Emil von Behring

Dafato Team | Aug 17, 2022

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Emil Adolf Behring, from 1901 von Behring († March 31, 1917 in Marburg) was a German physician, immunologist, serologist and entrepreneur. He was the founder of passive antitoxic vaccination ("blood serum therapy") and received the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1901.

Particularly due to his success in developing blood serum-derived drugs against diphtheria, which he developed in collaboration with Kitasato Shibasaburō and Paul Ehrlich, and against tetanus, he was praised in the press as the "savior of children" and - since the tetanus healing serum was of particular benefit to the wounded of the First World War - as the "savior of soldiers". Behring was subsequently awarded the Iron Cross on the white ribbon by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1915.

Emil Adolf Behring (from 1901 Emil von Behring) was born the son of the teacher Georg August Behring (1819-1886) and his second wife Augustine Zech (1828-1892). His father already had four children from his first marriage, and Emil was the first of nine more. A scholarship from the Prussian state enabled him to graduate from the Royal High School in Hohenstein. On October 2, 1874, he entered the Kaiser Wilhelm Academy for Military Medical Education (the military medical academy "Pepinière") in Berlin, where he completed his medical studies at state expense in exchange for an eight-year military medical service obligation after graduation. In 1878 he was awarded a doctorate in medicine from the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin with a dissertation entitled Neuere Beobachtungen über die Neurotomia opticociliaris; he received his license to practice medicine in 1880. He then worked as a troop physician in the province of Posen, his stations being Wohlau (1878-1880), Posen (1880-1883), Winzig (1883-1887) and Bojanowo (1887).

The training and continuing education of military doctors, which was oriented toward military hygiene, the care of wounds and the prevention of epidemics, sensitized Behring to epidemic prevention and hygiene. Behring received further important impressions from the pharmacologist Carl Binz in Bonn and during his time as assistant to Robert Koch and later as senior physician at the Medical Clinic specializing in infectious diseases and pneumology at the Charité of Koch's Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases in Berlin. Behring began his work on serum therapy in 1890 with the Japanese Kitasato Shibasaburō, with whom he published the paper, "On the Origin of Diphtheria Immunity and Tetanus Immunity in Animals." The essay is considered the basis of serum therapy. At the end of 1891, the diphtheria serum (diphtheria antitoxin) obtained from sheep serum was used for the first time on two children suffering from diphtheria at Ernst von Bergmann's University Surgical Clinic - but without success, as the dosage of antitoxin used was too low. The collaboration of his colleagues Paul Ehrlich and Erich Wernicke contributed significantly to the development of an effective curative serum. The basic idea of the blood serum therapy realized by Behring and his Berlin colleagues was based on the assumption that it was possible to fight the pathogens of infectious diseases not with disinfecting chemicals but with antitoxins - i.e., with antidotes produced by the body itself as part of the defense reaction.

From a scientific point of view, the breakthrough came in early 1894, when the diphtheria cure serum was successfully used not only in the Berlin clinics but also in Leipzig and other cities. The drug also replaced the tracheotomy that had been performed during treatment until then, and was described by Otto Heubner during the International Hygiene Congress in Budapest as "Behring's gold." However, Behring lacked financially strong non-governmental partners to realize his pioneering idea of antitoxin treatment on a large scale. As early as the fall of 1892, the chemist August Laubenheimer, a member of the board of management of Farbwerke Hoechst, recognized the scope of Behring's ideas and persuaded him to cooperate with the company. In August 1894, production began in Frankfurt-Höchst; in November of the same year, a serum production facility with an initial 57 horses was inaugurated in Höchst in the presence of Behring and Robert Koch. By the end of the year, more than 75,000 serum vials had already been shipped; in the 1895 operating year, the net net profit was 706,770 Marks. The Farbwerke offered a diphtheria cure serum developed by Behring and Ehrlich, which achieved a cure rate of 75 percent for this previously mostly fatal childhood disease. In October 1894, Behring was appointed hygiene professor at the University of Halle thanks to the mediation of the ministry official Friedrich Althoff.

