Pollender, Aloys

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(b. Barmen, Germany, 25 May 1800; d. Barmer, 15 August 1879)


Pollender’s family originally came from Neuss on the Rhine. His father returned there in 1802 as secretary to the district prefect in the French-controlled administration; but he was soon transferred to Kleve, where Pollender attended the Gymnasium for three years. His father was next assigned to Monschau and Pollender prepared there for university study at the Collegium Monjoinse. He also received private instruction in French from his father. The latter was a heavy drinker; and his habit served as a warning to his son, who later became a teetotaler.

When the Prussians took over the Rhineland. his father lost his post, and Pollender had to leave school. In 1815 he became an apprentice to an apothecary in Neuss, but he was clearly unhappy with this choice of career and thus took private lessons to prepare for the university. He passed the entrance examination at Bonn in 1820, and began to study medicine there at the new university. He took the doctoral examination on 2 April 1824 and earned his medical degree for a dissertation entitled “De sanguine coccineo in venis.”

The impoverished Pollender became interested in microscopy while working as a laboratory assistant in physics and chemistry courses; and he based his dissertation on a study of so-called scarlet blood in which he carried out physiological experiments on rabbits. Both his skill with the microscope—an instrument that would be greatly improved in the following decades—and his interest in experiments in pathological physiology, played a role in his discovery in 1849 of the anthrax bacillus.

After completing his studies, Pollender attempted to establish a medical practice in the small community of Lindlar, near Cologne. But there were already two doctors in the town; and after a short, unsuccessful stay, he moved to Wipperfürth. The exact year of this move is not known, but his name appears in the town records in 1830. In Wipperfürth, Pollender quickly became a popular and respected figure, but he preferred solitude and remained a bachelor until his seventieth year. He loved horses and riding and was a great amateur musician.

Unlike his colleagues, Pollender spent long hours at his microscope. He took a keen interest in agriculture and cattle raising, studied the microscopic structure of flax fibers, and made a microchemical analysis of the composition of the pollen. For his article on this subject, “Anatomische Untersuchungen des Flachses, besonders der Bastfaser desselben,” the Berlin Academy of Sciences awarded him its Cothenius prize, worth about 300 gold marks. His most important scientific research was on the etiology of anthrax, a disease he often confronted to his medical practice. But even after the publication in 1855 of his important studies on this subject, he was never given the opportunity to continue his research in a university laboratory. In recognition of his services to medicine, the Prussian government awarded him the title Sanitätsrat.

At age sixty-nine, Pollender fell in love with Therese Baumann, a beautiful working girl forty-two years his junior. The ensuing scandal obliged him to house his, financée, along with his mother and sister, in Düsseldorf. He then moved to the Schaerbeeck district of Brussels, where he had another, wealthy sister. He married Therese there in May 1870. He did not succeed, however, in obtaining a license to practice medicine in Belgium; and thus, in 1872, he moved to his native Barmen with his wife and ten-month-old son, Max. Despite an inheritance of 80,000 francs from his brother’s estate, he could no longer earn a sufficient income from his practice to maintain his household. They were eventually destitute. When he died of apoplexy, his wife and child had to seek refuge with his sister in Brussels, where the child died several years later. In 1929 a commemorative plaque was affixed to the house in Wipperfürth in which Pollender had practiced medicine. It states simply: “In this house Dr. Aloys Pollender (1800–1879) discovered the anthrax bacillus in 1849.”

Pollender’s outstanding and original achievement was his description of the causative agent of anthrax, which at the time was causing many losses among cattle in Germany and France and which not infrequently infected human beings, especially flayers. In the older literature one sometimes finds the statement that Pollender was a veterinarian—an idea falsely deduced from the fact that he studied an infectious disease that appears primarily in animals. According to the oral tradition drawn upon by one of Pollender’s biographers, Reiner Müller. Pollender first encountered anthrax in 1841, when a flayer he was treating died in great pain a few days after contracting an anthrax carbuncle. In the fall of 1849 a large number of cows again died of anthrax; and pollender decided to make a thorough investigation of the cause of the disease, which was frequently assumed to be the result of a general corruption of the blood. Shortly before the outbreak of 1849, Pollender had acquired a modern microscope from Simon Plössl of Vienna; and he used it to examine microscopically and chemically the blood of infected animals. It was not until 1855 that he published the results of his study: “Mikroskopische und mikrochemische Untersuchungen des Milzbrandblutes, so wie Über Wesen und Kur des Milzbrandes.”

