s life and work, which had been devoted to basic research, the theoretical foundations for his field, combined with untiring experimental work which took him from Worms, where he was born, to the chemical laboratory at Freiburg University, where he spent much of his life as director for twenty-five years. More than 500 different publications under his name are a reflection of the meticulous nature of Staudinger’s scientific work. Six universities (Mainz, Turin, Salamanca, Karlsruhe, Zurich and Strasbourg) awarded him honorary doctorates, while he was an honorary member of countless scientific associations as well.
Plenty left for biographers to investigate
“Warm eyes in a somewhat reddish face that is dominated by a large nose and a jovial chin. This could be the head of a country doctor – the head of the German winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Professor Dr Hermann Staudinger.” (Kunze 1953)
Staudinger has remained largely unknown outside the academic community, however. A fate that he shares with other pioneers in the plastics chemistry field – even those who were originally famous for their inventions but were soon forgotten in spite of the success of their creations: who still associates nylon with Wallace Hume Carothers (1896-1937), PVC with Fritz Klatte (1880-1934) or Plexiglas / Perspex with Otto Röhm (1876-1939)? The winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was never really a celebrity, although he did not try to avoid the limelight, as we will see later on. To this day, no biographer has written a detailed, historically accurate description of his life either, to go alongside Staudinger’s “Arbeitserinnerungen”, which appeared in 1961 (see References) – neither has his life been put in its historical context nor has light been shed on his character and personality on the basis of this. This is particularly surprising, because Staudinger’s scientific and political activities happened during the most turbulent decades of recent history, influenced by sudden paradigm shifts and regime changes and – above all – shaken by two World Wars. German Empire, Weimar Republic, Nazi dictatorship, Post-War Germany: upheavals in government and society affect the scientific community too – including chemists, who are said to have little interest in politics. Positions had to be adopted – particularly by holders of prominent functions: accepting or rejecting the status quo, opportunistic and flexible or confrontation. Unlike others in his field, Staudinger did not retreat into an ivory tower in his role as a basic research scientist; instead of this, he expressed his opinions on issues that had nothing to do with his scientific field when he considered this necessary and it did not seem to him to be acceptable to remain silent.
How everything began
Chemistry was still far from Staudinger’s mind when he started to think about a career in 1899 on finishing school where the emphasis was on classical languages and literature. He was particularly interested in botany, but he decided to get conventional vocational training first before entering the academic world – so that he had more than one iron in the fire: since – as the saying goes – a trade in hand finds gold in every land, Staudinger completed an apprenticeship with a carpenter in his home town of Worms. A profession he was never to pursue afterwards, because it turned out that he was destined to become a scientist and researcher. Very soon after he had registered to study botany at the University of Halle/Saale, he took the advice given to him by his father, the grammar school teacher and philosopher Franz Staudinger (1849-1921) and started to study chemistry, “in order to be able to understand botanical problems better” (Staudinger 1961, 1). After the family moved to Darmstadt, he registered to study at the Technical University there, leaving not only Halle but also botany behind him: the young Staudinger switched completely to chemistry. After two terms in Darmstadt, he took his initial exams and then returned to Halle to study for a doctorate, which he obtained when he was only 22 years old (title of the dissertation: “Accumulation of malonic ester on unsaturated compounds”; doctoral advisor: Daniel Vorländer, 1867-1941; http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Vorländer). Once he had completed his doctorate, Staudinger spent another term in Halle as a private scientific assistant, before he moved to Strasbourg University in the autumn of 1903, where he became a teaching assistant of Johannes Thiele(1865-1918; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Thiele_(chemist)) and finally qualified to teach at a university in the spring of 1907 as well – with a thesis about highly reactive, dimerising ketenes (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketene). Staudinger became a professor the same year: Karlsruhe Technical University appointed him to be an Associate Professor for organic chemistry. In this position, he decided to concentrate specifically on polymer research, focussing in particular on isoprene (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isopren) and butadiene (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/1,3-Butadien) in order to make progress in the development of synthetic rubber, which – however – ended up taking another 20 years and was completed by a different chemist (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buna_(Kautschuk)).
To Switzerland for the next step in his career
Staudinger stayed in Baden-Württemberg for five years and then accepted an appointment in Switzerland: the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich offered him a chair in the summer of 1912. As successor to Richard Willstätter (1872-1942; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Willst%C3%A4tter), who moved to the new Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Chemie in Berlin, Staudinger was given a full professorship at the age of 31 and continued his research into cellulose and rubber in this position. Staudinger spent fourteen years in Zurich from 1912 to 1926, turning down offers from Graz and Hamburg University. “For a good reason”, as the journalist Siegfried Heimlich points out, because “he was able to observe the unspeakable acts of his German fatherland in the First World War from a neutral location in Switzerland without being involved actively himself” (Heimlich 1998, 82). The years Staudinger spent in Switzerland were not a period in which he kept his head down or looked the other way as though it was none of his business, however. Staudinger did not maintain silence in a backwater as political and military battles were fought elsewhere. On the contrary: physical distance encouraged independent thinking; Staudinger developed into a man who positioned himself in the frontline against the political and scientific mainstream. Unimpressed by the nationalistic euphoria in his German fatherland, he predicted the military defeat and advocated negotiations to find a peaceful solution as early as 1917. And not long after the war, he shook up the academic community in his capacity as a scientist, breaking with the past in 1920 by formulating his macromolecule concept in organic chemistry.
Prophecies of doom during the war
But let’s take things one at a time: in 1917, the third year of the two-front war, which what were known as the central powers – Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria – were fighting against an alliance of more than 30 different countries, particularly Russia, France, England and the United States, Staudinger published an essay with the title “Technik und Krieg” in the magazine “Friedens-Warte” that appeared in Zurich (this essay was reprinted in Staudinger 1947, 20-40). In it, he stated that “superhuman” technical forces would determine the outcome of the war. The more coal and iron a country had at its disposal to fuel its armaments production, the greater the prospects of victory: “Technology did not play this role in earlier wars [...]. It is, however, already apparent from some of the wars that were fought in the last century that the winner was always technically superior, i.e. that the country with more coal and iron triumphed in the end. For example, the production of coal and iron in Germany was far larger than in France at the time of the Franco-Prussian War” (1870-1871, editor’s note) (ibid., 29). Germany’s chances had been good this time as well (cf. ibid., 48), until America’s decision to enter the war in April 1917 changed the balance of power so much in favour of the alliance that “Germany’s chances of winning had become minimal” (ibid., 34): “Separate peace with Russia, which many people in Germany are hoping for, is likely to have little impact in this respect, because the technical superiority of the alliance would only be reduced to a minor extent as a result. It would therefore be very important for the central powers not to try and win the war by military means” (ibid.), in other words: efforts needed to be made to arrange a truce and find a peaceful solution as quickly as possible.
No response to the call for peace
Staudinger did not make just this one attempt. At the end of 1917, he wrote to the leadership of the German Army directly and demanded a stop to the fighting, because “the opponents of Germany are much superior now” as a result of America’s decision to enter the war. New military victories would be bad for Germany in two different respects: “On the one hand, they will intensify the resistance put up by the Americans, while they will, on the other hand, distract the German people from what they should really be doing, i.e. trying to find a peaceful solution on the only possible basis, via negotiation.” (Sachsse 1984, 975). The 20-page letter to the High Command of the German Armed Forces, which has just been quoted here, is entitled “Zur Beurteilung Amerikas”; the manuscript has survived as part of Staudinger’s estate and is kept at the German Museum in Munich.
Sachsse 1984, 976, comments as follows: “In view of the German mentality at the time, Staudinger’s action was outrageous. Public opinion rejected negotiations of any kind. German university professors had insisted on several occasions that it was necessary to persevere come what may.” As expected, the German Emperor and Chancellor did not therefore respond to the offer of peace made by the US President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) in January 1918 – the famous “14 points” (www.dhm.de/lemo/html/dokumente/14punkte/).
The outcome of the war was supposed to be decided via a victory or defeat on the battlefield, so the leaders continued to ignore the fact that the country’s ability to fight was diminishing, blinded as they were by isolated military successes. In retrospect, Staudinger concluded that July 1918 was the “turning point”. In his paper “Der erste Weltkrieg unter technischen Gesichtspunkten” (1919), he wrote: “The most recent efforts did not have any major impact even on France, but [...] the Americans started to provide particularly intensive support, so that the superiority of the alliance was now clear to see.” (Staudinger 1947, 53). He accused the political community of failing to heed his warning, the German defeat was “unavoidable” because of the “American opposition”: “Germany’s fate was decided in the spring of 1917 rather than in the autumn of 1918.” (ibid., 53). Because – in retrospect – the technical balance of power and the growing superiority of the alliance made “the course and end of the war inevitable”, so that “even the most talentest of military commanders was unable to avoid the consequences” (ibid., 46).
Staudinger did not just call for a truce; his appeal for peace was more radical than this. In view of the destructive capacity of modern weapons technology, war was completely out of the question for him as a political instrument, because there were only losers now, with both murder and suicide being involved: “In future, a war could [...] lead to unimaginable destruction; since this is the case, it appears to be vital for humankind as a whole to find really permanent peace – a problem [...] it is particularly important to solve today if entire peoples and cultures are not be in danger of annihilation. Peace that only amounts to a kind of truce would be the worst thing that could happen to Europe.” (ibid., 48; cf. 38). Staudinger was making an indirect case for demilitarisation here, while the allies were negotiating the Treaty of Versailles and nationalistic groups in Germany were already flirting with another armed conflict in order to avenge the defeat in 1918.
Dispute with Fritz Haber about chemical warfare
Fritz Haber (1917)
Staudinger attributed the “destructive capacity of modern warfare” to “the tremendous impact of the latest technology in military conflicts” (ibid., 38). In this context, he criticised not only explosives (ibid., 40: “terrible effect”) in an essay written for the international Red Cross magazine that appeared in Geneva, but also and in particular chemical weapons, which was therefore an attack on Fritz Haber (1868-1934), who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918. Haber headed the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für physikalische Chemie und Elektrochemie in Berlin, that is now named after him. During the First World War, he was involved in the first mass use of poison gas at Ypern in Belgium and his institute received financial backing from the German army. He defended the chemical weapons, which – in his opinion – were “no more cruel than exploding pieces of metal”, particularly since they did not cause any mutilation (lecture about “Chemistry in the war”; quoted by Klee 2005, 214). Staudinger’s article for the Red Cross enraged Haber, who wrote his colleague a strongly-worded letter, accusing him of dramatising the suffering caused by chemical warfare, thus encouraging defamation by their country’s opponents and harming the German Empire (see Sachsse 1984, 976). Haber felt that the concept of maintaining peace via technical means was wrong, representing a form of idealism that was completely out of touch with reality; what was crucial instead was attitude, a willingness to maintain peace. Staudinger’s response was polite but without any concessions: he readily admitted that “attitude” is essential for agreement on peaceful coexistence between different peoples – he himself had already drawn attention elsewhere to “intellectual forces” (Staudinger 1947, 38) – but an “aspect” that was no less “necessary” was “the material basis” (Sachsse 1984, 976). From this angle, it was Haber himself rather than Staudinger who was an idealist, if not a political romantic. Staudinger’s analysis of the destructive capacity of modern weapons technology, on the other hand, which was based on mathematical calculations, revealed to a greater extent the mind of a matter-of-fact scientist. Staudinger also rejected the accusation that he was taking sides with Germany’s war enemies, since all countries were the object of his criticism. It was, instead, Haber who was demonstrating bias – by making such outdated statements as “For humankind in peace, for the fatherland in war” (quoted by Klee 205, 214).
Not an uncompromising pacifist
Fritz Haber (2nd from left) in the circle of military personnel.
This argument that war is senseless in the age of technology reflects not the spontaneous passion of an apostle but the well-considered conclusion of a pragmatist – Staudinger was not an uncompromising pacifist. “Our ancestors had no choice but to drive out their neighbours and obtain more land and thus more space to expand into”, he wrote in 1917 in the essay “Technik und Krieg” (Staudinger 1947, 35; cf. 101) that has already been mentioned. There was even talk of the “right” of earlier generations “to wage a bloody war about the place in the sun” (ibid., 35). “In the technical age, on the other hand, these old ideas about the necessity of wars – which have brought such profound misery to Europe – must be abandoned” (ibid., 101). Staudinger rejected the fatalistic attitude “that there have always been wars and that wars are unlikely to stop in future either in view of the nature of humankind” (Staudinger 1947, 101), because anyone who followed this argument was accepting the possibility of “peoples being destroyed” (ibid., 101) in tomorrow’s world. “Hoping for a war-free future” was encouraged for him specifically by the contemporary “prophecies” claiming “that we [...] are facing a time of particularly bitter fighting” (ibid., 38). This was no paradox – Staudinger was hoping that the destructive capacity of high-tech armies would have a deterrent effect. This was based on the confidence that humankind would be sensible enough to avoid the abyss of self-destruction. The Second World War eliminated much of the basis for such optimism, but at the same time confirmed that Staudinger’s warnings were as important and relevant as ever. As early as 1919, he suspected that his calls for a framework for stable, lasting peace would probably bear little fruit. “It is tragic [...] to see that Germany, for which a policy of reconciliation between different peoples would have been so important in view of its location and natural resources, relied most firmly on military aggression, whereas America – the only country that could have allowed itself to adopt such a policy thanks to its riches – has been trying for decades now to promote peaceful coexistence – to no avail, unfortunately.” (ibid., 54)
Good technology, bad technology
If Staudinger is right in saying that war is escalating because of modern technology, then is such technology not evil in itself, so that war should in turn be declared on it too? No, because then it would not be possible to enjoy the benefits of peaceful use of the technology. Staudinger countered technophobic arguments of this kind by outlining a vision of “controlled” technology, that offered excellent “potential for life and development” now and in future (ibid., 101): “Thanks to technology, more people can live on a limited amount of land nowadays and they can enjoy an easier life than a smaller number of people on the same amount of land in the ‘good old days’” (ibid.; cf. 103). It was not technology as such that was evil, but the abuse of it; although technology added incredible destructive potential to wars, they could not be vindicated for this very reason: “There is no justification for wars any more [...]” (ibid., 101).
According to Sachsse 1984, 976, Staudinger was disappointed by the response to his political publications: “Even though they were extremely relevant, they were not well-known and attracted little attention”. In contrast to the trailblazing publications in the polymer chemistry field, which caused a stir and led to fierce controversy from 1920 onwards – more about this in the next part of this short series about Staudinger.
The years 1920-1932
Hermann and Magda Staudinger in Stockholm 1953 (Image: Archiv)
The Twenties are generally idealised as the “golden age”. Contrary to the cliché, they were in fact a decade with both ups and downs – for Hermann Staudinger too. The chemist, who had been working in Zurich since 1912, started it spectacularly: in 1920, he published his “Macromolecular Manifesto”, which gave plastics chemistry its foundations but was rejected resoundingly by the organic chemistry establishment. The opposition that Staudinger faced as a result threatened to isolate him, but he defended his theory stubbornly and continued his attempts to prove experimentally the existence of the “giant molecules” he had postulated in theory. This was a project with an uncertain outcome at first and Staudinger suffered setbacks in his private life too: his father died in 1921 and he was divorced from his wife Dora, née Förster (1886-1964), who bore him four children in the 20 years of their marriage, in 1926. 1926 marked the start of a new stage in his career as well – and one that was to prove successful: Staudinger left Zurich and returned to Germany and a position at Freiburg University. He enjoyed recognition and fame here in the Breisgau region – and finally retired from his academic career there too. It was also a happy time for Staudinger again in his private life, once he married the biologist Magda Woit (1902-1997) in 1928, who was his companion in his scientific endeavours as well up to his death in 1965.
Germany at the beginning of the 1920s: the war was over and the monarchy was a thing of the past. Hitherto unknown Republican freedom quickly helped people to forget the authoritarian state. “Anything goes” was the message spread by intellectuals; cities became the stage for experimenting with “liberté” and “libertinage”. A great deal was changing in plastics chemistry too. New empirical findings demanded a theoretical basis, but rigid, outdated thinking could not simply be abandoned as long as the explanatory concepts needed were still nebulous. A paradigm shift was in the air, but the “experimental stage” had not been passed yet:
“The term ‘plastic’ very gradually started to establish itself via a magazine of the same name that was started in 1911 by the (German, editor’s note) chemist Richard Escales (1863-1924). Nothing at all was, however, known about how these plastics were in actual fact structured and by what principles they could be synthesised in a laboratory until late in the 20s. The progress that was nevertheless evident [...] was not based on systematic research but was instead attributable to an explosive cocktail mixed together from such ingredients as experience, speculation, acquired know-how and plenty of sheer luck.” (Heimlich 1998, 79)
Basic research was vital in this uncertain situation. Hermann Staudinger did pioneering work in this field at his chair in Zurich. He was interested in “determining the composition” (Staudinger 1938, 15 and 1961, 77) of polymers, i.e. of the fascinating class of substances that included such natural substances as rubber in addition to the innovative new synthetic ones – “proper” plastics – like celluloid (1869), Galalith (1897) or Bakelite (1908). Biopolymers include, in addition, proteins, enzymes, polysaccharides (e.g. cellulose, glycogen and pectin) as well as nucleic acids, the basic components of our genetic structure, as research in subsequent decades was to show.
Fascinating class of substances with exceptional properties
The polymers produced by mankind (“synthetic”) and the polymers that are already available without mankind doing anything (“natural”) have exceptional properties and behaviour in common that no other class of substances can boast:
In contrast to, for example, a saline solution, which cannot be distinguished visually from clear water, polymers form colloidal, i.e. glue-like, solutions, which already move between liquid and solid states at relatively low concentrations and are sometimes viscous and sometimes jelly-like (cf. Krüll 1978a, 45).
Other properties that should be emphasised are a marked ability to swell and form fibres, high elasticity, tremendous strength and “above all the unique combination of very high stability with multiple reactivity” (Staudinger 1961, 302; cf. ibid., 95 and Staudinger 1938, 14).
It was not, however, clear at the time what gave polymers all these physical characteristics, why a polymer, as it were, has no alternative but to display such properties. Staudinger was convinced that chemists had to find the answers to these questions: “The great variety of the individual phenomena is based [...] on the fact that the ( ) atoms are joined together in very different ways.” (Staudinger 1938, 5) In order to “obtain an understanding” of the properties of the polymers, it was therefore necessary “[...] to determine the structure of their molecules; the nature of the bonds and the arrangement of the atoms in the molecule therefore need to be specified” (Staudinger 1938, 9). Understanding the specific chemical reaction that led to the creation of polymers also promised to shed light on this matter. The aim was to have this process, which was known as polymerisation, take place in a controlled fashion and to discover suitable auxiliary materials that initiated, maintained and ended the process – not least of all in order to be able to develop versatile new plastics and manufacture them on an industrial scale.