In 1895, Friedrich Althoff, or rather the Prussian state, appointed Behring, who had no teaching successes in Halle, to the University of Marburg as a full professor of hygiene and director of the Hygiene Institute of the Medical Faculty. In the same year, a private laboratory, very well equipped for the time, had been set up on the Schlossberg with funds from the Farbwerke and 25,000 gold francs from the "Prix Alberto Levi" awarded to him in France, which also included a small stable for the laboratory animals. In 1901, Behring was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, having already been nobilized (in Prussia) on January 18, 1901 (from then on Emil Adolf von Behring). Kaiser Wilhelm II awarded him the title "Excellenz" as Wirklicher Geheimer Rat in 1903.

Behring considered the idea of his own company in the course of 1903, whereupon in 1904 further land and an estate at Schlosspark were added to the laboratory, forming the basis for the Behringwerk. One reason to strive for independence in a separate company was the change in the previous contractual relationships with the Farbwerke in Höchst, where August Laubenheimer, who until then had acted as an intermediary, resigned from the board in 1903.

On the occasion of the founding of his company in Marburg, Behring noted the following words: "The extensive and quite costly buildings, land, livestock, laboratory facilities, to which are added departments with a large number of servants working towards special goals, have been united to form an overall company that has been given the name Behringwerk. However, despite the independence he had now gained, Behring needed a business partner, since he did not know much about the commercial management of a company and the sale of his products. On November 7, 1904, when the new company was entered in the commercial register as "Behringwerke oHG," Carl Siebert, a pharmacist from Marburg, joined him as a partner. Operations began with an initial staff of ten. Rapid growth of the company necessitated the transformation of Behringwerk into Behringwerke Bremen und Marburg Gesellschaft mbH in 1914.

Together with his Japanese colleague Shibasaburo Kitasato, Behring also isolated tetanus toxin at Robert Koch's Institute for Infectious Diseases. With the start of the First World War, production expanded enormously, as the tetanus healing serum developed by Behring for soldiers lying in the filthy trenches now became the "savior of soldiers" from deadly tetanus. In addition to the tetanus healing serum, dysentery and gas gangrene serum as well as cholera vaccine were also produced for the army.

Emil von Behring died before the end of World War I, on March 31, 1917, at the age of 63, the largest landowner in the city of Marburg, ill since the summer of 1916 and withdrawn from all scientific and entrepreneurial business. His resting place is in the Behring Mausoleum on Elsenhöhe, named after his wife Else von Behring, which offers a view over Behring's former estates and of Marburg Castle.

Since 1874 he was a member, later honorary member of the Pépinière-Corps Suevo-Borussia, which continues today in the Corps Guestphalia et Suevoborussia Marburg.

From November 1907 to the summer of 1910, Behring received medical treatment from the internist Rudolf von Hößlin (1858-1938) in his Neuwittelsbach Sanatorium in the Nymphenburg district of Munich, where he "hoped to find rest from his grueling work" (according to Zeiss and Bieling 1940

In 1895, Emil Behring (at that time still without a title of nobility) bought a villa on the island of Capri near Naples, which he proudly called "Villa Behring". It was there that he and his young wife Else Spinola (1876-1936) went on their honeymoon after they were married on December 29, 1896. She was the daughter of Werner Bernhard Spinola (1836-1900), a privy councilor and vice-director of the Charité, and his wife Elise Charlotte Bendix (1846-1926). The couple had six sons, Fritz, Bernhard, Hans, Kurt, Emil and Otto, two of whom, Hans (1903-1982) and Otto von Behring (1913-2002), also studied medicine.

Von Behring chose prominent scientists and personalities such as Émile Roux, Erich Wernicke, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, Ilya Ilyich Metschnikov and Friedrich Althoff as godparents. The second son, Bernhard (1900-1918), was killed as an ensign in France during the First World War.

