The versatile August Bier (1861-1949), father of spinal anesthesia

J Clin Anesth. 2000 Nov;12(7):561-9. doi: 10.1016/s0952-8180(00)00202-6.


"A professor is a gentleman with a different point of view." This characteristic and sarcastic statement was often recited by August Bier (1861-1949) and can also be aptly applied to him. As the father of spinal and intravenous regional neural blockade, Bier had a tremendous impact on surgery and anesthesia. It took him only two years to become a senior lecturer in surgery (so-called "Habilitation") under the guidance of Friedrich von Esmarch. In 1899, he was appointed chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Greifswald. From there, he moved to the University of Bonn in 1903 and then succeeded Ernst von Bergmann in Berlin in 1907. Bier's interest in the philosophical theories of Hippocrates and Heraclitus had a significant influence on his outlook on medical practice. His surgical colleagues disapproved of this and his interest in homeopathy. On the other hand, he earned much respect as the co-author of a surgical textbook, i.e., Chirurgische Operationslehre (Operative Surgery). He had a remarkable breadth of nonmedical interests, including philosophy and forestry, and the ideas he expressed are viable even today. His publications on philosophical subjects are as up to date as his concepts in forestry. In 1932, Bier finally decided to retire, although by then he was no longer operating. From that time on, he lived out his days at his estate in Sauen, and he died in 1949 at the age of 88. In this paper we describe some previously unknown aspects of Bier's work in both surgery and research; anesthesiologists and their patients are the beneficiaries of two other of his inventions, namely, spinal and IV local anesthesia. Unfortunately, it is not possible to acknowledge all the innovations of this ingenious surgeon, who truly deserved the description "A professor is a gentleman with a different point of view."

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Spinal / history*
  • Germany
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans

Personal name as subject

  • A Bier