In this paper Pollender stated that “the wish to find out the morphological, physical, and chemical changes that the blood undergoes in anthrax, one of the most terrible contagious diseases, inspired me not to waste the opportunity offered in the fall of 1849 by the death of a number of cows in the area from this disease.“Pollender examined blood taken from five cows eighteen to twenty-four hours after their death. He discovered certain pathological alterations in the blood corpuscles and the so-called chylus corpuscles. He noted particularly “a countless number of extremely fine, apparently solid, and not fully transparent rodlike corpuscles, of equal thickness throughout their length and [which are] neither coiled, nor wavy, nor constricted, but entirely straight and flat, with no branching along their course.”

Chemical analyses of these bodies, which always appeared in the blood as well as in the spleen and carbuncle fluid of victims, led Pollender to the idea that they must be a type of plant life. He found that “their behavior in the presence of caustic potash, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and nitric acid is thoroughly characteristic [that is, of plants] and points to a plant-like nature.“Pollender thought that this behavior proved that the corpuscles could be neither corrupted albuminous blood nor crystallization products. He observed that “Iodine solution colors them a pale yellow and thereby makes them visible.“Thus he was the first to make use of what is actually a type of staining method. (It was not until 1869 that Hermann Hoffmann, Weigert, Salomonsen, and, particularly, Robert Koch introduced bacterial staining by means of specific dyes.)

Pollender was not yet certain whether the “corpuscles“he had observed were the cause of the disease or its so-called corruption products that had emerged following death. He admitted that he could report “nothing concerning the origin and emergence of these remarkable and mysterious corpuscles.“Nor could he answer a number of questions about them: “Whether [they] exist in the blood of live animals infected by anthrax, or whether they appear only after death, as a result of fermentation or corruption? Whether they are entozoa or entophytes? Whether they are the infectious material itself or simply the bearers of it, or, perhaps, have no connection with it at all?”

Pollender restricted his claims to what he could ascertain with the means at his disposal. Undoubtedly he was not aware that in 1850 the French physician Pierre Framois Rayer had detected corpuscles similar to those he had seen. Rayer mentioned them in a report on the transmission of anthrax that he delivered to the Société de Biologie of Paris, but he did not attempt to assess their possible significance and devoted only three lines to them: “In the blood there were, in addition, little thread-like bodies whose length is approximately twice the size of a blood corpuscle. These little bodies display no spontaneous movements at all.” Thirteen years later, Rayer’s collaborator, Davaine, claimed this observation as his own, thereby asserting priority in the discovery of the cause of anthrax. In addition, the German veterinarian Christian Joseph Fuchs pointed out-although not until 1859-that as early as 1842 he had discovered “granulated threads” (granulierte Fäden) in the blood of animals that had died of anthrax; but he renounced any claim to priority. At the end of the nineteenth century and even into the twentieth, German and French scholars were quarreling over the question of priority.

From this dispute the following facts have been established. In 1842 Fuchs, a professor at the school of veterinary medicine at Karlsruhe, saw granulated fibers in the blood of animals attacked by anthrax; and apparently he was the first to do so. But he did not publish his findings until seventeen years later, after he had learned of Pollender’s work of 1855. In the fall of 1849 Pollender saw through the microscope the body that he called a “corpuscle,” and he subjected it to chemical analysis. But for reasons that are still unknown he delayed publication of his findings until 1855. Nevertheless, Pollender was the first to raise the question of whether these forms could be the cause of anthrax.

In 1850, seeking to study experimentally the transmission of anthrax, Rayer examined the spleen taken from an animal killed by the disease. (He received the organ on 26 June 1850.) Only in this connection did Rayer mention his co-worker Davaine, who did not publish his first independent work on anthrax until 1863. Davaine stressed that his research was inspired by Pasteur’s work on butyric acid fermentation. He first challenged Pollender’s priority in 1875.

Prior to Davaine’s publication, two other authors published articles on the microscopic bodies associated with anthrax. In 1857 Friedrich Brauell published the first account of an observation of anthrax bacilli in blood taken from a live animal, but he obscured the issue by identifying them with vibrios. In 1860, Onésime Delafond published his observation of these bodies in the blood of sheep. (He had first seen them in 1856, before Brauell, but did not publish his findings until after the latter.) Delafond also noted their diagnostic value and their growth. Despite these earlier contributions, Davaine’s works are of special importance since he was the first to designate unambiguously the anthrax bacillus as the cause of the disease. On the basis of transmission experiments, research on cultures, and the discovery of anthrax spores, Koch confirmed (1876) Davaine’s findings. But Pollender was the first to recognize these spores as plant organisms, and he discussed the theory that these corpuscles could be the cause of anthrax.


