Adam Politzer*
Adam Politzer

Adam Politzer was born in 1835, approximately 35 miles southeast of Budapest, in Alberti (Albertirsa). It has been reported that his father was a teacher, and that one of his grandfathers was an eminent surgeon.

He developed an affinity for Latin and Italian art and literature, and also developed an interest in science at an early age. He had a knowledge of several languages that served him well in his interest for reading manuscripts and books in their original form. Also, as a clinician he could converse in different languages with patients from various countries.

Aware of the progressive developments in otology taking place in England the faculty of the University of Vienna realized that they needed someone with a primary interest in hearing and otology if the medical school was to be contemporary. Politzer had earned the admiration of his mentors and predecessors on the faculty, and it was he who was advocated and enlisted to fill this position.

Following his graduation from medical school in 1859, he spent one year in the laboratory of Carl Ludwig at Joseph's Academy in Vienna, where he undertook experiments in the physical principles involved in the auditory system. It was in this laboratory that he developed the method to introduce air into the middle ear, a technique subsequently designated as "politzerization."

Politzer then spent time training with various individuals, including Anton von Troltsch in Wurzburg, Hermann Helmholtz in Heidelberg, Claude Bernard in Paris, and Joseph Toynbee in London. From these experts, he was able to study under the most distinguished scientists involved in the physiology of hearing and pathological anatomy of otology.

The first clinic in the world devoted to the treatment of ear diseases was established in 1863 by Politzer, who was joined by Joseph Gruber, with Politzer housing a ward with only female patients, and Gruber only male patients. The department of otology at the University of Vienna was formed 12 years following Politzer's initial faculty appointment.

His first teaching was a course on diseases of the ear before an audience of four students at the school of medicine in Vienna. However, his passion for scrupulous study and research attracted much larger audiences as time went on. After his class Politzer attended his private clinic which quickly began to attract patients from all over the world. He would usually start the afternoon clinic at 1:30, and seldom was he as much as five minutes late.

During the performance of a Wilde's incision (mastoidectomy), a rare opportunity presented itself in that Politzer inadvertently lacerated the postauricular artery, which obviously caused a great deal of bleeding. Confronted with the consequence of this situation, Politzer panicked and was unable to control the bleeding. He summoned Anton Wolfler from Theodore Billroth's surgical clinic for help. Wolfler's dissipation, however, was handicapped by Politzer's refusal to relinquish command of the surgery. Apparently, Politzer's ego could not tolerate the potential threat of limitations of his surgical skills and his ability to control a situation.

He persuaded the mayor of Vienna, Dr. Seeler, to allow him to treat indigent ear patients at the charity hospital, along with the population of the local home for the elderly. His remuneration was an immediate supply of hearing loss patients, and the prospects of temporal bone specimens from autopsies. It is from this collection of temporal bones that he developed the description of otosclerosis, a pivotal point in the development of otopathology.

A monograph of the membrana tympani in health and disease conveyed a new diagnostic concept endorsed by Politzer, whose primary intent was that this book be used as a teaching tool for general practitioners and a reference source to be used in diagnosing ear disease. This monograph had much to do with the teaching of ear disease throughout the world. Contributions to the literature of ear diseases were exceptional. He published in excess of 100 works, one of which was his Lehrbuch, Geschichte der Ohrenheilkunde, one of the mo st outstanding textbooks of the last half of the 19th century. It went through six editions, and was translated into English, French and Spanish.

An interest in art, as well as personal artistic talent, led Politzer to fraternize with some of the great European masters of art of his day, and to assemble an enviable art collection, as well. The waiting room of his office formed a gallery of fine paintings.

Adam Politzer died in 1920. His home in Alberti was designated as a shrine, but was subsequently adapted for office space under the Communist regime. It was later transformed into a movie house before its reclamation during the 1970s as an historical site by the Otolaryngological Society of Hungary.

* Published in Ear, Nose & Throat Journal, Feb96, Vol. 75 Issue 2, p74, , and Copied here by the permission of the Publisher

Adam Politzer