The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Society (KWS) for the Advancement of Sciences provided the resources and site for research on atomic energy in Germany from 1920 to 1945. It was established in 1911 to coordinate scientific research in imperial Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II served as the sponsor for this society after his adviser on education, Adolf von Harnack, convinced him of the close association between scientific advances and their military applications. Earlier, a 1905 committee of prominent university and industrial chemists had proposed a chemical institute for advanced research. Two institutes were planned as a result of these initiatives: the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Chemistry and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Lands for the institutes were donated from the crown lands around Berlin in Dahlem, and the institutes began opening in 1912. By 1914 there were seven institutes in operation. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physical Chemistry received its funding from a wealthy financier Leopold Koppel, and its original emphasis was on industrial research. Soon, however, the institute began to make a place for researchers of radioactivity and atomic theory. Despite its reputation for physics research, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physics had to wait until 1937 to have a building of its own.
Some of the great names in German chemistry and physics worked at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute. Among these notables were Otto Hahn, Werner von Heisenberg, and Lise Meitner. During the Nazi period, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Society was partially isolated from pressures from the Nazi government, as a separate corporation, but the regime's anti-Jewish legislation made many of the institute's top names leave. Those that remained had to make personal concessions to the Nazis, and scientific research suffered.