The four basic elements of organic chemistry
Staudinger’s primary interest was therefore to decipher the “structural principle” of the polymers (Staudinger 1938, 11; cf. ibid., 5). Anyone who set out to determine their composition could not restrict himself “merely to analysing the substance” (Staudinger 1938, 9). The composition of the polymers was “basically very simple, because just a few types of atom are involved in their structure; mainly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, the four basic elements of organic chemistry.” (Staudinger 1938, 6; cf. Staudinger 1961, 311) What was in the final analysis involved was “the chemistry of a single element – carbon. The outstanding feature of its atom is, incidentally, that it has an exceptional ability to bond with others of its own kind as well as with the few above-mentioned other types of atom [...]. This distinctive feature of carbon leads to an enormous number of compounds.” (Staudinger 1938, 6; cf. Staudinger 1961, 85) The crucial statement Staudinger adds is: “Knowing about the composition of an organic compound does not, however, in itself involve any understanding of its formation and properties” (Staudinger 1938, 6).
In order to dig deeper here, Staudinger put his concept of macromolecules (“giant molecules”) to scientific discussion and publicised it on an ongoing basis. Staudinger made a start on this in the essay “About polymerisation” that appeared in the “Reports from the German Chemical Society” on 12. June 1920, in which he postulated a “structure of long chain molecules” for polymers – mention being made, among others, of polystyrenes, polyvinyl chlorides and rubber (Staudinger 1961, 77). In this context, Staudinger coined the term “high polymers”, which was to be replaced by the term “macromolekel” (Staudinger/Fritschi 1922) and, finally, “macromolecule” (Staudinger 1924) in subsequent years. In Staudinger’s first essay about the chemistry of high polymers, which Priesner 1980, 351 calls the “macromolecular manifesto”, the central definition is: “Polymerisation processes [...] are all the processes in which two or more molecules combine to form a product with the same composition but a higher molecular weight” (Staudinger 1920; quoted in Priesner 1980, 35-36). A chemical molecule could “reach practically any size” (Staudinger 1961, 7) and therefore grow into a giant molecule in this way: “Identical or similar small groups of atoms join together in constant repetition to form a pattern, as a result of which macromolecules of enormous size are, finally, produced.” (Minssen/Walgenbach 1985/I, 16)
Simply defining terminology does not, however, by any means settle adequately what exactly happens in polymerisation and what enables this process to take place. This is therefore explained in further detail step by step below, based on statements made by Staudinger. An appropriate place to start is the phenomenon level, because it can be described and because it presents the mysteries that electrify both naive observers and passionate chemists. Looking back on the early days of macromolecular chemistry, Staudinger writes in 1961, 169: “It had already been known for a long time that some unsaturated compounds turn into products with the same composition but completely different physical properties when left standing for a long time, when exposed to light or when heated.” Styrene, for example, “[...] gradually becomes a highly viscous substance [...], finally forming glassy polystyrene” (Staudinger 1961, 170). Such processes, that could be described as spontaneous polymerisation, correspond to polymerisation that is triggered actively with human involvement, e.g. by heating or the exertion of pressure.
What is known as the vulcanisation of rubber is an excellent example of this: in 1839, the American chemist Charles Nelson Goodyear (1800-1860) succeeded in transforming the rubber that occurs naturally into the polymer product that we now call rubber by adding sulphur and applying heat. The undesirable tendency of the rubber to become sticky when heated and crumbly when cooled was overcome as a result.
Strictly speaking, vulcanisation is a type of polymerisation that is comparable to what is called addition polymerisation. The definition of this is that two different raw materials – rather than one and the same raw material – combine in chains to form macromolecules, as is the case – for example – with polyurethanes (see Staudinger 1961, 316). If there are by-products, water in particular, as is the case with Galalith (from casein and formaldehyde) or nylon (from hexamethylene diamine and adipic acid), for instance, this is called condensation polymerisation instead (cf. Staudinger 1961, 315-316; cf. ibid., 175 and Staudinger 1938, 15). (LINK 1)
About monomers and car tyres
Vulcanisation is not a completely accurate example, because rubber itself is already a polymer when it combines with sulphur. The British chemist Charles Greville Williams (1929-1910) was the first to propose this hypothesis. Rubber therefore has to be considered the product of natural polymerisation that is attributable to basic components called monomers that have joined together repetitively and continuously, i.e. have combined to form a polymer. The conclusion from this is that it ought to be possible to create synthetic rubber by polymerising the isolated rubber monomer – the hydrocarbon isoprene. Experiments to do this started at Farbenfabriken Bayer in 1906 under the direction of Carl Duisburg and Staudinger already tackled this research assignment during his time in Karlsruhe (1907-1912) too (see Staudinger 1961, 5; cf. Westermann 2007, 67 and Krüll 1978b, 229) “(at this time, editor’s note) there was great demand for synthetic rubber due to the rapid growth of the car industry and the rising prices for plantation rubber on the world market associated with this – particularly in the German empire, which depended on raw material supplies from the English and French colonies. This economic situation of his country was another particularly strong incentive [...] for Staudinger to focus on polymerisation reactions like those occurring with isoprene very early on.” (Krüll 1978b, 230)
In order to make it easier to understand what follows, let us recap here: the term “monomer” is used for basic molecules that form macromolecules via standard polymerisation, addition polymerisation or condensation polymerisation. “So macromolecules represent chains of one and the same basic molecule. The number of the latter in the macromolecule is called its degree of polymerisation.” (Staudinger 1938, 11) Staudinger also characterised polymerisation as a “peculiar chain reaction” (Staudinger 1961, 315; cf. ibid., 179: “chain polymerisation”) and drew a comparison with a box of matches that has been set on fire: “just one match has to be ignited to set all the matches on fire” (Staudinger 1947, 95).
Carbon double bonds of critical importance
It is not, however, the case that all monomers are capable of forming macromolecules. (Chemically unsaturated) hydrocarbons are what primarily have the ability to create a polymer chain. In them, the carbon atoms have multiple bonds and the number of hydrogen atoms is reduced accordingly:
Single carbon bond, e.g. ethane: each of the two carbon atoms has bonds to the other carbon atom as well as to three hydrogen atoms. As long as no atom is removed, no bonds are available to join a polymer chain (saturated state).
Double carbon bond, e.g. ethylene: there are two bonds between the carbon atoms. One is easy to break (unsaturated state), so that the molecule can join a polymer chain. Rubber, for example, has numerous ethylene bonds (see Staudinger/Fritschi 1922, 785, quoted in Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 55; cf. Krüll 1978b, 240, footnote 42).
Triple carbon bond, e.g. acetylene: the triple bond of acetylene is so easy to break that the molecule falls apart explosively; for this reason, it is only suitable as the component of a polymer chain to a very limited extent.
Unsaturated raw materials with at least one carbon double bond are therefore the primary candidates for the production of macromolecules. This bond can be opened (“activated”) under the influence of heat, high pressure or auxiliary agents known as “initiators” (Link 2); it then tries to find other molecules that are capable of forming a bond. This initial step is known as the “start reaction”. The chain formation process (polymerisation) that then follows leads to polymers / plastics with very different properties, depending on when the process is terminated. The termination reaction can be initiated in a controlled fashion, e.g. by adding water, atmospheric oxygen (cf. Staudinger 1961, 176) or solvents. In this context, a hydrogen atom changes its position and a saturated giant molecule is created. Polymerisability and polymerisation speed do not therefore depend solely on the structure of the molecules; they are also influenced to a large extent by agents that are added to initiate (start reaction), maintain (growth reaction) or end (termination reaction) polymerisation. Staudinger 1961, 171 says that substituents “can both increase [...] and decrease polymerisability (cf. Staudinger 1938, 7) thanks to their impact on the carbon double bond. Oxygen, for example, turns “soluble rubber with unlimited swelling properties [...] into rubber that is insoluble and only swells to a limited extent [...]. The soluble rubber remains unchanged in nitrogen atmospheres, on the other hand.” (Staudinger 1938, 26; cf. Staudinger 1961, 330 about polystyrene) What is particularly spectacular in this context is that even “minute amounts of substances can lead to exceptionally large changes in the physical properties (of macromolecular substances, editor’s note)” (Staudinger 1961, 329). “In certain circumstances, it is sufficient for the reactive substance to react with a single specific group of the macromolecule that only accounts for a small fraction of its mass; the behaviour of the entire macromolecule can be changed as a result” (Staudinger 1938, 27). Chemists have unexpected creative powers as a result – as if they were modern alchemists.
Staudinger’s first encounter with polymers
It is worth remembering that Staudinger’s interest in the structure of high-polymer compounds was aroused in direct connection with his research in the low-molecular field. After he synthesised a new class of substances – ketenes – when he was qualifying to teach at a university in Strasbourg (see Krüll 1978b, 229 for details), he carried out autoxidation experiments on them during his time in Karlsruhe, which “in addition to a number of interesting and analysable products occasionally led to undefinable, resin-like substances as well that are practically impossible to dissolve and have an unclear composition and structure. This was his first, unedifying encounter with polymer substances.” (Krüll 1978b, 229) “In connection with his initial work on isoprene, Staudinger found out that the synthetic rubber he produced was not completely identical to natural rubber – an observation that was bound to arouse curiosity and chemical interest. He therefore began to produce and make closer examinations of other unsaturated hydrocarbons like polyoxymethylene too. This means that the connection to high-polymer chemistry was established as early as 1911. When he moved to Zurich (a year later, editor’s note), he was forced to shelve this work to a large extent for the time being due to greater demands made on this time by teaching commitments, administrative assignments of all kinds and other research projects.” (Krüll 1978b, 230) He worked systematically on making a gradual shift in the focus of his research, however: “I myself have concentrated on macromolecular chemistry since 1920 [...], starting at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.” (Staudinger 1961, 312) What Staudinger is referring to here is the essay “About polymerisation” that he published in 1920 and that has already been mentioned before, in which he summarises and thinks through his experiences with polyoxymethylenes, polystyrenes, synthetic rubber etc. and then proposes the thesis in question, that high polymers consist of long chain molecules: “This molecular structure in particular is often of crucial importance for the properties of macromolecular substances – both natural macromolecular substances and plastics.” (Staudinger 1961, 95) An apt example: “The lower links in the polystyrenes with molecular weights between 2,000 and 10,000 [...] are powdery and dissolve without swelling, whereas the highest-molecular representatives with a molecular weight of 100,000 and more [...] are tough glass materials that acquire elastic properties when heated to more than 120°C.” (Staudinger 1961, 95)
About primary valences and secondary valences
Heimlich 1998, 79 summarises the situation in rather direct fashion: Staudinger “was brutal in his destruction of the legend of small molecules and replaced it by his convictions about giant molecules.” Ibid., 83 says: “While molecules with what is called a molecular weight of 300 were classified as huge [...] in classic organic chemistry, Staudinger downgraded them to dwarfs in relation to the macromolecules he proposed that had molecular weights of 10,000 or more.” Looked at from our current perspective, this was a scientific revolution and a paradigm shift, with which Staudinger laid the foundations for plastics chemistry. Most of his contemporaries failed to realise the significance, however: “The response to Staudinger’s article was minimal [...]. At this time, Staudinger was still unable to provide any proof of the existence of long-chain molecules.” (Deichmann 2001, 251) Doubts about the accuracy of Staudinger’s theory dominated; there was opposition primarily to his theories about the bonding forces that existed in high polymers. The predominant view in organic chemistry at the time was that the basic molecules in polymers did not lose their independence, i.e. they were only bonded to form a unit by low electromagnetic attraction. In other words: the existence of high polymers was no reason to give up the concept of low molecules and to postulate macromolecules, which many chemists claimed were nothing more than a figment of the imagination.
Detailed information about this controversy and the people involved will be provided later on. Before this is done, here is an outline of Staudinger’s antithesis and the necessary preconditions. The basic rule is: electromagnetic attraction takes place between all the atoms of a piece of material, but the degree of attraction varies. The strongest interaction between the atoms is within the individual molecules. These inter-atomic and/or intra-molecular forces are called primary or covalences (primary bonds). In contrast to them, weaker bonding forces known as secondary or partial valences (secondary bonds) are responsible for inter-molecular cohesion (cf. Priesner 1980, 17). For his macromolecular model, Staudinger now excluded the “assumption of secondary valences” from the outset as being “not necessary” (Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-II, 13). This was a logical conclusion, because the claim was that a macromolecule was an independent entity of a size that had not been considered possible before and not just a loose collection of familiar small molecular units. With respect to the existing bonding relationships in the macromolecule, Staudinger therefore worked on the assumption of primary valences in the same way as with any other molecule. Secondary valences would only be a subject requiring examination when the discussion moved on to inter-(macro)molecular attraction.
At the latest from 1920 onwards, Staudinger was certain “that standard valence formulae explain the wide range of different polymerisation products sufficiently” (Deichmann 2001, 251; cf. Priesner 1980, 35). In other words: the “thousand to one million atoms” that macromolecules consist of are “’bonded via primary valences” (Staudinger 1961, 93; cf. ibid., 77). Since this was the case, the chemist had a stable building material that made him the architect of buildings of a variety that exceeded everything ever known in the past – an analogy that Staudinger liked to use:
“Not only molecules but also [...] macromolecules can be compared to buildings that are made essentially from just a few kinds of building materials – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. If there are only a few dozen or hundred of them, all that can be made with them are small molecules and, therefore, relatively primitive buildings. However, when 10,000 or 100,000 are available, buildings of endless variety can be produced: residential buildings, factory halls, skyscrapers, palaces etc. Structures can also be produced then that are unimaginable when only a small amount of building material is available. The same is true of macromolecules. It is obvious that new properties are of course observed here too that are not possible with small molecules of low-molecular substances. The number of possible macromolecular compounds is infinitely large. The size of the macromolecules also means that they can be designed in no end of different ways, again in the same way as is the case with buildings” (Staudinger 1961, 94-95; cf. ibid., 330-331; see also Heimlich 1998, 84 and Kunststoff-Museums-Verein e.V. Düsseldorf 2004, 26).
Basic research triggers industrial boom
Staudinger himself was certain right from the start that his macromolecule concept was significant not only at the theoretical level or did not just help progress to be made in the laboratory. It was a milestone in basic research that pointed the way to new approaches in the industrial production of polymers too. Staudinger expected the “in-depth understanding of the inescapable connections between the structure of the [...] plastics, i.e. the size and shape of their macromolecules, and their physical properties to lead to new ways to improve the properties of these substances [...]. It will be possible to manufacture products that are adapted to their respective use more effectively than the products supplied by nature by deliberately changing the structure” – this quotation is taken from the introduction to the first German plastics manual entitled “Fortschritte der Chemie, Physik und Technik der makromolekularen Stoffe” of which he was one of the publishers (Staudinger/Rohrs/Vieweg 1939; quoted in Westermann 2007, 169, footnote 224). “Synthetic rubber is, for example, [...] tougher than natural rubber [...] and it is more suitable for car tyres.” (Staudinger 1938, 15)
Staudinger’s self-confident predictions proved to be correct; the macromolecular concept stimulated material research and really did lead to an industrial boom soon afterwards:
“Thanks to the co-operation with Hermann Staudinger, the second half of the 1920s and the 30s were trailblazing years for industrial research [...], since Staudinger’s macromolecular model represented a very viable theoretical resource. It was possible to tackle specific development problems and create new experimental conditions with it.” (Westermann 2007, 60)
“During the period between 1929, when the research team at I. G. Farbenindustrie produced the first (marketable, editor’s note) polystyrene, and 1932, the group developed synthetic polymers at a speed of about one new product per day. It goes without saying that not all of them were viable, but some were of tremendous economic significance. The latter included the first polyacrylic compounds, some of which were used later on to manufacture excellent materials – such as Orlon and Acrilan – and strong, transparent plastics – such as Plexiglas. These products alone were enough to form the basis for an extensive and large plastics industry.” (Mark 1970, 104; cf. Staudinger 1938, 15)
“Global production of high-molecular materials (plastics, synthetic resins, chemical fibres etc.) amounted to 100,000 tonnes in 1933, one million tonnes in 1950 and more than two million tonnes in 1953.” (Source: www.benzolring.de)From purely empirical optimisation of materials to molecular material design – this, in a nutshell, is the most tangible progress that has been made thanks to Staudinger’s macromolecular concept and that is highlighted when tribute is paid to Staudinger’s historical achievements: his “concept [...] that was revolutionary at the time paved the way for the molecular design of functional and decorative polymer materials, the property profiles of which are customised for specific applications via the molecular architectures.” (Mülhaupt 2004, 1072)
Rejection in Düsseldorf
All of this was of course still a long way off at the beginning of the Twenties, when the macromolecule concept was still in its infancy. Irrefutable experimental proof of the existence of macromolecular substances had not yet been obtained; some 20 dissertations (cf. Westermann 2007, 65) were compiled at Staudinger’s Institute of Organic Chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich between 1920 and 1926 for this purpose, the results of which Staudinger presented to the Society of German Natural Science Researchers and Doctors when it met in Düsseldorf on 23. September 1926. Instead of the triumphal reception he hoped for, Staudinger found himself almost completely isolated, however: “Everyone [...] rejected Staudinger’s theory as being thoroughly untenable. Only Richard Willstätter (1872-1942, editor’s note), the winner of the Nobel Prize (in 1915, editor’s note) declared to his astonished colleagues at the end of the meeting that he was now of the opinion that Staudinger had provided experimental proof of the existence of long chain molecules.” (Krüll 1978b, 232; cf. Krüll 1978a, 48). The physical chemist Hermann Mark (1895-1992), who was another of the speakers in Düsseldorf, put it more cautiously: “Willstätter [...], the Chairman, indicated in reticent form during his final remarks that he supported the macromolecular concept.” (Mark 1980, 482; quoted in Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 82)
Staudinger faced further resistance from colleagues the same year when he left the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich after fourteen years of successful work to take up a position at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg as successor to Heinrich Wieland (1887-1957), who in turn followed Richard Willstätter at Munich Technical University. Staudinger was to stay committed to Freiburg until he retired in the spring of 1951 at the age of 70, remaining the highly respected director of the chemical laboratory at the university for a quarter of a century, even though the conditions were anything but favourable at the start. Because “serious misgivings and even open protest were expressed by the (Freiburg, editor’s note) professors” against Staudinger before his appointment (Krüll 1978b, 228) – but for political reasons and not because of his provocative macromolecule hypothesis: since the dedicated appeals he made in 1917 to decide the outcome of the First World War by negotiation rather than by fighting, because Germany was certain to suffer a military defeat due to “material inferiority” [see part I of this series], nationalistic circles had branded Staudinger a “traitor to his country”. The Freiburg “Dean Friedrich Oltmanns (1860-1945, editor’s note) travelled to Zurich specifically to meet Staudinger and take him to task personally and it took the latter a great deal of effort to make it clear to Oltmanns and the other Freiburg colleagues that he was not by any means the detractor of Germany which he was to a large extent considered to be. Staudinger became a professor at Freiburg University in 1926 and was even Dean of the natural sciences faculty for a time, although not all of his colleagues succeeded in overcoming their animosity against him.” (Krüll 1978b, 228-229)
Reservations about “gunk chemistry”
Both his personal and professional reputations remained tarnished at first: “The rejection of the concept of macromolecules by most organic chemists turned into disdain at the end of the 1920s.” (Deichmann 2001, 253) The opponents included the already mentioned Heinrich Wieland, former holder of the Freiburg chair, a specialist for organic nitrogen compounds and winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It is reported that Wieland gave Staudinger the following piece of advice at the end of the 1920s: “My dear colleague, abandon the idea of giant molecules, organic molecules with a molecular weight of more than 5,000 do not exist. Purify your products, like rubber, and then they will crystallise and prove to be low-molecular substances.” (Quoted in Deichmann 2001, 253; cf. Staudinger 1961, 79 and Krüll 1978a, 47-48)
This criticism of Staudinger was based on two associated presuppositions that were themselves questionable:
Premise A: substances or substance blends in a non-crystalline state, such as rubber and other resins, were not chemically pure. Such “gunk” was not something that deserved investigation from the outset, chemists were only supposed to focus on pure, crystalline compounds – following possible extraction from the sticky resins. Looked at from this point of view (“chemistry of pure substances”), not only the alleged giant molecules but also their supposed alternative, i.e. clusters (aggregates) of small molecules, disappeared into thin air – because both of them could only be found if the “gunk” in question was inadequately purified, so that they were, strictly speaking, only pseudomaterials (cf. Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-II, 12).
