Türck, Ludwig

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(b. Vienna, Austria, 22 July 1810; d, Vienna, 25 February 1868)

medicine, laryngology, neurology.

Türck’s father, the jeweler to the Austrian imperial family and nobility, provided for his son generously, so that his economic and social positions were secure. The family was highly cultured and, apparently, devoted to music. Ludwig himself was reputedly a virtuoso cellist. At his death, his estate included two extremely valuable instruments. His brother, Joseph, owned a large and valuable collection of violins, said to be one of the finest in its time.

After study in the Gymnasium and the medical school in Vienna, Ludwig qualified as a physician there in 1836. His economic independence enabled him to devote himself to research, and by 1840 he was deeply involved in intensive studies of the anatomy and pathology of the nervous system. In 1844 he went to Paris to extend his studies under the great French physicians, who led the world in this field at the time. In Austria the outstanding leader in medical education was Baron Türkheim, and Türck’s aggressive talents and brilliant intellectual endowments brought him to the baron’s attention. Türkheim was director of the General Hospital in Vienna and took Türck under his patronage after his return from Paris. He arranged for a special division for nervous diseases to be established in the hospital with young Türck in charge. Here Türck remained for thirteen years and built up a solid scientific reputation by his intensive investigations in the neurological clinic. He published the results of these investigations both in periodicals and as monographs. Besides his early monograph on spinal irritation (1843), there were numerous contributions on the tracts in the spinal cord and their origins, on the roots of the trigeminal nerve, and on the results of tests of cutaneous sensibility. Türck’s name is preserved in the nomenclature of the mammalian temporo-pontine tract, which is termed the bundle of Türck.

In 1857 the largest hospital in Vienna was established and Türck was appointed physician in chief. In the same year the direction of his principal researches shifted to laryngoscopy, to the nearly complete exclusion of other research. Manuel Garcīa, the renowned singer and vocal teacher in London, had sought with the aid of a mirror to observe the production of the voice and the visible alterations of the vocal organs that accompany its modulations. Even earlier, Senn, in Geneva, had suggested making visible the interior of the larynx by means of a small mirror inserted in the throat, and in the following decade prominent physicians in France and England, particularly Trousseau and Liston, had employed such instruments, but without useful results. When Garcīa published an account of his observations in 1855, Türck realized the possibilities for valuable clinical applications and, although ignorant of the details of the earlier procedures, he constructed an apparatus forthwith and went on to use it for diagnostic and operative purposes. Persistent experiments and abundant observations in the daily routine of hospital practice enabled him to develop and improve his instruments and soon the idea was crowned with brilliant success.

The earlier reports in no way detract from the originality of Türck’s discovery. Not only was he unacquainted with the manner of Garcīa investigations, but the aims and methods of the two men were totally different and unrelated. In 1857 Tīrck displayed to Ludwig the interior of the larynx of a patient in his ward and thereby found a practical solution for a problem that had long been troubling the physiologists and clinicians.

In March 1858 appeared an article by Czermak in the Wiener medizinischen Wochenschrift urgently recommending to physicians the practical application of the laryngeal mirror–giving rise to a bitter dispute over priority. This lasted for years until, after Türcks’s death, a professional declaration affirmed “that the history of medicine must forever link the name of Türck with laryngoscopy. To him alone is due the practical application of the laryngoscope for diagnostic and operative purposes.”


See Abhandlung über Spinalirritation nach eigenen, grösstentheils im Wiener allgemeinen Krankehause angestellten Beobachtungen (Vienna, 1843); Ph. Ricord’s Lehre von der Syphilis. Nach dessen Klinischen Vortraägen dargestellt von Ludwig Türck (Vienna, 1846); “Fortsetzungen zum Gehirns,“in Sitzungsberichte der K. Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Wien, Mathnat. Cl., VI, 228; Praktische Anleitung zur Laryngoskopie (Vienna, 1860); Recherches cliniques sur diverses Maladies du Larynx, de la trachée et du pharynx etudiées a l’aide du laryngoscope (Paris, 1862); Klinik der Krankheiten des Kehlkopfes und der Luftröhre Nebst einer Anleitung zum Gebrauche des Kehlkopfkrankheiten (Vienna, 1866); Atlas dazu. In 27 chromolithogr. Tafeln von A. Elfinger und C. Heitzmann (Vienna, 1866); Ueber Hautsensibilitätsbezirke der einzelnen Rückenmarknervenpaare. Aus dessen literarischen Nachlase zusammengesstellt von Professor Dr. C. Wedl (Vienna, 1869); Gesammelte neurologische Schriften (Leipzig, 1910). Türck’s articles in Allgemeinen Wiener medizinischen Zeitung provide a true record of the progress of his research.

E. Horne Craigie