His nephew Walter Bieber (1890-1972) also studied medicine and worked as a senior physician at the Emil von Behring Institute in Marburg from 1919 to 1923. Later, he was head of the epidemic department at the Reich Ministry of the Interior in Berlin.

Hitler declared Else Spinola a "noble Aryan" in 1934 after von Behring had been slandered for contaminating Germanic blood with the animal blood serum. The Stürmer had claimed that Behring had "contaminated his own blood." On the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of serum therapy in 1940, the Nazi state also held a major commemoration with scholars from 23 nations.

Several members of the Behring family were teachers, such as the grandfather Johann Friedrich († 1853, teacher in Gramten, district Rosenberg), the father Georg August (teacher in Raudnitz, Klein-Sehren, Chroste and Hansdorf), the brothers Otto (1845-1898, teacher in Daulen), Albert (1864-1913, teacher in Hansdorf) and Paul (1867-1928, teacher in Danzig). The sister Bertha (1859-1927), who herself taught in the Hansdorf school before her marriage, was married to the teacher Hermann Bieber (1863-1926). Their son Hermann Bieber (1895-1926) was later also a teacher in Hansdorf. Berta and Hermann's first son was the later professor and medical councilor Johannes Walter Bieber (1890-1971), who lived for a time in the Behring family's villa on Wilhelm-Roser-Strasse during his medical studies in Marburg.


  1. Emil von Behring
  2. Emil von Behring
  3. Hermann (1856–1924), Ernst Wilhelm (1857–1904), Anna Bertha (1859–1927), Bernhard Robert (1861 bis ca. 1896), August Ludwig (* 1862), Albert (1864–1913), Paul Richard (1867–1928) und Emma (1869–1926). – Nach Ruth Hoevel, Karl Otto: Die Familie des Serumforschers Emil v. Behring. In: Archiv ostdeutscher Familienforscher. 3. Band 1967, S. 226.
  4. Ulrike Enke: 125 Jahre Diphtherieheilserum: „Das Behring’sche Gold“. Deutsches Ärzteblatt, 4. Dezember 2015, abgerufen am 4. November 2019.
  5. Arnold Eiermann: Die Einrichtung zur Darstellung des Diphtherie-Heilserums in den Höchster Farbwerken. In: Münchener Medicinische Wochenschrift. Band 41, 1894, S. 1038–1040.
  6. Carola Throm: Das Diphtherieserum. Ein neues Therapieprinzip, seine Entwicklung und Markteinführung. Stuttgart 1995, S. 54 und 206.
  7. Vgl. auch Gundolf Keil: Robert Koch (1843–1910). Ein Essai. In: Medizinhistorische Mitteilungen. Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Fachprosaforschung. Band 36/37, 2017/2018 (2021), S. 73–109, hier: S. 83.
  8. ^ Oswald Gerhardt, Emilio Behring, tappe di un'idea, Milano, Garzanti, 1943
  9. ^ op.cit p.35
  10. ^ op.cit pp. 8-9
  11. ^ op.cit p.50
  12. ^ op.cit p.92
  13. 1 2 Emil von Behring // Encyclopædia Britannica (англ.)
  14. 1 2 Emil Adolf von Behring // Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana (кат.) — Grup Enciclopèdia Catalana, 1968.
  15. Нобелевские премии, 2002, p. 32.
  16. 1902 : Эмиль фон Беринг // Нобелевская плеяда медицинских открытий / Сост.: А. В. Литвинов, И. А. Литвинова, В. Ю. Кульбакин. — М.: Медпресс-информ, 2011. — С. 11. — 288 с. — ISBN 978-5-98322-700-2.
  17. Элизабета Левин. Селестиальные близнецы. — М.: Амрита-Русь, 2006. — С. 104—105. — 114 с.

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