Premise B: the smallest atomic components of a crystal that could be determined with the help of X-rays were called basic elements or elementary cells, These three-dimensional structures in the low-molecular organic range were all larger than the molecules of the substance in question. With respect to high-polymer materials, X-ray structural analysis showed that crystalline cellulose, for example, only had an elementary cell consisting of a few glucose units. In view of past experience in the low-molecular range, it was concluded that cellulose was not a macromolecule candidate – after all, the cellulose molecule had to be even smaller than the elementary cell, which was small anyway (cf. Krüll 1978b, 232 and Priesner 1980, 30). It was of course unscientific to generalise this finding, i.e. to apply it to all supposedly macromolecular substances and solutions of them without carrying out appropriate experiments, but this did not inhibit the mainstream traditionalists in the low-molecular field much at all.
Other natural scientists apart from chemists were also dogmatic in their criticism of Staudinger’s giant molecules, such as the Swiss mineralogist Paul Niggli (1888-1953): “When Staudinger gave a lengthy lecture at a scientific conference in 1925 in which he presented his latest evidence demonstrating the existence of macromolecules, Niggli exploded right in the middle of it. He stood up and shouted across the room. ‘Such things do not exist!’” (Krüll 1978a, 232; cf. Staudinger 1961, 86) Later on, Niggli was to admit his error openly and laugh about his premature conclusion, in contrast to “colleagues, who chose to keep quiet about their misinterpretation and took over Staudinger’s macromolecular concept that they had fought so fiercely at first – as if it was a matter of course” (Krüll 1978b, 240, footnote 44).
The low-molecular dogma started to be questioned more and more and the anti-Staudinger front was far less unified than it appeared on the surface to be. The physical chemist Kurt Hans Meyer (1883-1952), for example, criticised the widespread inaccurate evaluation and/or interpretation of X-ray spectroscopic results. The head of the IG Farbenindustrie plant in Ludwigshafen (see Priesner 1980, 77 for extensive information about Meyer’s life) made it unmistakably clear that the size of the elementary cell did not dictate maximum molecular size: “It is [...] completely wrong to look for the limitations on organic molecules, i.e. on the atomic complex held together by primary valences, in the basic element.” (Meyer 1928; quoted in Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 88). Hermann Mark also conceded that “an organic molecule could under certain circumstances be larger than the crystallographic basic element” (Mark 1980, 482; quoted in Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 82). In his summary of the – for Staudinger frustrating – conference in Düsseldorf, annoyance is expressed too: “The situation for the representatives of X-ray structural analysis was somewhat disappointing. Before the conference, it seemed as if the small basic elements were a crucial objection to macromolecules; now, after settling their role, they were compatible with both small components and long chains.” (ibid.)
Amazingly enough, Staudinger was anything but enthusiastic about receiving “support from representatives of physical chemistry and X-ray structural analysis” (Deichmann 2001, 253). He did in fact maintain a long-running feud with Meyer and Mark. We will be looking into his reasons for this later on.
Staudinger succeeded in providing proof that “individual ( ) molecules can encompass a large number of elementary cells” (Krüll 1978b, 232) in 1927. His X-rays of polyoxymethylene showed “an elementary cell with only four methylene oxide groups [...], whereas it was, on the other hand, an undisputed fact that this substance definitely had to consist of far more such basic units” (ibid.). In spite of this – the evidence in favour of the macromolecule concept was still too tenuous to change the minds of opponents and notorious sceptics. Staudinger had to come up with proof that focussed on the core of his theory and made it watertight, i.e. that there were primary valence bonds between all the links in the postulated chain molecule with respect to electromagnetic attraction. Because only they were able to weld atoms and molecules together to form a stable unit irrespective of size (cf. Staudinger 1938, 6 and Staudinger 1961, 317) and substantiate the difference between an individual molecule and a molecular complex, between – if you like – a genuine macromolecule in the form of an integrated whole and a pseudo-macromolecule (in the sense of a combination of several molecules to form a compound that is only held together by weaker secondary valence bonds). But how was the difference between macromolecules and clusters of low-molecular particles, also known as micelles (Link 3), to be demonstrated specifically in a thoroughly convincing way?
Micelle or molecular colloid?
Staudinger 1961, 108 says: “The procedure adopted in explaining composition issues in macromolecular chemistry is exactly the same as in low-molecular chemistry, i.e. the substance is dissolved and the size and composition of its dissolved particles are investigated.” (cf. Staudinger 1938, 15) The premise: “In view of the size of the molecules, macromolecular substances can [...] only dissolve colloidally.” (Staudinger 1961, 119) If dissolved substances do in fact take on this glue-like consistency, less is, however, achieved than hoped, because it cannot be concluded that the dissolved substance is macromolecular in structure on the basis of the formation of a colloid alone; this can be a characteristic of micelles too (cf. Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 10). In other words, it would only be definite that the substance consisted of macromolecules if it could be proved that “the colloidal nature [...] was due to the special composition of the substance” (Staudinger 1961, 111). Staudinger coined the term “molecular colloid” to describe this finding: “In micelle colloids, the colloid particles are loose collections of small molecules, whereas the colloid particles in molecular colloids are the macromolecules themselves.” (Staudinger 1961, 320)
Micelle colloids form, for example, in aqueous solutions of soaps and dyes (see Staudinger 1938, 8-9, Staudinger 1961, 80-81 and Deichmann 2001, 250). Soaps dissolve “normally” (Staudinger 1961, 81), i.e. without micelle formation, in alcohol, on the other hand (cf. Staudinger 1938, 8-9). This is, however, true of the high-polymer material rubber too, if menthol is used as the solvent (Staudinger 1961, 81). The crucial role played by the solvent (cf. Priesner 1980, 208) therefore makes it difficult to determine correctly whether a low- or high-molecular substance is involved. Depending on the nature, concentration and temperature of the solvent, it is evidently the case that primary valence bonds can break too, while secondary valence bonds remain stable. Even if a colloid proves to be resistant to many different solvents, there is still some uncertainty about whether the dissolved substance can be identified definitely as macromolecular. The process is not therefore conclusive enough. Staudinger himself also felt that resistance was merely “a valuable indication but not definite proof that the colloid particles are macromolecular in structure” (Staudinger 1961, 119). “( ) Determination of the size [...] does not reveal the inner structure of the particles. This question is answered via chemical experiments that are carried out here at the same time ( ), like when investigating the structure of particles of low-molecular organic compounds [...], in order to demonstrate that the atoms in a particle of a certain size are bonded by primary valences, i.e. that this particle represents a chemical molecule.” (Staudinger 1938, 15-16)
How Staudinger proved the existence of macromolecules
But how could the necessary proof be provided? This is exactly what the Japanese Emperor also wanted to know from Staudinger when he granted an audience to the man who was later to win the Nobel Prize: “Professor, are macromolecules merely concepts that enable many different phenomena to be explained or is there strictly scientific proof of their existence too and, if so, what methods are used to supply the proof?” (Staudinger, 1961, 115) The answer was: experimental proof of the existence of macromolecules has been provided when a substance “is transformed into derivatives without changing (or reducing) its degree of polymerisation” (ibid.): “Transformation of this kind [...] into derivatives with the same degree of polymerisation is known as polymer-analogue conversion.” (Staudinger 1938, 17)
This reasoning is based on the assumption “that a secondary valence bond [...] does not survive chemical conversion unchanged. [...] The secondary valences must disappear at least in the transition state of the reaction.” (Priesner 1980, 342) If the colloids prove to be resistant even so, i.e. their degree of polymerisation does “not” change even “in such profound chemical conversion processes as esterification or saponification”, it is definite that “all the basic molecules [...] are bonded to each other via primary valences” (Staudinger 1938, 17) and not by secondary valences, which “are definitely destroyed [...] by such chemical intervention” (Mark 1980, 482). In a nutshell: in this case, macromolecules and not micelles must be involved. “Such proof [...] has been provided for cellulose, starch, glycogen, rubber and various plastics, including polyvinyl acetates” (Deichmann 2001, 411).
Staudinger produced the first experimental results as early as 1922 together with his doctoral student Jakob Fritschi with the hydrogenation of rubber, i.e. the saturation of its carbon atoms with hydrogen. The hydrorubber created proved to be “just as tough as the original substance and produced only colloid solutions as well” (Krüll 1978a, 47), “which prompted the research scientists to work on the assumption that macromolecules were involved rather than micelles or relatively low-polymerised molecules” (Westermann 2007, 67). The original publication states: ”Rubber is [...] a very high-molecular hydrocarbon with numerous ethylene bonds [...]. The ethylene bonds can be saturated partially or completely by adding halogen, hydrogen halide or sulphur chloride in vulcanisation, without the colloidal properties changing, i.e. without the ‘macromolecule’ disintegrating.” (Staudinger/Fritschi 1922; quoted by Krüll 1978b, 240, footnote 42) “These conclusions about the macromolecular structure of rubber and hydrorubber were confirmed by experiments conducted on polystyrene between 1923 and 1926.” (Staudinger 1961, 84)
“Polymer-analogue conversion is a method that is based exclusively on the application of organic chemical principles, is intrinsically logical and is very convincing.” (Priesner 1980, 342) An excellent example of “how scientific progress [...] can be achieved using a modified concept with the help of established methods” (Deichmann 2001, 249). The dispute about Staudinger’s macromolecules was not over, however: although their existence had been confirmed in principle and the plastics industry took advantage of Staudinger’s model, there were still a number of controversial details and unsettled issues “relating in particular to explanation of the physical properties of the high polymers” (Priesner 1980, 208).
Staudinger’s dispute with Meyer and Mark
The physical chemists Hermann Mark and Kurt Hans Meyer, who have already been mentioned briefly, were particularly critical observers of Staudinger’s research. Both of them worked at the central laboratory of I.G. Farben in Ludwigshafen. Mark was appointed Professor of Physical Chemistry at Vienna University in 1932 and established a polymer chemistry teaching and research programme there. Meyer, who used to be on the staff of Fritz Haber and Richard Willstätter, left I.G. the same year and took up an appointment as professor at Geneva University. Both of these research scientists had “already acknowledged the existence of macromolecules in 1928 – following initial rejection of them – but had modified Staudinger’s concept in this context” (Deichmann 2001, 404). Mark and Meyer agreed with the assumption of “primary valence chains”, but considered that “micellar forces”, i.e. secondary valences, acted between them (cf. Priesner 1980, 337). A concept that Staudinger called the new or “second micellar theory” (Staudinger 1960, 90) and thus rejected as outdated. A close look reveals that Mark and Meyer were in fact firmly in the Staudinger camp, except that they tried by fluctuating outwardly between macromolecules and micelles to make more distinctions in the theory of high-polymer materials and, if necessary, to correct Staudinger. Meyer and Mark insisted in particular that the significance of secondary valences should not be underestimated:
Meyer 1929a writes: “Staudinger assumes that association to form molecular groups or micelles has only been determined with soaps, that hold a special position because of their salt character. We would like to draw attention to the fact that they can be detected in all higher-molecular compounds [...].” (quoted by Priesner 1980, 96)
Meyer 1929b writes: “In contrast to Staudinger, [...] we observe the structure of the [...] high polymers in solution, when Staudinger says [...] that they have no micellar character. We, however, are convinced that cluster or micelle formation plays a key role in the high-polymer materials in solution too.” (quoted in Priesner 1980, 108)
Priesner 1980, 337 comments: “Whereas to Staudinger there was a clear distinction between primary and secondary valences and no attempt was made to obtain information about the nature of the individual types of bond, the physical chemistry approach demanded stronger distinction. [...] The strength of both primary and secondary valences was not observed to be constant; instead of this, it varied according to the structure of the molecules. As far as size was concerned, a strong secondary valence could therefore very definitely correspond to a weak primary valence.”
On the basis of what we know now, Mark and Meyer were in actual fact “not completely wrong” (Krüll 1978a, 48), because it is true that macromolecules can “definitely in suitable conditions form micelles in their solutions too (ibid.; cf. Krüll 1978b, 233). “More or less highly aggregated groups of molecules are also solvated in colloidal solutions alongside individual molecules, depending on the solvent concentration. Micelles are just as real as individual macromolecules” (Priesner 1980, 115), although the term is reserved exclusively for “aggregates of small molecules” nowadays (Priesner 1980, 82). Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-II, 99 go even further: “The concept of chemical primary valence with its defined bonding relationships does not explain all the characteristics of a substance.” Denaturation of enzymes could, for example, be described best by saying that the primary valence bonds were maintained, whereas the secondary valence bonds were broken. Ibid., P. 60-61 goes on: “In the case of what are known as biological macromolecules, e.g. nucleic acids and ‘proteins’, particularly enzyme proteins, the sensitivity to heat [...] cannot be explained any more via a molecular structure involving primary valences. [...] Staudinger is wrong when he says that the reason for the instability when exposed to heat is because the molecules ‘disintegrate’ due to the elimination of primary valences (1926). The introduction of secondary valences accordingly allows [...] the description of more complicated structures and behavioural patterns than is the case when the theory is reduced to standard valences.” Staudinger’s concept needed “to be abandoned as too limiting. To this extent, his opponents are celebrating a belated triumph.”
Differences and deficits
Another point of contention was Staudinger’s insistence on the stick model in macromolecular theory that he propagated vehemently into the 1940s; he thought that the chain polymers were “always rigid, stretched structures. He liked to use long Mikado sticks to illustrate his ideas.” (Priesner 1980, 208; cf. Deichmann 2001, 254 and Krüll 1978b, 233) Meyer, on the other hand, already emphasised in 1928 “the elasticity of rubber with the tendency of the isoprene chains to form curves and to get tangled up, an interpretation that was new and correct at the time, as we now know” (Deichmann 2001, 254).
What was known as Staudinger’s viscosity formula, which assumed a correlation that was determined by the laws of nature between the degree of polymerisation and/or the molecular weight of macromolecular substances on the one hand and the viscosity level of their solutions on the other hand, was a source of further dissent. Staudinger’s widow remembers: “This formula occurred to Hermann Staudinger on a beautiful autumn day in 1929 while we were on one of our rambles in the Black Forest and we then used it in the laboratory on numerous occasions to determine molecular sizes – while leading to just as many attacks from the scientific community!” (Magda Staudinger 1976, 42) Hermann Mark considered the proportionality assumed by Staudinger to be too vague and started viscosity experiments of his own in the 1920s. His “goal [...] was to find a relationship that was based on precise mathematical principles.” (Priesner 1980, 111; cf. ibid., 348) “There was an additional complication for Staudinger in the form of the causal link between his (narrow, editor’s note) idea of the ‘form’ of the macromolecules and the accuracy of his viscosity law.” (Priesner 1980, 190)
Staudinger’s critics proved to be mistaken about the core issue – molecule size – however: “Whereas Mark and Meyer were right in assuming that there were strong inter-molecular forces, they continued to underestimate the length of the primary valence chain (of the macromolecule) for many years.” (Deichmann 2001, 254; cf. Priesner 1980, 82 and 208). It should be pointed out that neither of them claimed to be able to determine molecular sizes on the basis of their domain (X-ray structural analysis) (cf. Priesner 1980, 347) and that they said they had no particular ambitions in this area either: “In all our work, [...] we have considered it much less important to determine that chains exist and have given much higher priority to finding out exactly the location and shape of the chains, the bonds between the links in the chain, the micellar forces etc.” (Meyer 1929b; quoted in Priesner 1980, 108)
Feud between colleagues instead of coalition
Opposing positions here that were not irreconcilable in principle, that definitely had more in common than separated them. And, although “in a sense both sides were right” (Krüll 1978b, 233), the controversy refused to end, becoming increasingly fierce and polemic as the years went by. Priesner 1980, 211 concludes that Staudinger and Meyer/Mark had “no reason” at all “to compete with each other, because the former was at home in the preparative organic chemistry field, while the latter focussed on physical chemistry”. Both sides were committed to different angles and issues, which complemented each other rather than ruling each other out – in spite of “two different starting points”, the results were “very similar conclusions” (Priesner 1980, 58). Priesner therefore wonders what might have prompted the rivals to fight each other ruthlessly, instead of forming a coalition to combat established low-molecular thinking – the real opponent: “The opportunity of benefitting mutually from the skills of the other via close co-operation and of helping the macromolecular theory to make a breakthrough against the resistance of the strong group of the proponents of the low-molecular ‘aggregation theory’ [...] was squandered.” (Priesner 1980, 58; cf. ibid., 349)
Priesner found out the reason for the feud specifically once he analysed the correspondence between Staudinger and Mark/Meyer, which forms part of the Staudinger estate that is kept at the Deutsches Museum in Munich: “What this controversy involved was not [...] a theoretical dispute [...], but the question of to whom priority was due with respect to a position that was maintained by both parties in a similar way.” (Priesner 1980, 349; cf. ibid., 351) There never was a quarrel between Staudinger and Mark/Meyer in the sense of a dispute of fundamental significance about scientific theory, because Staudinger’s attacks to all intents and purposes ignored Mark’s and Meyer’s “actual Achilles’ heel”, the relatively small size of the primary valence chains” (Priesner 1980, 93). Psychology and not logic was therefore required to understand what fuelled the controversy (cf. Priesner 1980, 350).