I. Original Works. Pollender’s major works are De sanguine coccineo in venis (Bonn, 1824), his M.D. diss.; “Anatomische Untersuchungen des Flachses, besonders der Bastfaser desselben,” in Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, (1847), 2–3; “Mikroskopische und mikrochemische Untersuchung des Milzbrandblutes, so wie über Wesen und Kur des Milzbrandes,” in J. L. Caspers Vierteljahrsschrift für gerichtliche und öffentliche Medicin, 7 (1855), 103–114; “Chromsäure, ein Lösungsmittel für Pollenin und Cutin, nebst einer neuen Untersuchung über das chemische Verhalten dieser beiden Stoffe,” in Botanische Zeitung, 20 (1862), 385–389, 397–405; and Über das Entstehen und die Bildung der kreisrunden Oeffnungen in der äusseren Haut des Blütenstaubes, nachgewiesen an dem Baue des Blütenstaubes der Cucurbitaceen und Onagrarien (Bonn, 1867).

Subsequent works include Neue Untersuchungen über das Entstehen, die Entwichlung, den Bau und das chemische Verhalten des Blütenstaubes (Bonn, 1868); and Wem gebührt die Priorität in der Anatomie der Pflanzen, dem Grew oder dem Malpighi? Ein Vortrag gehalten in der Section für Botanik und Pflanzen-physiologie bei der 41. Versammlung Deutscher Naturforscher und Ãrzte in Frankfurt a.M. im September 1867 (Bonn, 1868).

II. Secondary Literature. On Pollender and his work, see O. Bollinger, “Historisches über den Milzbrand und die stäbchenförmigen Körperchen,” in Beiträge zur vergleichenden Pathologie und pathologischen Anatomie, 2 (1872), 1–22; “Zur Pathologic des Milzbrandes. Vorlaufige Mitteilung,” in Centralblatt für die medizinischen Wissenschaften, 10 (1872), 417–420; Zur Pathologie des Milzbranes (Munich, 1872); and “Milzbrand,” in H. von Ziemssen, ed., Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie, III (Leipzig, 1874), 447–500; F. A. Brauell, “Versuche und Untersuchungen betreffend den Milzbrand des Menschen und der Thiere,” in Archiv fur pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medizin, 11 , n.s. 1 (1857), 132–144; C. Davaine, “Recherches sur les infusoires du sang dans la maladie connue sous le nom de sang de rate,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences, 57 (1863), 220–223; O. Delafond, “Communication sur la maladie régnante.” in Récord de médecine véterinaire, 37 (1860), 574, 726–748; C. J. Fuchs, “Über das Blut beim Milzbrande der Thiere,” in Magazin für die gesamte Thierheilkunde, 25 (1859), 314–315; and H. Hiddenmann, “Aloys Pollender, ein Wegbereiter Robert Kochs,” in Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau3 (1950), 483.

Additional works are Robert Koch, “Die Aetiologie der Milzbrand-Krankheit, begründet auf die Entwick-lungsgeschichte des Bacillus Anthracis” in Beiträge zur Biologie der Pflanzen2 (1876), 277–310, repr. in Gesammelte Werke von Robert Koch, J. Schwalbe, ed., I (Leipzig, 1912), 5–25; R. Müller, “Aloys Pollender 1800–1879” in Zeitschrift des Bergischen Geschichtsvereins53 (1922), 17–25; “80 Jahre Seuchenbakteriologie. Die Seuchenbakteriologie vor Robert Koch: Pollender 1849, Brauell 1856, Delafound 1856, Davaine 1863,” in Zentralblatt für Bakteriologie, Parasitenkunde, Infektions-krankheiten und Hygiene Abt. 1 , 115 (1930, 1–17; “Aloys Pollender (1800–1879),” in Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift77 (1930), 114 ; and “Aloys Pollender,” in Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker 3rd ed., IV (Munch-Berlin, 1962), 647.

See also O. Malm, “Die Entdeckung des Milzbrandbazillus. Eine historische Kritik,” in Zeitschrift für Infektionskrankheiten, parasitäre Krankheiten und Hygiene der Haustiere15 (1914), 195–201; G. Olpp, Hervorragende Tropenärzte in Wort und Bild (Munich, 1932), 324–327; P.F. O. Rayer, “Inoculation du sang de rate” in Comptes rendus des séances de la Société de biologie de Paris2 (1850), 141–144; C. Schnee, “Das Lebenswerk Aloys Pollenders unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Milzbrand-bazillus” (M.D. diss., Munich, 1955); G. Seidel, “Historische Betrachtungen über den Milzbrand,” in Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Techink und Medizin1 (1960), 72–93; and J. Theodorides, “Casimir Davaine (1812–1882): A Precursor of Pasteur,” in Medical History, 10 (1966), 155–165; and “Un grand médecin et biologiste Casimir-Joseph Davaine (1812–1882),” in Analecta Medico-Historica IV (1968), esp. 72–77.

Hans Schadewaldt