The Kaiser's Chemists: Science and Modernization in Imperial Germany

By Jeffrey Allan Johnson | Go to book overview

chemical questions and as a center for mutual interchange among local chemists and engineers. Having decided to found a research institute, the industry had shown a willingness to accept the risk of a novel approach. As "the first special institute for a specific material" to be established with the help of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, it had been "created on a basis far freer than any previous institutions of its kind." In fact, Fischer described its primary task as "opening new pathways" for the coal industry, a phrase almost identical to the one Werner von Siemens had used a generation earlier to express the purpose he envisioned for an ideal Imperial Institute. As director of the new institute, Franz Fischer accepted this characterization of his duties, at the same time recognizing that the "new paths" that could be followed in the coal industry were limited by the degree of engineering sophistication in that industry. For example, whereas the BASF chemical firm could pursue hydrogenation techniques using high-pressure autoclaves on a large scale--the basis for the Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis and the later Bergius process for synthesizing oil from coal--the coal industry would have to limit itself to the "technically simpler" processes using only heat without high pressure. Franz Fischer eventually chose to work toward a coal-oil conversion process under these conditions, as his way of fulfilling his contract with the coal industry. 139


Concluding Observations

The founding of the coal institute completed the "Prussianization" of the Imperial Chemical Institute, which had begun with the establishment of the first two chemical institutes in Dahlem. The capital costs of these three institutes together amounted to more than 2.7 million marks, and their operating budgets totaled more than 370,000 marks by 1914, including the professorial salaries of Beckmann and Willstätter. These amounts compare favorably to the high demands made by Duisberg and Oppenheim in the February 1906 discussion of the Imperial Institute plan, when they had estimated the capital and budget costs at 2 to 3 million and 400,000 marks respectively, much to the chagrin of Emil Fischer.

The main difference between 1914 and 1906, of course, was that not a pfennig had come from the Imperial budget, and very little from the Prussian state government. That significant capital funds had come from the municipal budget of Mülheim, controlled by the coal magnates, only underscores the chemists' own inability to loosen official purse-strings. It had thus been possible to obtain sufficient funds only by making the series of compromises discussed in this chapter, the most important of which entailed the division of the originally planned institute into three smaller ones that more closely resembled existing university institutes. This necessitated abandoning the old dream of a modern institute for "analytical

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