Since Staudinger considered himself to be the “intellectual father of macromolecular chemistry” (Priesner 1980, 250) and had the necessary self-confidence to claim that he alone was “responsible for determining the composition of high polymers” (ibid., 184), he understood “any assessment of his work that was not unreservedly positive to be an attack” (ibid., 240). For this reason, it could be said that he suffered from over-sensitivity (Priesner 1980, 240) or even a “kind of academic claustrophobia” (ibid., 330). And that is not all: in his determination to smother any perceived attempt to dispute his claim to priority at the earliest possible stage, Staudinger opted to go on the offensive before he needed to defend himself at all: “Staudinger initiated the controversy at the start and as it went on, there are no examples of Mark or Meyer attacking Staudinger themselves either.” (Priesner 1980, 351)
It was Mark in particular who tried repeatedly to calm things down. He explicitly took sides with Staudinger, because “we essentially think the same, i.e. that the high-molecular substances consist of long chains that are held together by primary valences, and are only unclear about the most appropriate term for this” (letter to Staudinger of 11. December 1928; quoted in Priesner 1980, 99). On another occasion, Mark pointed out: “I think that we [...] should proceed together and should not emphasise differences between our personal views that are in my opinion minor; if we did, the high-polymer community could easily make the mistake that is only too familiar from politics; that a major issue was not given close enough attention and was not presented clearly enough because of minor differences between opinions that were not far apart.” (letter to Staudinger of 2. November 1928; quoted in Priesner 1980, 94; link 4 to the complete letter)
Staudinger, however, dug his heels in even more and contradicted himself into the bargain. Priesner 1980, 350 reveals the paradox “that Staudinger claimed he was being copied by Mark and Meyer, while stating at the same time that their theory was wrong. The only way for anyone to get into such a situation was if he thought that any activities by other people in the high-polymer chemistry field were [...] a violation of scientific rights he claimed for himself, if the person in question also advocated the existence of large molecules.” Staudinger’s contemporary, Wallace Hume Carothers (1896-1937), the inventor of nylon, drew conclusions about him that were just as embarrassing. In a discussion held in 1932, Carothers started by paying tribute to Staudinger’s tremendous importance as a scientist, before outlining his personal weaknesses: “Opinions abandoned by former opponents are presented and refuted again; apart from this, the contributions made by other research scientists are not acknowledged to a sufficient extent.” (Carothers, 1932; quoted in Deichmann 2001, 255) As late as 1936, Meyer still criticised “Staudinger’s practice of repeatedly misquoting other research scientists and accusing them of holding the opposite of their true views” (quoted in Priesner 1980, 197).
The macromolecule has several fathers
In view of this, the final question that the scientific historian still has to answer is the extent to which Staudinger’s uncompromisingly formulated claim to priority is justified, not only with respect to Meyer and Mark (synchronic angle) but also with respect to possible predecessors from earlier days (diachronic angle). In other words: was the macromolecular concept the major discovery of a pioneer or did Staudinger benefit from the work of others before him and more or less tacitly uncover something that had already been discovered but then forgotten? The answer is complex:
Priesner 1980, 350-351 writes: Staudinger’s first announcement about high-polymer compounds (= Staudinger 1920) “indisputably contained all the fundamental principles of macromolecular chemistry, but these principles were not exclusively original creations by Staudinger”, because “a large proportion of them had already been thought and expressed before him. It goes without saying that Staudinger was more than a compiler, but he was that as well.” (cf. Priesner 1980, 336)
Meyer 1929b says: “It is not correct that ‘the publications by K.H. Meyer essentially reproduce opinions that Staudinger has been expressing in numerous publications and lectures for years’”. Together with Mark, he, Meyer, built “not on Staudinger but on general teaching in the past, which is outlined very soundly in Emil Fischer’s work about polypeptides and proteins in particular” (quoted in Priesner 1980, 107; cf. ibid., 95-96).
Deichmann 2001, 249-250 uses rubber as an example to talk about different opinions, traditions and fashions that determined the concept of macromolecules and alternated up to 1930: “In 1860, the British chemist Charles G. Williams (1829-1892, editor’s note) expressed the suspicion that rubber could consist of numerous individual components, while the work done by other research scientists supported the theory that a large molecule was involved. The idea that the naturally occurring substances rubber, cellulose, starch and protein had a high-polymer structure was a widespread view at the end of the 19th century. Thinking then started to go in the other direction, represented most significantly by Carl Harries (1866-1923, editor’s note), who was one of the most well-known rubber chemists of his time in Germany and was convinced that rubber had a low-molecular structure.” Priesner 1980, 9 qualifies: “However, Harries too initially expressed the opinion that ‘rubber’ was ‘a hydrocarbon of very large, unknown molecular size’”. (see also Krüll 1978a, 45)
Staudinger’s achievements cannot be overstated in spite of all this: even if the macromolecule has several “fathers”, it is justifiably identified primarily with Staudinger. What is certain is that Staudinger is “the first chemist who confirmed the existence of macromolecules experimentally” (Deichmann 2001, 254). Krüll 1978b, 233 stresses: “It remains a fact that they (= macromolecules, editor’s note) have dimensions unsuspected in the past that are the reason for their specific properties and behavioural patterns which differ completely from molecules of ‘normal’ size. Credit is due to Staudinger for being the first to have claimed and proved this. Indirectly, however, we owe the basic theoretical concept behind macromolecular chemistry – and thus modern plastics chemistry – to Staudinger’s numerous scientific opponents in particular too. Because their constant doubts and counterarguments are what forced Staudinger to keep on looking for new ways and means to prove his theories.” Priesner, to whom Staudinger is “indisputably one of the most important polymer chemists ever”, delivers a balanced verdict from a historical distance: “All in all, the macromolecular concept is not the work of a single person. Like almost always in scientific history (and not just there), it becomes clear when a closer look is taken that the development of human insight is to a large extent the result of the achievements of many different people, co-operation between whom is the source of but also precondition for scientific development and human society.” (Priesner 1980, 359-360)Staudinger’s position in Germany was already being considered in a similar way at the beginning of the Thirties: more and more chemists sheepishly joined the macromolecular camp, while the number of sceptics and adversaries shrank. Although this was gratifying for Staudinger, a new challenge was already lying in store for him in 1933, when the Nazis came into power: would the scientist, who faced political hostility, be allowed to continue his research unhampered or would he be unable to enjoy the results of his work?
The years 1933-1945
Hermann Staudinger started a new phase of his life in the 1930s: his theory about the macromolecular structure of polymers – which was hotly contested in the initial stages – finally received the recognition it deserved. While the opposition he faced from the scientific community decreased, new storm clouds developed in 1933, when the Nazis assumed power. What did the totalitarian state have in store for Staudinger as head of the chemical institute at Freiburg University? And how did he position himself politically with respect to the fascist rulers, who operated in line with their well-known motto: “If you’re not for us, then you are against us”?
Hermann Staudinger started a new phase of his life in the 1930s: his theory about the macromolecular structure of polymers – which was hotly contested in the initial stages – finally received the recognition it deserved; the outsider who was considered to be suspicious became a celebrated iconoclast with a worldwide reputation. More and more of the organic chemists among his colleagues embraced Staudinger’s “giant molecules” concept. The same was true of Kurt Hans Meyer and Hermann Mark, who Staudinger said were his main opponents in the priority dispute, because their primary valence chains competed with his macromolecules (see Part 2 of this series). The “new micellar theory” propagated by Meyer and Mark was soon to be history; the two physical chemists gradually abandoned it as they made progress in their work (see Staudinger 1961, 93, and Priesner 1980, 214 and 380).
While the opposition he faced from the scientific community decreased, new storm clouds developed in 1933, when the Nazis assumed power. What did the totalitarian state have in store for Staudinger as head of the chemical institute at Freiburg University? And how did he position himself politically with respect to the fascist rulers, who operated in line with their well-known motto: “If you’re not for us, then you are against us”?
Accusation of “anti-German sentiment”
Krüll (1978a), 48 claims that Staudinger profited from the Nazi regime and its racial ideology, although the latter did not encourage this. “After 1933, Staudinger suddenly benefited from the fact that Mark and Meyer were Jews. In the context of ‘German natural science’, Staudinger was of course a priori in the right here, at least within the area controlled by the Nazi Party”. This assessment requires correction to the extent that Staudinger was neither dependent on support from any anti-Semites nor did he receive any such official support with respect to the scientific priority dispute. The Nazis did not by any means come to Staudinger’s defence against anyone; on the contrary, they attacked him themselves, accusing him of “anti-German sentiment” and making him a public enemy.
One of the first to investigate Hermann Staudinger politically was the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), a new member of the Nazi party and the first Nazi vice-chancellor of Freiburg University (period of office: 23. April 1933 to 23. April 1934). Heidegger did not just denounce colleagues in his faculty, particularly those of Jewish origin, such as the philosopher Richard Hönigswald (1975-1947), who lost his chair at Munich University because of a negative report compiled by Heidegger (Heidegger 1933, 161: “particularly dangerous brilliance”, “vacuous dialectics”). Heidegger also denounced scientists from all other faculties and “races” who were identified as political opponents, particularly Communists and Social Democrats, but also people who were not members of any party but did not express Nazi / soldierly views. A description that – in Heidegger’s opinion – fitted Staudinger; the research done by the vice-chancellor produced so much incriminating evidence of this that he initiated impeachment proceedings against Freiburg’s star chemist:
In July 1933, vice-chancellor Heidegger contacted the physicist Alfons Bühl (1900-1988) who had qualified to be a professor in Freiburg but was now teaching at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where Staudinger used to work. Bühl was supposed to get to the bottom of “various rumours” (Ott 1992, 209), particularly the rumour that Staudinger had “acted as an advisor to enemies abroad” during the First World War, with respect to “the production of chemicals of importance to the war effort, particularly [...] dyes and pigments” (ibid., 203). This had at any rate been investigated by the German Embassy in Bern at the time. Bühl was unable to find out anything specific and was referred by a member of the staff of the Consulate General in Zurich to the Baden district authorities in Karlsruhe, where “material about Mr Staudinger from the year 1919 was available” (ibid., 209). – In this context, Heidegger’s biographer, Hugo Ott, stresses that the Staudinger affair was definitely attributable to the action taken by Heidegger; the driving force was not, as has often been claimed, the Ministry of Culture in Karlsruhe, which was only involved later on. Deichmann 2001, 398 writes: “Staudinger never found out that it was Heidegger who denounced him in 1933; his wife, Magda Staudinger, heard about it in 1982 via an article by Hugo Ott in the Badische Zeitung newspaper.” (cf. Ott 1992, 207)
On 29. September 1933, the head of the university department at the Baden Ministry of Culture, Eugen Fehrle (1880-1957), was in Freiburg and was “informed” by Heidegger about “incriminating political material about Hermann Staudinger [...]” (ibid., 202). Just one day later, Fehrle submitted a report to the Freiburg police – 30. September was the deadline for the initiation of proceedings for political reasons on the basis of the Act passed on 7.April 1933 to restore the civil service, which enabled the Nazis to remove civil servants who had made themselves unpopular from their offices arbitrarily. The investigations against Staudinger were then taken over by the secret police in Karlsruhe under the pseudonym “Sternheim Project” (cf. Farías 1989, 177). It says in the files that Heidegger “was unable [...] to provide the secret police with any useful information” (Ott 1992, 202); instead of this, he merely passed on rumours. In the subsequent months, the secret police therefore collected “three extensive bundles of files” (ibid., 202) from documents at the Karlsruhe district authorities – Staudinger worked at Karlsruhe Technical University until 1912 – from the German Consulate General in Zurich and from the German Embassy in Bern. Farías 1989, 177-178 writes: “The material obtained by the secret police [...] was sufficient for a case to be initiated against Staudinger in Karlsruhe.”
Heidegger demands dismissal
On 6. February 1934, Heidegger was “asked” by the Baden Ministry of Culture “to submit comments urgently, enclosing the files”, because “Paragraph 4 of the Act (to restore the civil service, editor’s note) must be applied, if necessary, by 31. March 1934” (Ott 1992, 204). The Freiburg vice-chancellor replied on 10. February, i.e. only four days later, and argued in favour of a dismissal of Staudinger from his position as a civil servant. Among other things, Heidegger’s letter says:
“All the reports by the German Consulate General in Zurich from the War [...] talk about the disclosure by St. of German chemical manufacturing processes to foreign (enemies). [...] Staudinger has [...] ‘never denied that he was in complete opposition to the national movement in Germany and has declared on numerous occasions that he will never defend his fatherland with weapons or by service in other forms’. [...] No less incriminating evidence is the fact that Staudinger wrote a petition for the pacifist Dr. med. (Georg Friedrich, editor’s note) Nicolai (1874-1964, editor’s note), who had refused to take the oath of allegiance, in Zurich in 1917. [...] These facts alone require application of Paragraph 4 of the Act to restore the civil service. Since they have become and remained known to largenumbers of people in Germany since the discussions about the appointment of Staudinger to the position in Freiburg in 1925/26, action also needs to be taken in order to protect the reputation of Freiburg University [...]. Dismissal is likely to be the better option rather than retirement. Heil Hitler! Heidegger” (quoted in Ott 1992, 205)
The Baden Minister of Culture, Otto Wacker (1899-1940), supported Heidegger’s demand on 22. February 1934 (see Farías 1989, 178, Ott 1992, 206, and Deichmann 2001, 397) and proposed: “The Ministry of State is asked to suggest to the Reich Governor that Professor Dr Hermann Staudinger [...] is dismissed from the Baden civil service.” (quoted from Ott 1992, 206) Staudinger was “no longer a suitable teacher for German academic youth; I consider that the conditions for removal from Freiburg University in accordance with § 4 of the Act (to restore the civil service, editor’s note) are satisfied” (ibid.).
The fact that Staudinger was an annoyance to staunch Nazis was attributable to more than mere rumours:
The political background of Staudinger’s family was strongly left-wing. His father Franz (1849-1921) had a doctorate in philosophy, sought to combine the theories of Kant and Marx, published in the “Sozialistische Monatshefte”, was involved in the co-operative movement and maintained personal friendships with such prominent Social Democrats as Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932). Staudinger’s first wife, Dora (1886-1964), née Förster, was also actively involved in the co-operative movement as well as “in the religious-pacifist and religious-socialist circles led by the (Swiss, editor’s note) clergyman (Leonhard, editor’s note) Ragaz (1868-1945, editor’s note), who then lost his position in the ministry” (Ott 1992, 204). Staudinger’s brother Hans (1889-1980), Secretary of State in the Prussian Ministry of Trade, was a member of the Social Democratic Party and was married to the Jew Else Maier (1889-1966). He was immediately dismissed from the civil service and arrested in 1933. In 1934, he was able to emigrate to the USA, where he became Economics Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York (cf. Deichmann 2001, 396-397). – As is generally known, the Communist and Social Democratic Parties were branded as subversive right from the start and their members were persecuted systematically. On the basis of what was known as the Reichstag fire regulation of 28. February 1933, the 81 parliamentary seats held by the Communist Party were revoked on 8. March and the assets of the party were confiscated on 26. May. With reference to the Social Democratic Party, the Reich Minister of the Interior, Wilhelm Frick (1877-1946), called on the state governments to ban the party’s activities on 22. June:
“The Social Democrats cannot [...] be allowed to carry out propaganda activities of any kind. [...] The assets [...] that have not already been confiscated in connection with the dissolution of the free unions will be seized. It goes without saying that it is not possible for civil servants and employees who receive salaries, wages or pensions from public funds to continue being members of the Social Democratic Party in view of its treacherous character.” (quoted from http://library.fes.de/fulltext/bibliothek/chronik/band2/e235f1109.html)
The Reich Ministry of Justice announced in this context: “Officials who used to be members of these parties must be required to submit a written statement that they no longer maintain a relationship of any kind to the two parties (Social Democratic and Communist Parties, editor’s note), their support and substitute organisations and their representatives abroad. Their attention must be brought to the fact that dismissal is the punishment for the provision of false information” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 171).
The accusation Staudinger faced that he failed to demonstrate “sympathy for the national cause” was based primarily on his attempts to obtain dual citizenship during his years in Zurich, i.e. after he acquired a Swiss passport in addition to his German one. In his letter of 10. February 1934, in which he demanded Staudinger’s dismissal, Heidegger criticised: “In January 1917, i.e. when the fatherland was at its time of greatest need, St. applied for Swiss citizenship without their being any professional or other necessity for this. Implementation of this plan was prevented by the German Consulate General. [...] On 9.1.1919, i.e. directly after Germany collapsed, St. submitted his request for permission to become a citizen of Switzerland again [...]. Naturalisation occurred on 23.1.20, without German approval being obtained.” (quoted from Ott 1992, 205) This went hand in hand with the accusation of “pacifist sentiment” (Ott 1992, 204): although he was rejected as unfit for military service at the age of 23, Staudinger was examined again by military doctors during the First World War at the age of 34 and this time he was merely exempted from military service temporarily. Staudinger probably applied for a Swiss passport in order to avoid being called up, as was to be expected (cf. Ott 1992, 203). This interpretation is, however, contradicted by the fact it took almost two years for Staudinger to do this; his commitment to Switzerland can therefore be interpreted instead as the adoption of a neutral position with respect to the participants in the war, whom he called on in 1917 to cease all fighting and to initiate peace negotiations.
“Betrayal theory” revealed to be a myth
After the USA joined in the war, Staudinger felt that Germany was bound to be defeated on the battlefield, because it was inferior to the Americans both economically and where armaments were concerned (see Part 1 of this series for details about this). Staudinger was therefore vilified as a “pacifist and annihilator of German military power” (Jaenicke 2003, 604) by nationalistic circles after 1918 and, in particular, after 1933, being quoted as key evidence for what came to be known as the “betrayal theory”. According to this theory, a revolt on the “home front” undermined the German Army, which was “undefeated in the field” and was to blame for the defeat. Staudinger 1947, 42 countered this by saying that the political leaders failed by believing illusions about a German victory rather than taking up the offer of peace made by US President Wilson (cf. ibid., 42). The misjudgement of the military situation had extended the war unnecessarily – although there was no longer any chance of winning it – and had made Germany’s defeat particularly bitter (cf. Staudinger 1947, 41, 44 and 53). The betrayal theory was developed to distract from this political mistake: it “made the German people forget the military defeat suffered in the First World War, which [...] military leaders admitted in awareness of their responsibility”, as can be read in Staudinger 1947, 44. His chief witness in this context is General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937), who confessed in his “War Memoirs” that appeared in 1919: “8. August (1918 = start of the battle near Amiens, editor’s note) established the demise of our combat powers [...]. This meant [...] that the campaign took on the character of an irresponsible gamble that I always considered to be ruinous. The fate of the German people was too important to me to risk it in a game of chance. The war needed to be ended.” (quoted from Staudinger 1947, 42-43). A view that Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) also voiced unmistakably: “Under these circumstances, it is essential to discontinue the fighting, in order to avoid useless sacrifices by the German people and their allies. Every further day costs thousands of courageous soldiers their lives.” (quoted from Staudinger 1947, 42-43) With this quote, Staudinger revealed that the alleged betrayal theory was a myth – and also that the man who was later to become President of the Reich was a liar, since he was soon to betray his own convictions. Because Hindenburg said in his appeal to the German people at Christmas 1918: “This powerful instrument of war (= the German people in arms, editor’s note) did not collapse under attack by enemy armies. It withstood a world of enemies to the final hour, until the order was issued to end the fighting and return home. [...] German warriors are leaving all the battlefields undefeated.” (quoted from Staudinger 1947, 45).
Since the “betrayal theory that developed in the years after the First World War [...] was later taken up again by the Nazi Party in particular” (Staudinger 1947, 44), there were irreconcilable differences between Staudinger and the Nazi authorities in this respect too. So it is no surprise that “accusations of anti-German behaviour during the First World War” were made against Staudinger in the course of the interrogations that were held during the impeachment procedure (Deichmann 2001, 397).
“Supporter of the national uprising”
Staudinger had nothing to win by defending his position. So he decided to say during his hearing at the Baden Ministry of Culture on 17. February 1934 that he “abandoned his earlier political views a long time ago” (see Ott 1992, 207). “The accusation that he harboured ‘anti-national sentiments’ could not be made against him any longer since he started working in Freiburg; on the contrary, he had ‘welcomed the start of the national revolution enthusiastically.’” (Deichmann 2001, 397) A tactical manoeuvre, that the Nazis were reluctant to believe – Heidegger, for example, was very sarcastic about the fact that “Staudinger now claims to be a 110% supporter of the national uprising” (quoted from Ott 1992, 205). Deichmann 2001, 397 confirms this: “He was unable to refute the allegations of anti-German behaviour during the First World War by adopting this defence strategy.” (cf. Ott 1992, 206) Staudinger therefore responded again by rejecting descriptions of himself as “anti-German” and a “pacifist”:
Staudinger was forced to contend with the accusation that he had abandoned Germany and “had been abroad for too long” (Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 193) until the end of the 1930s. He tried to refute it by pointing out how he maintained close contacts to German industry during his time at the chemical institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich:
“’Throughout this period from 1912 to 1926, I maintained relationships to German industry and carried out a number of major projects with the same. [...]‘ Staudinger lists: 1. Pest control, 2. Pepper synthesis, 3. Trials to synthesise an artificial coffee aroma. All of these projects were connected with the production of substitutes during the First World War. [...] ‘I would also like to note that the desire to return to Germany was the only reason for me to accept the appointment offered (in Freiburg, editor’s note) in 1926, in order to continue my work about macromolecular chemistry, which I considered and still consider important, there. The Swiss educational authorities had made me attractive offers to persuade me to stay. I doubled the size of the laboratory in Zurich during my time in office there, whereas the Freiburg laboratory offered far less appealing working conditions in every respect at the time – a situation that has only changedfundamentally now.’” (letter from Staudinger dated 7. November 1938, quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 193)
Staudinger tried to prove the Nazis wrong in accusing him of being a pacifist by disassociating himself from fundamentalist positions: “He was not a pacifist in the strictly religious sense of the Quakers or conscientious objectors; he was, instead, a pacifist ‘because of my convictions about the importance of technology in armed combat’” (Ott 1992, 207). To defend himself against the attempts made to discredit him, Staudinger now followed the arguments he put forward back then – which he insisted were strictly scientific and thus non-political – by an article written for the “Völkische Zeitung” newspaper in Düsseldorf, which appeared on 25. February 1934 with the title “Die Bedeutung der Chemie für das deutsche Volk” (= “The importance of chemistry to the German people”). He had reprints of this newspaper article sent to the Baden Minister of Culture, Otto Wacker, and the Nazi Mayor of Freiburg, Franz Kerber (1901-1945) (see Otto 1992, 207, and Deichmann 2001, 398). This article includes Staudinger’s following statements:
“The German people only have two options open to them, in order to survive. On the one hand, as many products as possible must be obtained from the land available by taking particularly good care of it. Attempts also need to be made, on the other hand, to reduce imports. [...] If German technology can be expanded [...] in the next few years, major steps will have been taken to give Germany an independent position inthe world.” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 182).
No capitulation to the Nazis, but instead – as Ott 1992, 207 says – “a ‘goodwill move’ by which Staudinger accepted the policy of independence adopted by the Nazi government and tried to recommend himself as a contributor on the basis of his scientific know-how. As a result, “he could now have ‘an extremely wide range of possible activities’ in the Nazi state” (ibid.).
Sensational turn of events
All in all, Staudinger’s attempts to defend himself against the attacks by the Nazis do not appear to be a particularly convincing way to avoid dismissal from the civil service. What was, at least, dropped was “the charge of the betrayal of manufacturing secrets” to foreign enemies (Ott 1992, 205, cf. Deichmann 2001, 397). Staudinger himself was not, however, in a position to save his neck completely. What helped him, in the final analysis, was his professional reputation. Heidegger himself advised on 5. March 1934 – reluctantly – that “consideration is given to the position that the person in question holds in his scientific field abroad”, although not without mentioning “that there cannot of course be any change in the facts of the matter. What is only involved here is the avoidance if at all possible of a new foreign policy problem” (quoted from Ott 1992, 208). A retreat, although he continued to insist that sanctions needed to be imposed on Staudinger, albeit in a milder form: Heidegger suggested that Staudinger should not, after all, be dismissed without pay but be allowed to retire instead (cf. Farías 1989, 178, and Ott 1992, 209). This “act of mercy” (Ott 1992, 209) would of course have meant the end of Staudinger’s career in Germany too. The last word had not been spoken, however, and the scandal is avoided: “Various interventions – the Nazi mayor of Freiburg, Dr Kerber, expressed support for Staudinger, for example, as did – presumably – the chemical industry – with the result that the (Baden, editor’s note) Ministry of Culture withdrew the application (made on 22. February 1934, editor’s note).” (Deichmann 2001, 397; cf. Ott 1992, 207)
A sensational turn of events, but not without the Nazi authorities humiliating Staudinger again to save face: he himself “was required to submit the official application for dismissal from the Baden civil service, which was then filed for six months. Since the accusations were based on a situation that took place a long time in the past, ‘an official decision’ about the application for dismissal would only be ‘made if concerns arose again.’ This was not the case [...] and Staudinger was, as agreed, allowed to withdraw his application in October 1934. The case was closed, although it was a close shave for Staudinger.” (Ott 1992, 208; cf. Farías 1989, 178, and Deichmann 2001, 398)
He continued to be resented just as much even so, because – as Heidegger put it – “there cannot of course be any change [...] in the facts of the matter”. Staudinger realised how thin the ice was on which he was standing. The fascinating question is how he responded to this and what strategy he chose to make himself as untouchable as possible. He stayed put at any rate, rejecting the offer of an appointment at Berlin Technical University, which then chose Franz Bachér (1894-1987) to take over the vacant chair – “an active Nazi and insignificant chemist” (Deichmann 2001, 183). In view of the extent to which he was disliked by the Nazis, the capital of the Reich must have seemed to Staudinger to be a veritable lion’s den, so he felt it was better for him to stay in Freiburg in spite of the crisis he had just faced. The situation there did not ease, however; if anything, it was made even more difficult for him to work: “From June 1933 to October 1936, Staudinger made five trips abroad to various European countries. With reference to his political past, he was, however, asked by the Reich Ministry of Education to turn down invitations to Zurich (1937), Riga (1937) and Rome (to the International Congress for Chemists in 1938).” (Deichmann 2001, 399) A letter from the Reich Minister of Science and Education, Bernhard Rust (1883-1945), to the vice-chancellor of Freiburg University, Otto Mangold (1891-1962), dated 2. November 1938 includes the following statements about this:
“I reserve the right to take the decision about applications submitted by Professor Dr H. Staudinger, Director of the Chemical Laboratory at the University of Freiburg i.B., in future relating to the approval of scientific trips abroad. I request that Professor Staudinger is informed in an appropriate way of the fact that it does not appear to me to be desirable for Professor Staudinger to carry out scientific activities abroad until further notice in view of his political past.” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 192)
Due to the pressure exerted on him, Staudinger was afraid that he would be marginalised at the international level, so that other scientists would be able to claim responsibility for work that he had done: “In American literature, the situation is already described frequently as if Carothers created high-molecular chemistry”, he complained on 23. November 1934 in a letter to Georg Kränzlein (1881-1943; quoted from Deichmann 2001, 404), “one of the directors of I.G. Farben, who [...] was in charge of the Alizarin Department at the Hoechst factory” (ibid., 399). Following the collapse of the “Third Reich”, Staudinger was to accuse the Nazis – in a memorandum submitted in July 1945 – of weakening Germany’s position as a scientific location and of causing the country to fall behind in the international competitive environment:
“Party considerations [...] prevented a major new area of German research (= macromolecular chemistry, editor’s note) from being represented adequately abroad; this is a particularly unfortunate fact, because this area has been given particularly strong support in England and America due to its technical and scientific importance.” (Staudinger 1945, 11)
In order to be able to carry out scientific research undisturbed, Staudinger tried to make sure that he did not give the authorities any new targets for political attacks or that such attacks were ineffective. He developed a strategy of ingratiating himself with the Nazis, taking a variety of different action in this context. In view of the rejection of his macromolecule concept in the early stages, he claimed – for example – that he was a “victim of Jews” (Deichmann 2001, 404), criticised their alleged dominance in the scientific world and was even willing to use anti-Semitic clichés and slogans.
In a letter written on 9. June 1941 to the Cologne businessman Wolfgang Klever (1881-1970), a personal friend and former student, Staudinger spun a yarn about “a completely self-contained clique [...], which formed earlier on before 1933 and still sticks together today. It is very difficult to prevail against these Jews abroad and here in Germany.” (quoted from Priesner 1980, 329) What Staudinger failed to mention here was, on the one hand, the fact that it was a Jewish winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Richard Willstätter (1872-1942), who was the first to subscribe to his macromolecule theory. On the other hand, he dug up the hatchet – which had really been buried for years – and attacked his former opponents Kurt Hans Meyer and Hermann Mark (see Part 2 of this series), because they were the target of the criticism he expressed. Jaenicke 2003, 604 talks in this context about “bogeymen”. There can be question of the two chemists ever conspiring to oppose Staudinger and there was certainly no threat to him from them since they emigrated: from 1932 onwards, Meyer taught at Geneva University, after his appointment to Berlin Technical University – which was as good as certain – was thwarted by Staudinger himself (see Priesner 1980, 306-307, and Deichmann 2001, 255). After permission for him to teach at Vienna University was withdrawn and he was imprisoned for a time, Mark escaped from the Nazis by moving to the USA in 1938, where he started working at the Polytechnic Institute of New York in Brooklyn in 1940 (cf. Priesner 1980, 327, and Deichmann 2001, 183). Staudinger did not stop presenting himself as a victim even so. In June 1938, for example, he wrote – “in a distortion of the truth” (Deichmann 2001, 406) – the following letter to the Reich Ministry of Education, after this Ministry had prohibited him from attending the International Congress for Chemists in Rome:
“My position in the German chemical community is being influenced very unfavourably by a scientific battle that I [...] have had to fight against what are primarily Jewish circles. The field of high-molecular substances (rubber, cellulose, plastics) that is involved here is of both scientific and technical significance. My results were rejected at the 1926 conference for natural science researchers in Düsseldorf, since numerous Jewish scientists had completely different views at the time. From 1928 onwards, they then – above all K. H. Meyer – tried to take over major results of my work without mentioning me, something that is standard practice in the scientific world otherwise. Since I was unable to accept this, an argument began that continued for years and was very disadvantageous for me personally, since K. H. Meyer as a member of the Management Board of I.G. Farben-Industrie and director of the plant in Ludwigshafen held a very influential position in the German chemical community. The success that Jewish circles have in the scientific world is based on the same method that they apply in other areas too: emphasising their own achievements and expressing biting criticism of others. [...] They make their very negative influence felt at domestic and foreign congresses, particularly – for example – at the International Congress for Chemists in Madrid in 1934. These circles, that I opposed in Madrid, will be particularly delighted by my failure to attend the congress in Rome. My only regret is that the battle I have been fighting for decades to overcome the Jewish influence in this important chemical field has as a result to all intents and purposes been fought in vain.” (quoted from Deichmann 2001, 406-407)
This was a shot that backfired: the Reich Ministry of Education confronted I.G. Farben with the contents of the letter and asked Georg Kränzlein – who has already been mentioned – from the Hoechst plant to comment. Kränzlein was “disgusted by the criticism that Staudinger expressed about I.G. too via the accusations about Meyer” and “rejected Staudinger’s claim of having become a victim of Jewish intrigues as untenable” (Deichmann 2001, 407). But what prompted Staudinger to make further offensive anti-Semitic comments (“self-contained Jewish clique”) about Meyer and Mark three years later, as has already been mentioned? The occasion was the appearance of the textbook “High-Polymer Chemistry” written by the two of them, “which, in spite of the fact that both were Jews by Nazi definition, was published in Leipzig in 1940 and was reviewed positively” in the magazine “Die Naturwissenschaften” (Deichmann 2001, 408-409). It says in this “with reference to Staudinger: ‘Read the section about viscosity. Although a direct and simple relationship between molecule size and chain length is rejected with convincing arguments, the writer specifically emphasises the viability of viscosity measurement for evaluating the solutions of high-molecular substances. This chapter will be particularly instructive to those who go as far as to virtually confuse chain lengths or the degree of polymerisation and indicators derived from viscosity.’” (ibid., 409)
Priesner 1980, 331 concluded that all this was “an unmistakable indication that Staudinger continued to see his fellow-chemists as enemies” and added: “It is frightening that the small amount of intellectual freedom which still existed in Germany in 1941 was vilified as an intrigue on the part of a group of conspirators” (ibid., 330). Jaenicke 2003, 604 criticises Staudinger’s “attacks ( ) on the Jewish surrounding of German macromolecules by anti-German polymer chains” and “the typical [...] unoriginal adoption of other people’s ideas and culture for commercial purposes” as “embarrassing, [...], obsequious and opportunistic” and concludes: “Genius does not protect against stupidity” (ibid.). Staudinger did not make himself many friends among the Nazis with his anti-Semitic pretence either. I.G. Director Georg Kränzlein, who subsequently became the regional head of the Nazi technical authorities in Hesse-Nassau and SS-Hauptsturmführer (= captain)” (Deichmann 2001, 406), reprimanded him:
“In my opinion, you make the mistake of arguing with Jews the whole time. [...] There is no need for you to start polemic discussions with Jews, because by doing so you give them too much honour. Avoid and ignore these people, because otherwise you let them have the last word over and over again, which regularly harms you. We disassociate ourselves systematically from the Jews, as the Nuremberg Laws prove. By doing this, we send them back to where they came from. Why don’t you disassociate yourself in the scientific world? Here too, they need to return to the intellectual ghetto they came from, back to their Talmud, which they are incapable of escaping from. [...] Instead of this, you incite the Jews to band together against you more and more and this will harm you in the long run. [...] Now it is your duty not to mention the Jews again at all, definitely not allowing yourself to continue a polemic debate with them.”(Letter of 3. June 1936 from Kränzlein to Staudinger, quoted from Priesner 1980, 318; cf. ibid., 317, and Deichmann 2001, 405)
Staudinger nevertheless continued to do everything in his power to be considered an anti-Semite: “As early as 1936, he had worried that too many ‘non-Arians’ could study at his institute; and in May 1942, he again expressed misgivings to the vice-chancellor in writing – now that there were no more Jews at German universities – about too many ‘half-breeds’ among the chemistry students” (Martin 1994, 11, footnote 32).
No chance of a party membership book
The aim of “his application for membership of the Nazi party” (Schnabel 1991, 230) was to eliminate any doubts about his loyalty to party principles, but this application was rejected, officially “because of former membership of a Masonic Lodge” (ibid.). A family tradition – Staudinger’s father was “Grand Master of the Grand Lodge ‘zur Eintracht’” (Krüll 1978b, 225). Incidentally: Staudinger was only registered as a passive member of the SS because the latter “blackmailed him [...], forcing him to pay protection money from time to time” (Jaenicke 2003, 604).
Even though Staudinger – as has been indicated – did everything in his power to make the impression of being a staunch follower of the Nazis, Krüll 1978a, 48 confirms that he was “no Nazi”. Rightly so, because Staudinger generally showed no interest at all in Nazi ideology in his position as head of the institute and could not have been more politically incorrect in his actions, protecting students and assistants who were disapproved of by the Nazis:
Staudinger came to the defence of Ernst Trommsdorff (1905-1996), “one of my best assistants and staff members” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 176), who he supervised when he obtained his doctorate in 1932 and who was now in danger of being dismissed from the civil service because of his “Jewish origins”. On 1. August 1933, shortly before he himself became a target, Staudinger wrote a letter to vice-chancellor Martin Heidegger:
“Since they work together, there is a strong feeling of solidarity in my laboratory between the laboratory staff, the lecturers, the assistants and the students. Dr Trommsdorff is a fully integrated member of this team. Last year, for example, he and seven other assistants helped me to write a book about rubber and cellulose. This community spirit will be destroyed if a member of the team is required to leave in these circumstances.” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 175)
In another line of argument, Staudinger deliberately tried to portray Trommsdorff as someone who sympathised with the Nazi movement, with the aim of taking the wind out of the sails of those who wanted to harm him:
“In all his opinions, Dr Trommsdorff has a very positive attitude towards the state as it is today. One of his brothers is a member of the Hitler Youth organisation. The position Dr Trommsdorff holds among his comrades is made most clear by the fact that he has acted as group leader in military sports exercises. I have discussed this matter with Dr (Ernst Otto, editor’s note) Leupold (born in 1903, editor’s note) too, who is the representative of the assistants in the laboratory for which I am responsible; he agrees with my view that the assistants and students do not feel that Dr Trommsdorff should be covered by the [...] Act (to restore the civil service, editor’s note). This statement was important to me, since Dr Leupold has been a member of the SS for a long time now and has studied Nazi issues intensively.” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 174)
It may well have been quite a clever move “to make progress with his own cause” (Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 191) for Staudinger to “assume or use moral concepts followed by the ruling class” (ibid., 183). Anyone who believes that “one does not change at all in the process” (ibid, 191) is subject to an error of judgement, however – like it or not, one’s own personality is distorted as a result.
Staudinger did not succeed in preventing Trommsdorff from being dismissed; the latter was unable to pursue a normal scientific career in the Nazi state. “I would have liked him to have qualified as a professor here, but this is not unfortunately possible at the moment”, Staudinger regretted in a letter of recommendation to the British chemist Sir Robert Mond (1867-1938), with which he tried to help his assistant to make a career for himself in England (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 176). Instead of this, Trommsdorff joined Röhm und Haas AG, Esslinglen and Philadelphia, where he became Research Manager in 1939.
“Not only Staudinger was accused of spending too much time abroad; one of his staff was among those who faced the same charge. Political pressure had increased in the meantime. No-one needed to be an ‘enemy of the state’ any more [...] in order to suffer professional problems. It was sufficient for someone not to stand up for Nazi ideology actively enough, ‘to fail to show commitment to the Nazi state’”, as can be read in Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 193-194. In June 1941, Dr Rolf Mohr (born in 1910), one of Staudinger’s staff, who he wanted to make his scientific assistant, was the victim. The application to this effect was initially approved by the dean of the natural science/mathematical faculty, but the Nazi leader of Freiburg’s lecturers (Eduard, editor’s note) Steinke (1899-1963, editor’s note) raised “concerns for political reasons” (ibid., 195):
“It is a well-known fact that Mohr obtained all of his education and training outside Germany (= in Switzerland; editor’s note). During the many years of his activities here (= since 1933, editor’s note), he has demonstrated no commitment to the Nazi state [...]. He only recently joined a Nazi unit and has been in the armed forces since the spring of this year. Since the lecturers’ leadership is of the opinion that Mohr is not a suitable candidate for an academic career in view of his overall attitude and views, I do not consider it justified to appoint him to the position of scientific assistant; instead of this, Iwould be grateful if he were allowed to continue holding such a position on a provisional basis for the time being.” (Official party letter written by Steinke to the vice-chancellor’s office at Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg on 10. June 1941; quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 196)
Vice-chancellor Wilhelm Süss (1895-1958) agreed with Steinke’s assessment:
“Dr Rolf Mohr cannot be appointed to be a scientific assistant yet. Dr Mohr has been evaluated unfavourably in political appraisals in the past. Since he only recently joined a Nazi unit, a lengthy probationary period will be necessary before any change is made in the current assessment of his political views. I would be grateful if Dr Mohr was to continue holding a position as assistant on a provisional basis.” (Letter written by the vice-chancellor to Staudinger on 30. June 1941; quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 196)
In response to this, Staudinger threatened to the vice-chancellor on 5. July “to inform Dr Mohr about the contents of your letter, since he has turned down attractive technical positions in the hope of being able to qualify for a professorship here” (quoted from Minssen/Walgenbach 1985-I, 197). Staudinger was not allowed to inform Mohr about the arguments against his appointment as an assistant in writing; he “is instructed to make contact with the lecturers’ leader before taking further action” (ibid., 198). It has been lost in the mists of time exactly how the Mohr issue was resolved in the Third Reich. What is definite is that Mohr did not qualify for a professorship in Freiburg until 1946 with a thesis “About the stabilisation of cellulose nitrates”.
In June 1942, Staudinger’s “half-Jewish” student Gerhard Bier (1917-2003) – whose mother was a Jew – was prohibited from completing his chemistry degree, after he had already been forced to discontinue studying medicine elsewhere in 1939. However, the Freiburg “vice-chancellor Süss and Professor Staudinger make it possible for him to stay another few months to graduate.” (Deichmann 2001, 86) Bier remembers:
“There were a number of other ‘half-Jews’ who studied chemistry apart from me. After the final exams, Staudinger said to me: ‘If you want, I can find out whether you can work here.’ He phoned the military research authorities responsible and received approval to deploy me as a scientific professional for work in the macromolecular research institute that was of importance to the war effort. I was paid as an untrained scientific assistant, i.e. received 100 RM per month.” (quoted from Deichmann 2001, 86)
Bier managed to graduate in 1942 (cf. Deichmann 2001, 412), but then things got too dangerous for him in Germany in 1944, so that he fled to Switzerland (ibid., 86), where he completed a doctorate at Bern University in 1946.
Politisch ein Janusgesicht
In view of all this, Staudinger’s behaviour in politically difficult contexts must be considered contradictory. While he was a conformist at some times, he was a troublemaker at others; all in all, he remained unpredictable, managing not only to express politically correct views with impressive vehemence but also to step out of line subversively. Which means that he acted neither as a model Nazi nor as a figure with whom anti-fascists could identify. In the end, the Nazi regime abandoned the strong reservations against him even so and came to terms with the man who was originally reviled as a “traitor to his country”.
The turning point came in 1940: a separate research department for macromolecular chemistry was established at Staudinger’s institute and was affiliated to the chemical laboratory at the university – after the institute had already been expanded twice in 1933 and 1937, “in order to create additional capacities for the [...] growth in macromolecular chemistry” (Heimlich 1998, 84). Staudinger was to head this department, which was the first in Europe to be devoted exclusively to the new area of research into polymer sciences, until he retired in 1951. After this, he remained in charge for another five years on an honorary basis. The ban on foreign travel was lifted in 1940 too, when Staudinger’s “name was cleared completely at the political level” (Deichmann 2001, 399). Reich Minister of Education Rust received the following letter from the head of the scientific authorities at his ministry, represented by Otto Wacker, on 26. January 1940:
“The district controller in Freiburg has informed me that he has decided to deploy Professor Staudinger politically to a certain extent too in view of his impeccable conduct in recent years. He will as a result be speaking to a selection of political leaders for the first time in the next few days. The district controller therefore considers that the Staudinger case is now closed completely. At the same time that I am informing you about this fact, I think that I am in a position to express the opinion that no fundamental objections should be raised any more in future to scientific activities by Professor Staudinger abroad.” (quoted from Deichmann 2001, 399)
Between 1942 and 1944, Staudinger was used for cultural propaganda purposes “in foreign countries occupied or annexed by Germany” and completed a total of eight lecture tours during this time, which took him to such places as Prague, Mulhouse and Strasbourg: “Staudinger had won the trust of the Nazi rulers.” (Deichmann 2001, 399; cf. Schnabel 1991, 230)
Promotion of defence chemistry
It can be assumed that the sudden change in the Nazis’ position was attributable less to a fundamental re-evaluation of Staudinger as a person and more to an increase in their appreciation of what he had to offer professionally as the “natural science figurehead of Freiburg University” (Martin 1994, 11). This was due to the fact that the organic and polymer chemistry he represented was considered to be of importance to the war effort in 1940 – something that Staudinger’s pupil Gerhard Bier had already benefited from, as has been indicated. Staudinger seized the opportunity and never tired of emphasising that he could – and wanted to – be of use to Germany in the war. In the spirit of the Nazi policy of self-sufficiency, he tried to convince the authorities of his ability “to supplement the chemical arsenal by adding plastics and substitute materials” (Jaenicke 2003, 604; cf. Deichmann 2001, 397, and Westermann 2007, 115). He was also willing to make his laboratory available for the promotion of what was known as defence chemistry. As early as 5. September 1939, four days after the attack on Poland, he wrote to the Freiburg vice-chancellor Mangold:
“A number of projects of importance to the war effort have been carried out at the chemical institute here for years now, e.g. in connection with the gas protection department at the Ministry of War and with Draeger-Werke in Lübeck. At the suggestion of the latter, work has been done about mustard gas protection (the original name for the chemical weapon yellow cross was “Lost” [...]) and I am involved in developing a reaction for the detection of traces of Lost. Studying cellulose and nitrocellulose have prompted visits to explosives factories, so that I have become acquainted with problems faced by the explosives industry.” (quoted from Schnabel 1991, 222)
On 19. October 1939, Staudinger drew attention to the importance of his work to the war effort and the country in a letter to Rudolf Mentzel (1900-1987), President of the German Research Association (DFG) and a member of the Nazi party since 1925: “He stressed that the findings about the structure of cellulose, e.g. the identification of imperfections in the molecule, are of significance with respect to the production of gun cotton and nitrate powders and emphasised the general importance of his work in relation to the constitution of Buna and chlorinated rubber, which is used as a rust-proofing agent. He quoted projects about an agent providing protection against weapons and a new gas mask as examples of work done by his institute that was of special importance to the war effort. The production of synthetic pepper, which came onto the market in Germany in the First World War, had been started again too. (Peter Adolf, editor’s note) Thiessen (1899-1990, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm institute for physical chemistry and electrochemistry and a member of the Nazi party since 1925; editor’s note) acknowledged that Staudinger’s work was important to the war effort and the country, with the argument that although Staudinger’s research was not of direct importance to the war effort, it was of considerable significance to the raw material situation, because it could at any time lead to practical consequences for the cellulose manufacturing industry, the plastics field etc.” (Deichmann 2001, 411-412)
“Staudinger also carried out a research project for the Reich Ministry of Aviation and the commander-in-chief of the air force that focussed on ‘Investigations into nitrocellulose’” (Deichmann 2001, 412), which – according to Gerhard Bier, his pupil at the time – was the area of operation of greatest relevance to the war effort:
“Nitrocellulose was an industrial product, the raw material for celluloid [...] and for civil and military explosives as well as for civil and military ammunition fuels. Problems of storage stability arose in the large-scale production of nitrocellulose during the war. For unknown reasons, nitrocellulose or a mixture containing nitrocellulose degenerated occasionally, which led – for example – to premature explosions. By carrying out systematic tests, Staudinger’s staff found out that traces of sulphuric acid in the nitrocellulose were the reason for why the nitrocellulose was not stable in storage. The precondition for high storage stability was to wash out the nitrocellulose thoroughly, in the context of which the sulphuric acid ester groups needed to be hydrolysed too. The sulphuric acid was a necessary component of the nitration mixture. I am not aware of the details of this work. [...] Other work done during the war related to the plastics sector and the synthesis factor sector, e.g. polyamides.” (Letter written by Gerhard Bier to Ute Deichmann on 2.9.1996, quoted from Deichmann 2001, 412)
Funding from industry
“The Nobel Prizes were presented by King Gustav VI. Adolf in a thoroughly festive ceremony. Staudinger received the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from him. A memorable picture: both men were the same height and roughly the same age. (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24)
There is no doubt about it: between 1939 and 1945, the most important institute at Freiburg University as far as the war effort was concerned – alongside the physics institute – was the chemical institute (for details, see Schnabel 1991, 223, and Martin 1994, 11, footnote 32) and it received appropriate funding. This funding came from many different sources, with “industry providing far more money for (Staudinger’s, editor’s note) research than the emergency association/German Research Association” (Deichmann 2001, 401):
“As an external member of staff, Staudinger received RM 10,000 per year from I. G. Farben from 1927 to 1937 for studying rubber and high-molecular natural and artificial substances/plastics. [...] In 1943, Staudinger became an external member of the staff of I. G. again, this company supporting him to the tune of 10,000 RM in both 1943 and 1944.” (Deichmann 2001, 400-401; cf. ibid., 241) Westermann 2007, 68 points out in this context: “This means that he had additional research funds at his disposal that amounted to far more than half of his annual income as professor. Between 1930 and 1932, Staudinger earned RM 1,166.66 per month, increasing to RM 1,350.66 with all allowances.”
“Staudinger’s research into cellulose and other fibres started to receive funding from the emergency association/German Research Association in 1936. He received regular support of between RM 3,000 and RM 12,000 per year until 1943.” (Deichmann 2001, 401). The funds provided by the German Research Association and the Reich Research Council are said ibid., 232 to total RM 66,160 in the period 1934 – 1945.
“Staudinger’s work [...] was also funded by the Reich economic development authorities as of 1941; the amounts provided are not known.” (Deichmann 2001, 412)
This list is in curious contrast to Staudinger’s own statements after the war: “The research activities of the undersigned were made more difficult by the fact that he was viewed unfavourably by the party [...]. Due to the position adopted by the party, other major authorities, such as the Reich Research Council, the Reich economic development authorities, etc., were influenced either to refuse funding for the work at the institute here or only to approve minor financial support.” (Staudinger 1945, 11)
Apart from this, Schnabel 1991, 230 criticises the fact that Staudinger makes no mention at all of the research he did that was of importance to the war effort, something which he had played as his trump card during the time of the Nazi regime, in the “Report about the influence of National Socialism on the teaching activities of the chemical institute”, which has just been quoted above. In his review of the “Third Reich”, Staudinger criticised party-political nepotism in the making of appointments to scientific and university administration positions and the lack of funding for young academics:
“In my practical experience, it was frequently the case during the Nazi period that qualified assistants contemptuously rejected suggestions that they pursued an academic career and opted instead to accept technical positions – not just for financial reasons but also and primarily due to the uncertainty of an academic career because of intervention by the Nazis; during this time, the institute director was unable to guarantee even the most capable of chemists a successful academic career, as the official controller responsible for the students and lecturers as well as the head of the training camps had much greater influence than the performance of the applicant. A successful academic career was as a result dependent more on party activities than on scientific achievements.” (Staudinger 1945, 7)
Veil of silence
After 1945, it was not unusual for chemists to cast a veil of silence over their involvement in the crimes of the Nazi regime. Deichmann 2001, 414 brought up this painful subject: “In contrast to prominent German physicists, who professed after the war that they had not been in favour of the production of the atomic bomb for moral reasons, neither Staudinger nor other chemists claimed that they were unable to synthesise an artificial fibre, an explosive, a poison gas or an antidote because they had not wanted to for moral reasons. They were honest about this. However, Staudinger (and all his fellow chemists) failed to comment on the enormous crimes that were committed with the involvement of chemists. [...] The killing of mentally disturbed Germans by carbon monoxide and of European Jews by Zyklon B (is, editor’s note) not mentioned.”
The years 1945-1965
The year is coming to an end – and so is our four-part series about Hermann Staudinger, whose macromolecule theory revolutionised polymer chemistry (and provided the scientific basis for it). Staudinger’s life’s work culminated in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he received from the Swedish king on 10. December 1953, exactly 59 years ago now. Late recognition for a 72-year-old retired professor, who had not represented the avant-garde of his subject for a long time any more but whose achievements are still being acknowledged to our day. As long as 34 years after Staudinger’s death, the American Chemical Society paid tribute to his life’s work by unveiling a plaque in his honour at the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry at Freiburg University (“Hermann-Staudinger-Haus”). The final section of our series covers the post-war period until Staudinger’s death in 1965 and focusses on the Nobel Prize. The colourful reports published by daily newspapers are included here for the first time too.
Freiburg, Lugostrasse 14, 5. November 1953, shortly after 8 a.m.: the man of the house and his wife were still in bed this Thursday morning, so the cleaning lady took it on herself to accept the telegram from Stockholm. What it said in a brief but clear message was:
“The Royal Academy of Sciences has awarded you the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Letter will follow – westgren, secretary” (cf. Kunze 1953 and Magda Staudinger 1987, 24).
The telegram was addressed to Prof. Dr. phil. Dr.-Ing. E. h. Dr. rer. nat. E. h. Hermann Staudinger. It was not at all unusual for the Nobel committee to opt for a chemist from Germany that year, because this honour had already been given to nineteen other representatives of this subject who were German nationals before Staudinger, although only two of them had been chosen since the Hitler dictatorship and the end of the war (Otto Diels, 1876-1954, and Kurt Alder, 1902-1958) (cf. Klaar 1953). What is more unusual is that Staudinger had dual nationality, so that he can be counted as both a German and a Swiss winner of Nobel Prize. What is most unusual, however, is the fact that Staudinger received the prize as a 72-year-old retired professor for what he already proposed as a 39-year-old and proved soon afterwards too – the existence of “giant molecules” (macromolecules). With this groundbreaking concept, Staudinger revolutionised polymer and plastics chemistry in the 1920s and 1930s – against stubborn resistance (see Part 2 of this series). The “Wochenend” newspaper that appeared in Nuremberg wrote:
“The professor has demonstrated in his research that the most important natural products consist of particles (molecules) of unusual size and that they are composed of numerous (often millions) of atoms. The model for the technology to imitate and even reproduce these natural products was available as a result.” (Kunze 1953)
An achievement that definitely deserved the Nobel Prize: “The outstanding university professor Dr Hermann Staudinger was already honoured indirectly quite a long time ago, when two of his former pupils received the Nobel Prize, i.e. Professor Dr (Leopold, editor’s note) Ruzicka (1887-1976, chemistry, editor’s note) in 1939 and Professor Dr (Tadeus, editor’s note) Reichstein (1897-1996, medicine, editor’s note) in 1950”, the Düsseldorf publication “Der Fortschritt” remembers (Klaar 1953). Staudinger shared the fate of many scholars, especially natural scientists, all the same: “He was famous in the scientific community, but was practically unknown to a broader public”, as the “Radio Revue” from West Berlin stated when the Nobel Prize was presented to Staudinger. It is a telling fact that the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung” newspaper (WAZ) gave him the wrong first name in its article of 6.11.1953: instead of Hermann, Franz was celebrated as being the winner of the Nobel Prize. That was the name of Staudinger’s father, who had died as long ago as 1921, however. Journalists concluded in 1953 that Staudinger was largely unknown and asked the following questions:
“How many of the pretty young girls and women who draw particular attention to their attractive legs by wearing nylon or perlon stockings, how many of the car drivers whose vehicles are fitted with tyres made of synthetic rubber and how many of the people who sell the countless everyday articles made of plastics of all different kinds ever think even once of the outstanding research scientist to whose scientific work the technical production of all these materials – which are essential features of modern-day life now – is in the final analysis attributable?” (Klaar 1953)
Hermann Staudinger died on 8. September 1965 – in Freiburg, where he had worked since 1926 and where he had been given the freedom of the city in 1954 “in recognition of his tremendous services to research and science and the improvement in the reputation of the city of Freiburg as a result”. ...
The fact that Staudinger had never been in the limelight much until then was due in no small part to his attempts to avoid being in the public eye. The “Radio Revue” concluded that he was not a man who drew attention to himself. The WAZ emphasised that Staudinger’s pupils left “one after another to earn top salaries in industry, while the old man himself stayed modestly where he was in his institute making sure his findings were absolutely watertight”. So it is no surprise that Staudinger was unwilling to believe the rumours which went around for days beforehand that he would be receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry that year. The news finally came out on 4. November 1953 and spread throughout the world press. Staudinger himself had still not received official confirmation from the Nobel Prize committee yet, however, so “I was rather uncomfortable with the coverage, since all the press releases appeared to me to be somewhat premature”, as Staudinger revealed later on. Quite apart from the fact that he was not looking forward to all the interest in his person that he anticipated and preferred to be evasive for the time being:
“>I thought of my colleague from Freiburg, who received this honour in 1935 – (the biologist, editor’s note) Dr (Hans, editor’s note) Spemann (1869-1941, editor’s note). He had a terrible night at the time. I therefore disconnected my phone in the evening and slept well.< The seventy-two-year-old told this story as if it were a successful practical joke [...]. The professor was asleep and did not notice any of the fuss that was being made at the Freiburg telephone exchange, where the switchboard operators were put under pressure by phone calls from Rome, Paris, New York and many German towns and cities requesting connection at long last to number 2874, the one that belonged to the new Nobel Prize winner.” (Kunze 1953)
When he woke up on 5. November, he was therefore very pleased to read the telegram from Stockholm that has already been mentioned above, as it eliminated any doubts. “When asked to comment on the award that had been made to him, the new German winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry said: >It is the final recognition of my work and it is wonderful that I am still here to enjoy it!< (Klaar 1953). He considered the Nobel Prize to be the “culmination of a battle about the controversial field of macromolecular chemistry, for the scientific recognition of which he had been forced to fight for many long years” (quoted from Hamburger Echo, 6. November 1953). “The Strasbourg Professor (Charles, editor’s note) Sadron (1902-1993, editor’s note), who ran an institute of macromolecular chemistry himself, had explained to him the previous year that he, Staudinger, would probably not have obtained so many groundbreaking insights into macromolecular chemistry if he had not been attacked so fiercely from all sides. This conflict with his opponents is what drove him to do all his hard work and made him a truly great research scientist”, the “Schwarzwälder Bote”, to whom the new Nobel Prize winner had given an interview, wrote on 8. November 1953.
Staudinger was embellishing his past a little to the press here. Because although he faced resistance from his scientific colleagues initially, industry quickly “took over his theories [...], once it became clear that application of them made it possible to manufacture plastics systematically” (Jostkleigrewe 1987, 7). Staudinger himself pointed out that “industry accepted his views much more quickly than the scientific community” (Hamburger Echo, 6. November 1953). He enjoyed playing the role of the “fighter” even so, continuing to play it when the hatchet had long been buried, i.e. when he was already preaching to the converted where his macromolecule theory was concerned (see Part 3 of this series). It almost appears that he was afraid he might lose the victory he had won again if he no longer needed to defend it against anyone. Staudinger seemed to be driven by emotional forces of some kind that required him to prove himself again and again and to seek approval – something that is confirmed by his never-ending stream of publications too. Even though no-one disputed his success – on the contrary: three general universities (Mainz, Salamanca and Turin) and three technical universities (Karlsruhe, Strasbourg and Zurich) awarded Staudinger honorary doctorates. He also received the Emil Fischer Commemorative Medal from the Association of German Chemists (VDCh), the Leblanc Commemorative Medal from the French Chemistry Association (SFC), the Cannizzaro Prize from the Italian Accademia dei Lincei, the Golden Commemorative Badge from the Association of Finnish Chemists and – in 1952 – the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is quite possible even so that Staudinger only obtained the final certainty he needed to be unimpressed by adversaries and opponents when he received the Nobel Prize as the highest possible form of acknowledgement. Not least of all, the Nobel Prize brought him a great deal of money: Staudinger received a cheque for 175,292.94 Swedish krona, which was worth about DEM 140,000 (cf. Kunze 1953): the “Wochenend” newspaper (ibid.) congratulated him as follows: “While [...] the whole of Germany can share the glory, the scholar alone decides what the money is used for”.
The impact of the honour bestowed on Staudinger was felt in particular by Freiburg, the city in Baden-Württemberg where he had been university professor from 1926 to 1951. The news that Staudinger had received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry spread there like wildfire on 5. November 1953; Freiburg professors and about 400 students held a torchlight procession to Staudinger’s house the same evening to honour the prizewinner. “The whole of Lugostrasse was bathed in vivid, warm torchlight – and the beautiful old song >Gaudeamus igitur< was sung in triumph after the speeches.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24) The “Schwarwälder Bote” (8.11.1953) summarised the speeches:
“The current Professor of Chemistry at Freiburg University, Professor Dr (Arthur, editor’s note) Lüttringhaus (1906-1992, editor’s note), paid tribute [...] to his predecessor’s life’s work. Professor Staudinger had helped the German scientific community to develop an excellent reputation by carrying out his trailblazing research [...]. The chemical community in Germany had been expecting Professor Staudinger to be given the highest award for his work some time for years now. The rector of Freiburg University, Professor (Walter-Herwig, editor’s note) Schuchhardt (1900-1976, editor’s note) thanked Professor Staudinger primarily for remaining loyal to Freiburg University for 25 years. The name of Freiburg University had become famous throughout the world as a result of his work.”
Staudinger received congratulations from Bonn during this time too: on behalf of the German government, the German minister of the interior, Dr Gerhard Schröder (CDU), congratulated him on 5. November and the German Chancellor Dr Konrad Adenauer (CDU) followed on 10. November.
Staudinger had to wait until 10. December for the official presentation of the Nobel Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The trip to Stockholm was to be unforgettable. His wife Magda writes:
“Although it was the darkest time of the year, Stockholm was brightly lit on the day of the ceremony. The Nobel Prizes were presented by [...] King Gustav VI. Adolf [...] in a thoroughly festive ceremony. Hermann Staudinger received the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from him. It was a memorable picture: both men were the same height and roughly the same age. This picture was published throughout the chemical press all over the world, with the caption: High Polymers bring High Honours).” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24)
To understand the satisfaction that Staudinger must have felt in Stockholm, it is only necessary to remember what difficult decades were behind him: gruelling scientific disputes in the 1920s (see Part 2 of this series) were followed by tortuous political manoeuvring during the Nazi period (see Part 3 of this series). In 1940, Staudinger succeeded in adding a research department for macromolecular chemistry to the university chemical laboratory – “the first European research centre that focussed exclusively on research into macromolecules in nature and industry as well as on the new area of polymer science research” is the description given in a current profile issued by Freiburg University. Work was hampered by the war to an increasing extent, however, until the chemical institute (including the library, collections and equipment) was, finally, destroyed almost entirely in a bomb attack on Freiburg on 27. November 1944. “Thanks to the immediate action taken by assistants and students, the few remaining parts were saved and were installed again in some cases after the end of the war. It was therefore possible to start teaching and research again to a modest extent as of 1947.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 22)
Staudinger was already 66 years old in 1947 and the best of his scientific career was long behind him. He was, however, indefatigable in contributing to the laborious reconstruction process, devoting himself in particular to the research department for macromolecular chemistry that he had established, into which he put all his energy – demonstrating both persistence and obstinacy: “Staudinger did not establish an interdisciplinary teaching and research programme; no-one except he held lectures about macromolecular chemistry in Freiburg.” (Deichmann 2001, 150) Staudinger finally retired in the spring of 1951 at the age of almost 70, but he did not sit back and take things easy afterwards. On the instruction of the Baden State President, Leo Wohleb (1888-1955, editor’s note), the research department for macromolecular chemistry had just been converted into a government research institute and Staudinger was quick to accept the invitation to head it for the next five years. In an honorary capacity, of course, while the financial support provided to the institute left a great deal to be desired too: “In spite of its impressive name, this research facility was rather modest”, Magda Staudinger 1987, 22, concluded. This was particularly the case where the premises were concerned, which were located in Staudinger’s own home to start with: “A white, somewhat weather-beaten, wooden sign saying >Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry< was to be found on the garden gate at Lugostrasse 14.” (Kunze 1953) When Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize in this situation, the “Handelsblatt” from Düsseldorf issued the following appeal on 6.11.1953:
“Although Staudinger’s research institute is a state facility, its budget is so inadequate that large personal sacrifices have been necessary to enable it to continue operating. The >Fonds der chemischen Industrie> made DEM 10,000 available a few days ago, but perhaps the state of Baden-Württemberg will now at long last decide to make a generous extension to the institute. There can be no doubt that this would be the honour that Staudinger would appreciate most as a result of the Nobel Prize!”
... His grave is in the central cemetery in Freiburg. His widow Magda, née Woit, a botanist who supported and contributed to Staudinger’s research, was laid to rest here in 1997.
Staudinger’s own plan to develop the government research institute of macromolecular chemistry into a federal institute “in line with its importance for the modern chemical industry and to broaden its financial basis” (Klaar 1953) came to nothing due to a lack of support. When Staudinger resigned from the position of head of the institute as agreed in 1956, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Education established an extraordinary professorship for macromolecular chemistry – the university institute of macromolecular chemistry was set up and then, in 1962, moved to a new building that is known today as “Hermann-Staudinger-Haus” (cf. Magda Staudinger 1987, 22).
On 23. March 1956, Staudinger’s 75th birthday, Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg held an official ceremony, at which Staudinger was honoured in appropriate fashion as he retired from his position as honorary head of the institute. The university rector, Bernhard Welte (1908-1983), a philosophy of religion professor, spoke at the ceremony:
“Thirty years ago now, you created an opening in the dark wall of nature, which science is constantly trying to illuminate and penetrate. [...] Today, the opening is so large that an entire world has gone through it – and is still going through it. The entire world of industry, of fibres and plastics, spread throughout all the countries of the earth, without which our lives today would no longer be conceivable, and the entire world of all those who use these fibres and plastics of many different kinds. [...] A huge new field of science, business and life has developed behind the opening that you made [...] with your scientific work!” (quoted in Staudinger 1961, 305).
Asked about his plans for the future just after he won the Nobel Prize, Staudinger had already revealed his intention to start studying botany again – the subject that he gave up in favour of chemisty when he was a young man (see Part 1 of this series): “He studied chemistry because this was the basic science that preceded botany. >Now [...] the time has come to start studying botany.< The Nobel Prize winner [...] plans to be become a student. That’s the way it is – you never stop learning.” (Kunze 1953) Magda Staudinger 1987, 10 says: “When he was quite old, he used to say that he did not know enough chemistry yet to start studying botany. In response to this, the dean of his faculty in Freiburg said at a small ceremony in connection with the presentation of the Nobel Prize in 1953 that the faculty now – after this event – expected the would-be botany student to take his exams in this subject at long last!” There is a realistic background to what sounds just like an anecdote: Staudinger’s return to botany illuminated the origins of his macromolecule theory, on the one hand, while it opened up a new area of research – molecular biology – to him at the same time. This interface makes it clear just how stimulating Staudinger must have found his encounter with the botanist Dr. phil. Mag. rer. nat. Magda Woit, who became his wife when he married for the second time in 1928, at the scientific level too. Staudinger got to know the daughter of the Latvian ambassador, who came from Riga, on Helgoland in August 1927. Magda Staudinger 1987, 17-18, remembers this as follows:
“I studied [...] in Berlin, because my father was the first ambassador of the state of Latvia in Berlin in the 20s after the country became independent. I obtained my doctorate there in 1925 with the plant physiologist Gottfried Haberlandt (1854-1945, editor’s note); I then returned to Riga, took the state examination at Riga University and became an assistant to Nicolai Malta in the botanical laboratory. I was particularly interested in marine algae and I was delighted when I was given a job as a guest at the biological institute on Helgoland in the summer of 1927. I was interested in the cell membrane of the algae and I tackled my experiments with the equipment and know-how about colloidal substances that were available at the time. The Freiburg botanist Friedrich Oltmanns (1860-1945, editor’s note), who was an algae specialist, came to Helgoland in August too. I had got to know him by taking two algae courses with him while I was still a student. One day, he was standing on the jetty in Helgoland with another gentleman and spoke to me as I walked by. He introduced the other gentleman to me: >My colleague from the chemistry department, Hermann Staudinger< and, turning to Staudinger, he mentioned that I was working on cell membranes of algae at the biological institute. Hermann Staudinger was interested to hear this and asked if he could take a look at my experiments: he had just published a paper about a model for cellulose, the main component of plant cell membrane. That in turn interested me and we arranged that he would visit the laboratory. He came on 24. August, took a look at my experiments and had me explain them. Suddenly, he then said to my amazement: >It is all completely different<, sat down on a laboratory stool and started to talk: >There are macromolecules and they will be tremendously important to biology in future, because living cells can only be constructed with such large molecules. Thanks to their size, they have different shapes; the different structures that the living cell needs are possible as a result. Thanks to their size, they can – in turn – accommodate very different reactive groups.< He talked about these things for quite a while and explained phenomena that were in some cases only demonstrated at the experimental level many years later. On the basis of his cellulose model and stimulated in his thinking by my experiments, the role played by macromolecules in biological processes occurred to him there and then at this time on 24. August 1927. It was like a vision to him. Molecular biology now exists today and is very successful. The name does not come from us; it was used first by the English chemist (William Thomas, editor’s note) Astbury (1898-1961) around 1945. The first conversation about these ideas took place back then on Helgoland, however. In my opinion, this is therefore when molecular biology first began.”
In view of this, Jaenicke 2003, 604, was accurate in describing Magda Staudinger as “the moira who helped to spin the macromolecular threads”. The couple did not carry out systematic “experimental trials on living cell substances” until after 1945, however, due – among other things – “to the destruction of the institute during the war” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 18). The direction was clear, however, the vision stayed alive and there was tremendous general interest outside the scientific community too, as the reports in the daily press in the context of the presentation of the Nobel Prize to Staudinger show: “Macromolecular chemistry is [...] likely to be of the greatest importance to biology and medicine. It is definite that life processes are associated inseparably with macromolecules. Chemically speaking, life consists of the formation, conversion, dissolution and also reproduction of macromolecules that follow the laws of life – this is how the “Lindauer Zeitung” put it (Hahn 1953; cf. Staudinger 1938, 24, 25 and 29 as well as Staudinger 1961, 302, 306-307 and 333-334). “All our modern plastics are [...] large molecules. But all living substances are macromolecular too. Staudinger’s theory will therefore be celebrating its greatest triumphs in the biological field”, wrote “Die Welt” (Theimer 1953). Expectations that have been met: “Current thinking in the molecular biology field is inconceivable without the macromolecular concept. Genetic science, which is developing rapidly today, is also based on the macromolecular principles proposed by Hermann Staudinger.” (Jostkleigrewe 1987, 7; cf. Rothschuh 1963, 135-136).
Staudinger already had an excellent international reputation too, even before he won the Nobel Prize, and he was in demand as a speaker outside Germany as well. In November 1950, for example, he was invited to Rome to speak at the Centro Romano di Studi. The Staudingers took this opportunity to attend a private audience with Pope Pius XII at St. Peter’s Basilica (Magda Staudinger 1987, 23).
However, it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that Staudinger, who once led the avant-garde in the organic chemistry field, now held mainstream positions that were no longer in tune with the times in all cases. Staudinger was in danger of being overtaken by scientific progress or even of being left behind. Where new findings conflicted with his own views, he classified them as improper attacks, ignored them or fought a losing battle against them. He did not accept the physical-chemical proof of the flexibility of linear macromolecules, for example, and stubbornly maintained his concept of macromolecules as rigid, rod-like structures. He was just as unwilling to accept modifications to his law about the relationship between molecule size and viscosity:
“On the basis of the assumption that linear macromolecules can also exist as clusters, Hermann Mark (1895-1992, editor’s note) co-operated with the Dutch physical chemist Roelof Houwink (1899-1987, editor’s note) in Vienna to continue empirical development of Staudinger’s viscosity equation (Mark-Houwink equation). [...] The corrections / additions to Staudinger’s viscosity law made by Mark and Houwink proved to be correct, but they were still being rejected by Staudinger in the 1950s too.” (Deichmann 2000, 410)
Staudinger lagged behind polymer science in the United States in particular. Here, at the Polytechnic Institute of New York in Brooklyn, was where Hermann Mark worked, the man with whom Staudinger had held a fierce dispute from 1926 onwards (see Part 2 of this series). Mark fled to the USA in 1938 to get away from the Nazis, after he lost his licence to teach at Vienna University because he was a Jew and was put in prison for a while. Helmut Ringsdorf (born in 1929, editor’s note) – one of Staudinger’s undergraduate and doctoral students – worked at Mark’s institute in Brooklyn from the end of the Fifties onwards as a post-doctoral student. Staudinger did not do well in a comparison of the “two worlds”:
According to Ringsdorf, “the Freiburg Institute was no longer the world leader in the polymer field in the 50s. Although the work done there was sound, it was generally classical. As the head of the institute, Hermann Staudinger definitely continued to focus too much on the virulent and tough battles he had fought in the 1920s. Hermann Mark, on the other hand, had activated macromolecular chemistry on a broad basis in the USA after the war. He brought physicists, chemists and technologists together and developed a modern version of polymer science as a result. This gave the institute in Brooklyn the prominent international position it held at the time. This development took somewhat longer at Staudinger’s institute [...]. I only learned in Brooklyn what new developments were going on in polymer chemistry.” (quoted in Deichmann 2001, 150)
The two worlds then collided in 1957: Staudinger accepted an invitation to Brooklyn that Marks issued to him to give a lecture there. He was received “as the polymer pioneer, as the person >who led the polymer crusade<” (Deichmann 2001, 186). Staudinger did not make a good impression, however. Ringsdorf remembers:
“I arranged the slides for Staudinger’s lectures back then and so I knew what he was going to talk about. Compared with what was being done in Brooklyn at the time, it has to be said that these lectures almost represented the dark ages of polymer science. I can make this statement particularly emphatically, because I still have the original slides [...] of the last four lectures. The young people in Brooklyn in particular certainly admired and revered Hermann Staudinger at this time as the grand old man of macromolecular chemistry. They were probably forgiving about what he said, particularly in view of the fact that he spoke in German.” (quoted in Deichmann 2001, 186-187; cf. Magda Staudinger 1987, 25)
1957 was also the year when Staudinger gave guest lectures in Japan too. This was the country where his early writings about high-molecular organic compounds were still revered as if they were the Bible (see Magda Staudinger 1987, 20). During this stay, Staudinger met the Tenno, the Japanese emperor (ibid., 20 and 26). In 1958, Staudinger headed the German delegation at the international “Science House” at the World Fair in Brussels. He continued to receive honours as well: Staudinger was awarded the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany another two times, in 1957 with Star and in 1965 with Star and Sash (Source).
“He had good fortune that only a few scientists share: being able to experience and enjoy all the success of his work”, Krüll 1978a, 49, writes about Staudinger’s retirement. His health deteriorated, however; Staudinger had heart problems (Mark 1966, 93). “His intellect remained keen, however, and he continued to be interested in world affairs and the progress made in macromolecular science right until the end. Hermann Staudinger was still able to experience the beginning of space travel in the form of the first satellites. He was told that this development was only possible because there are macromolecular materials that stand the conditions encountered in space. Hermann Staudinger spent the summer of 1965 in his garden, thoroughly enjoying his flowers. He then passed away on 8. September 1965.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 27) He was laid to rest in the central cemetery in Freiburg. The obituaries about the 84-year-old included the following statements:
“An unusually bright star in the chemistry sky has now died – one that in recent decades cast radiant light on many areas of chemistry that had been dark beforehand.” (Hopff 1969, XLI)
“He was a research scientist, a teacher and an apostle. [...] His inquiring mind drove him to follow unexplored paths, which may well involve hard and uncomfortable work but which were, on the other hand, necessary in order to open up virgin territory for research, teaching and applied science.” (Mark 1966, 93)
The final words come, appropriately enough, from his widow:
“A year later, three Japanese stood before me: they wanted to be shown Hermann Staudinger’s grave, because they said they had been asked to hold a memorial ceremony in accordance with their particular rite. They put a large bouquet of white flowers on the grave – white is their mourning colour. They then lit incense sticks they had brought with them and started to recite the words of their rite, bowing down almost to the ground again and again in front of the grave with the fragrant burning incense sticks in both hands. I have to admit that I was very moved. A completely different, distant country, a completely different, unfamiliar religion honoured a man here who had added to the world’s pool of knowledge. This world has become a small one thanks to our technology; we are all neighbours. And that means we have an increasingly urgent commitment to humane behaviour as creatures who share mother earth. Because that is the only way we will survive. Hermann Staudinger was a strong advocate of this in various ways throughout his life. And I think that this can be considered to be his legacy.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 27-28)
Nomen est omen
Das Andenken Hermann Staudingers halten nicht zuletzt Begriffe lebendig, für die sein Name Pate gestanden hat. Sie bereichern vor allem den Fachwortschatz, aber auch im Alltag lässt sich auf sie stoßen, denn nach Staudinger sind u. a. Schulen und Straßen benannt. Hier eine kleine Übersicht:
Roads named after Hermann Staudinger – with and without his first name – can be found in Baden-Württemberg (Emmendingen, Freiburg, Karlsruhe, Münsingen, Waldshut-Tiengen), Bavaria (Aschheim, Helmbrechts, Munich, Rehau, Trostberg, Viechtach), Hamburg, Hesse (Bürstadt, Darmstadt, Rodgau, Viernheim), Lower Saxony (Braunschweig, Lage/Lippe), North Rhine-Westphalia (Gütersloh, Velen) and Schleswig-Holstein (Norderstedt).
Schools: Staudinger Primary School and Carmelite/Staudinger-Realschule plus (former Staudinger-Hauptschule) in Worms, where Hermann Staudinger was born on 23. March 1881; Hermann-Staudinger-Realschule in Konz/Rhineland-Palatinate; Staudinger Comprehensive School in Freiburg im Breisgau; Hermann Staudinger Grammar School in Erlenbach/Bavaria; Hermann Staudinger Graduate School at Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg im Breisgau
Hermann-Staudinger-Haus in Freiburg im Breisgau: it was established in 1962 and houses the Freiburg University Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry. The American Chemical Society and the Society of German Chemists unveiled a plaque in honour of Hermann Staudinger here on 19. April 1999. This plaque says:
“HISTORIC INTERNATIONAL MILESTONE IN CHEMISTRY – ORIGIN OF POLYMER SCIENCES. Albert Ludwigs University, Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, 1926-1956: this building has been named after Hermann Staudinger, who carried out his pioneering research about macromolecules in Freiburg from 1926 to 1956. His theories about the polymer structure of fibres and plastics as well as his later studies of biological macromolecules formed the basis for countless modern developments in the materials and biosciences and for the rapid growth of the plastics industry. Staudinger received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1953 for his work in the polymers field.”
References (The years 1881-1919)
Hermann Staudinger: Technik und Krieg. Technik und Friedensfrage. In: Friedens-Warte. Blätter für zwischenstaatliche Organisation 19 (1917), P. 196-202; reprinted in: H. St.: Vom Aufstand der technischen Sklaven (1947), op. cit., P. 20-40
Hermann Staudinger: Zur Beurteilung Amerikas. [Manuscript from 1917 that is kept with Staudinger’s papers at the German Museum in Munich.]
Hermann Staudinger: La technique moderne et la guerre. In: Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge 1 (1919), P. 508-515
Hermann Staudinger: Der erste Weltkrieg unter technischen Gesichtspunkten. In: Zukunft 37 (1919), No. 56 (20. November), P. 341; extended version printed in: H. St.: Vom Aufstand der technischen Sklaven (1947), op, cit., P. 45-55
Hermann Staudinger: Vom Aufstand der technischen Sklaven. Essen: Dr. Hans von Chamier 1947 (series “Zeit und Leben im Geiste des Ganzen“), 103 pages
Hermann Staudinger: Arbeitserinnerungen. Heidelberg: Dr. Alfred Hüthig 1961, 335 pages
Volker Gallé: Technik, Krieg und Frieden – Politische Gedanken eines Wormser Nobelpreisträgers. In: Heimatjahrbuch für die Stadt Worms 6 (2011), P. 169-173
Siegfried Heimlich: Porträts in Plastik. Pioniere des polymeren Zeitalters. Frankfurt am Main: Siegfried Heimlich/Darmstadt: Hoppenstedt 1998, 156 pages
Ernst Klee: Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer 2005 (= ft, 16048), 732 pages
Claudia Krüll: Die Kontroverse Haber – Staudinger um den Einsatz chemischer Waffen im 1. Weltkrieg. In: Nachrichtenblatt der deutschen Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Medizin, Naturwissenschaft und Technik 27 (1977), P. 32-33
Hans Sachsse: Ein Chemiker zur Friedensdiskussion: Hermann Staudinger zu Technik und Politik. In: Nachrichten aus Chemie, Technik und Laboratorium 32 (1984), P. 974-976
Margit Szöllösi-Janze: Fritz Haber (1886-1934). Eine Biographie. München: C. H. Beck 1998, 928 pages; pages 447-451: Die Haber-Staudinger-Kontroverse
References (The years 1920-1932)
Wallace Hume Carothers (1932): Review on H. Staudinger. In: Journal of the American Chemical Society 54 (1932), P. 4469-4471
Hermann Mark (1926): Über die röntgenographische Ermittlung der Struktur organischer besonders hochmolekularer Substanzen. Synoptic lecture requested by the German Chemical Society that was held at the 89th meeting of the Society of German Natural Science Researchers and Doctors in Düsseldorf on 23. September 1926. In: Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 59 (1926), P. 2982-3000
Hermann Mark (1966): Zur Entwicklung der Chemie der Makromoleküle. Hermann Staudinger zum Gedenken. In: Die Naturwissenschaften 53 (1966), H. 4, P. 93-95
Hermann Mark (1970): Riesenmoleküle. Weert: Time Life 1970 (= Life – Wunder der Wissenschaft), 200 pages.
Hermann Mark (1980): Aus den frühen Tagen der Makromolekularen Chemie. In: Die Naturwissenschaften 67 (1980), P. 477-483
Kurt Hans Meyer (1928): Neue Wege in der organischen Strukturlehre und in der Erforschung hochpolymerer Verbindungen. In: Zeitschrift für angewandte Chemie 41 (1928), P. 935-968
Kurt Hans Meyer (1929a): Bemerkungen zu den Arbeiten von H. Staudinger. In: Zeitschrift für angewandte Chemie 42 (1929), P. 76-77
Kurt Hans Meyer (1929b): Bemerkung zu der Abhandlung von H. Staudinger: “Über die Konstitution der hochmolekularen Stoffe“. In: Die Naturwissenschaften 17 (1929), P. 255
Hermann Staudinger (1920): Über Polymerisation. In: Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 53 (1920), P. 1073-1085
Hermann Staudinger and Jakob Fritschi (1922): Über die Hydrierung des Kautschuks und über seine Konstitution. (5th announcement about isoprene and rubber.) In: Helvetica chimica Acta 5 (1922), P. 785-806
Hermann Staudinger (1924): Über die Konstitution des Kautschuks. (6th announcement about isoprene and rubber). In: Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 57 (1924), P. 1203-1208
Hermann Staudinger (1926): Die Chemie der hochmolekularen organischen Stoffe im Sinne der Kekuléschen Strukturlehre. Synoptic lecture requested by the German Chemical Society that was held at the 89th meeting of the Society of German Natural Science Researchers and Doctors in Düsseldorf on 23. September 1926. In: Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 59 (1926), P. 3019-3043
Hermann Staudinger (1929): Über die Konstitution der hochmolekularen Stoffe. In: Die Naturwissenschaften 17 (1929), P. 141-144
Hermann Staudinger (1938): Über die makromolekulare Chemie. [Lecture held at the annual meeting of the Freiburg Scientific Society on 10. December 1938.] Freiburg i. Br.: Hans Ferdinand Schulz 1954 (= Freiburger Universitätsreden, N. F., 16), 2nd edition, 32 pages.
Hermann Staudinger, Wilhelm Röhrs and Richard Vieweg (publishers) (1939): Fortschritte der Chemie, Physik und Technik der makromolekularen Stoffe. Volume 1: Munich and Berlin: J. F. Lehmann 1939, 331 pages.
Hermann Staudinger, Wilhelm Röhrs and Richard Vieweg (publishers) (1942): Fortschritte der Chemie, Physik und Technik der makromolekularen Stoffe. Volume 2: Munich and Berlin: J. F. Lehmann 1942, 412 pages.
Hermann Staudinger (1947): Vom Aufstand der technischen Sklaven. Essen: Dr. Hans von Chamier 1947 (Series “Zeit und Leben im Geiste des Ganzen“), 103 pages.
Hermann Staudinger (1961): Arbeitserinnerungen. Heidelberg: Dr. Alfred Hüthig 1961, 335 pages.
Magda Staudinger (1976): Notizen über Hermann Staudinger. In: Staatliche Hermann-Staudinger-Realschule Konz (publisher): 25th anniversary of the Staatliche Hermann-Staudinger-Realschule Konz 1951-1976. Trier: Alois Raab 1976, P. 41-42
Ute Deichmann (2001): Flüchten, Mitmachen, Vergessen. Chemiker und Biochemiker in der NS-Zeit. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH 2001, 596 pages.
Siegfried Heimlich (1998): Porträts in Plastik. Pioniere des polymeren Zeitalters. Frankfurt am Main: Siegfried Heimlich/Darmstadt: Hoppenstedt 1998, 156 pages.
Lothar Jaenicke (2003): Hermann Staudinger (1881-1965, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1953) – Makromoleküle oder Polymere? Ein Professorenleben im Oesterstedschen Gesetz des Umfelds. Jubiläumsfeiern – selbstbestimmter Anlass kultureller Frömmigkeit. In: BIOspektrum 9 (2003), H. 5, P. 601-604, Internet: www.biospektrum.de/blatt/d_bs_pdf&id=933995
Claudia Krüll (1978a): Hermann Staudinger. Aufbruch ins Zeitalter der Makromoleküle. In: Kultur & Technik 2 (1978), H. 3, P. 44-49
Claudia Krüll (1978b): Hermann Staudinger. Das Zeitalter der Kunststoffe. In: Kurt Fassmann et alii (publishers): Die Großen der Weltgeschichte. Volume XI: Einstein bis King. Zurich: Kindler 1978, Pages. 222-241
Kunststoff-Museums-Verein e. V. Düsseldorf (2004): Die Kunststoff-Macher. Düsseldorf: self-published (printing studio) 2004, 78 pages.
Mins Minssen and Wilhelm Walgenbach (1985-I): Naturstoffe, Kunststoffe und das Makromolekülkonzept. Volume I: Dokumente aus Forschung und Forschungsbetrieb. Textband. Bad Salzdetfurth: Didaktischer Dienst Barbara Franzbecker 1985 (= natural science course teaching units: case studies about scientific history), 206 pages.
Mins Minssen and Wilhelm Walgenbach (1985-II): Naturstoffe, Kunststoffe und das Makromolekülkonzept. Volume II: Wegweiser zum Umgang mit Texten. Kommentarband. Bad Salzdetfurth: Didaktischer Dienst Barbara Franzbecker 1985 (=natural science course teaching units: case studies about scientific history), 132 pages.
Rolf Mülhaupt (2004): Hermann Staudinger und der Ursprung der Makromolekularen Chemie. In: Angewandte Chemie 116 (2004), H. 9, P. 1072-1080
Claus Priesner (1980): H. Staudinger, H. Mark und K. H. Meyer. Thesen zur Größe und Struktur der Makromoleküle. Ursachen und Hintegründe eines akademischen Disputes. Weinheim, Deerfield Beach (Florida) and Basel: Verlag Chemie 1980, 389 pages.
Andrea Westermann (2007): Plastik und politische Kultur in Westdeutschland. Zurich: Chronos 2007 (= Interferenzen, 13), 387 pages.
References (The years 1933-1945)
Martin Heidegger (1933): Hönigswald aus der Schule des Neukantianismus. Freiburg, 25. June 1933. [Main Bavarian State Archive, Munich, MK 43772.] In: Claudia Schorcht (publisher): Philosophie an den bayerischen Universitäten 1933-1945. Erlangen: Harald Fischer 1990, P. 161
Hermann Staudinger (1934): Die Bedeutung der Chemie für das deutsche Volk (= “The importance of chemistry to the German people”). In: Düsseldorfer Völkische Zeitung, 25. 2. 1934
Hermann Staudinger (1945): Bericht über den Einfluss des Nationalsozialismus auf die Unterrichtstätigkeit des chemischen Institutes (= “Report about the influence of National Socialism on the teaching activities of the chemical institute”). Freiburg, 6. July 1945, 11 pages. [in the Freiburg State Archive, File C 25/2 No. 181]
Hermann Staudinger (1947): Vom Aufstand der technischen Sklaven. Essen: Dr Hans von Chamier 1947 (= Zeit und Leben im Geiste des Ganzen), 103 pages
Hermann Staudinger (1961): Arbeitserinnerungen. Heidelberg: Dr. Alfred Hüthig 1961, 335 pages
Ute Deichmann (2001): Flüchten, Mitmachen, Vergessen. Chemiker und Biochemiker in der NS-Zeit. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH 2001, 596 pages
Victor Farías (1989): Heidegger und der Nationalsozialismus. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer 1989, 439 pages
Lothar Jaenicke (2003): Hermann Staudinger (1881-1965, Nobel Prize in Chemistry: 1953) – Makromoleküle oder Polymere? Ein Professorenleben im Oesterstedschen Gesetz des Umfelds. Jubiläumsfeiern – selbstbestimmter Anlass kultureller Frömmigkeit. In: BIOspektrum 9 (2003), H. 5, P. 601-604
Ernst Klee (2005): Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer 2005 (= ft, 16048), 732 pages
Claudia Krüll (1978a): Hermann Staudinger. Aufbruch ins Zeitalter der Makromoleküle. In: Kultur & Technik 2 (1978), H. 3, P. 44-49
Claudia Krüll (1978b): Hermann Staudinger. Das Zeitalter der Kunststoffe. In: Kurt Fassmann et alii (publisher) Die Großen der Weltgeschichte. Volume XI: Einstein bis King. Zurich: Kindler 1978, P. 222-241
Bernd Martin (1994): Die Entlassung der jüdischen Lehrkräfte an der Freiburger Universität und die Bemühungen um ihre Wiedereingliederung nach 1945. In: Freiburger Universitätsblätter 129 (1994), No. 3, P. 7-46 [Freiburg: Rombach]
Mins Minssen and Wilhelm Walgenbach (1985-I): Naturstoffe, Kunststoffe und das Makromolekülkonzept. Volume I: Dokumente aus Forschung und Forschungsbetrieb. Textband. Bad Salzdetfurth: Didaktischer Dienst Barbara Franzbecker 1985 (= natural science course teaching units: case studies about scientific history), 206 pages
Mins Minssen and Wilhelm Walgenbach (1985-II): Naturstoffe, Kunststoffe und das Makromolekülkonzept. Volume II: Wegweiser zum Umgang mit Texten. Kommentarband. Bad Salzdetfurth: Didaktischer Dienst Barbara Franzbecker 1985 (= natural science course teaching units: case studies about scientific history), 132 pages
Hugo Ott (1992): Der Fall Hermann Staudinger oder die Aktion Sternheim. Ein Beispiel der reibungslosen Arbeit im Kader der nationalsozialistischen Hochschullehrer. In: H. O.: Martin Heidegger. Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie. Frankfurt am Main and New York: Campus 1992 (= Campus Series, 1056), new edition, revised and with an added epilogue, P. 201-213 [of 366 pages]
Claus Priesner (1980): H. Staudinger, H. Mark and K. H. Meyer. Thesen zur Größe und Struktur der Makromoleküle. Ursachen und Hintegründe eines akademischen Disputes. Weinheim, Deerfield Beach (Florida) and Basel: Verlag Chemie 1980, 389 pages
Thomas Schnabel (1991): Die Universität Freiburg im Krieg. In: Eckhard John, Bernd Martin, Marc Mück and Hugo Ott (publishers): Die Freiburger Universität in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. Freiburg and Würzburg: Ploetz 1991, P. 221-241 [of 266]
Andrea Westermann (2007): Plastik und politische Kultur in Westdeutschland. Zurich: Chronos 2007 (= Interferenzen, 13), 387 pages
References (The years 1945-1965)
Hermann Staudinger (1938): Über die makromolekulare Chemie. [Vortrag bei der Jahresversammlung der Freiburger Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft am 10. Dezember 1938.] Freiburg i. Br.: Hans Ferdinand Schulz 1954 (= Freiburger Universitätsreden, N. F., 16), 2., verb. Aufl., 32 S.
Hermann Staudinger (1961): Arbeitserinnerungen. Heidelberg: Dr. Alfred Hüthig 1961, 335 S.
Magda Staudinger (1987): Hermann Staudinger – der Mensch und der Forscher. In: Ernst Jostkleigrewe (Hg.): Makromolekulare Chemie. Das Werk Hermann Staudingers in seiner heutigen Bedeutung. München und Zürich: Schnell & Steiner 1987 (= Schriftenreihe der Katholischen Akademie der Erzdiözese Freiburg), S. 9-29
Ute Deichmann (2001): Flüchten, Mitmachen, Vergessen. Chemiker und Biochemiker in der NS-Zeit. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH 2001, 596 S.
Walter Hahn (1953): Professor H. Staudinger. Nobelpreisträger für Chemie 1953. In: Lindauer Zeitung [Lindau], 12. November 1953
Heinrich Hopff (1969): Hermann Staudinger 1881-1965. In: Chemische Berichte 102 (1969), H. 5, S. XLI-XLVIII
Lothar Jaenicke (2003): Hermann Staudinger (1881-1965, Nobelpreis für Chemie: 1953) – Makromoleküle oder Polymere? Ein Professorenleben im Oesterstedschen Gesetz des Umfelds. Jubiläumsfeiern – selbstbestimmter Anlass kultureller Frömmigkeit. In: BIOspektrum 9 (2003), H. 5, S. 601-604, Internet: www.biospektrum.de/blatt/d_bs_pdf&id=933995
Ernst Jostkleigrewe (1987): Einführung. In: E. J. (Hg.): Makromolekulare Chemie. Das Werk Hermann Staudingers in seiner heutigen Bedeutung. München und Zürich: Schnell & Steiner 1987 (= Schriftenreihe der Katholischen Akademie der Erzdiözese Freiburg), S. 6-8
Klaar (1953): „Moleküle wie Wolkenkratzer“. Warum Professor Staudinger den Nobelpreis für Chemie erhielt. In: Der Fortschritt [Düsseldorf], 20. November 1953
Claudia Krüll (1978a): Hermann Staudinger. Aufbruch ins Zeitalter der Makromoleküle. In: Kultur & Technik 2 (1978), H. 3, S. 44-49
Claudia Krüll (1978b): Hermann Staudinger. Das Zeitalter der Kunststoffe. In: Kurt Fassmann et alii (Hgg.): Die Großen der Weltgeschichte. Bd. XI: Einstein bis King. Zürich: Kindler 1978, S. 222-241
Walter Kunze (1953): Der Vater von Kunstseide, Buna und Nylon wurde Nobelpreisträger aus Trotz. Dr. Hermann Staudinger war sein Schlaf mehr wert, als Glückwunschtelegramme. In: Wochenend [Nürnberg], 21. November 1953
H[ermann] Mark (1966): Zur Entwicklung der Chemie der Makromoleküle. Hermann Staudinger zum Gedenken. In: Die Naturwissenschaften 53 (1966), H. 4, S. 93-95
K. E. Rothschuh (1963): Theorie des Organismus. Bios – Psyche – Pathos. München und Berlin: Urban & Schwarzenberg 1963, 2., erg. Aufl., 407 S.
Walter Theimer (1953): Ihm verdanken wir das Nylon. In: Die Welt [Hamburg], 8. November 1953