Prof. Dr. Max Cloëtta (1868 – 1940)

Max Arnold Cloëtta was born in Zurich on July 21, 1868, as the only son, beside two elder sisters, of Professor Dr Arnold Leonard Cloëtta and his wife Marie, born Locher. After having concluded his primary and secondary education, he decided to study medicine.

He, thus, followed the footsteps of his revered father, who held the chair of forensic medicine and general pathology at the University of Zurich, and of his maternal grand-father, Professor Dr Locher, who had been professor for surgery at the same university.

The death of his father shortly before taking his finals was a great loss to Max Cloëtta. Moreover, the following two years were clouded by his mother’s illness. After his finals (1892), Max Cloëtta went abroad for further training. And it was in Strasbourg, among other places, as the popular and highly appreciated assistant of Oswald Schmiedeberg that he laid the foundations of his outstanding medical training.

At the end of 1897, Max Cloëtta qualified as a lecturer in pharmacology at the Faculty of medicine of the University of Zurich, thus starting his academic career as a private lecturer. In 1901, he was nominated associate professor of pharmacology as the successor of Friedrich Goll; moreover, he also held an occasional teaching assignment in forensic toxicology. At the occasion of his appointment as full professor (1907), he was also entrusted with the teaching post in experimental pathology and therapy as a tribute to his outstanding performance in this field.

The University of Zurich does owe Max Cloëtta – among other things – the introduction of a pharmacological curriculum based on experimental methods, designed to promote and strengthen the clinico-therapeutic understanding of medical students and future physicians.

In 1910, Max Cloëtta was elected dean of the faculty of medicine. He immediately helped in calling well-known and famous professors from the outside, who were to confer international repute to this faculty. Certainly, the election of Sauerbruch as the successor of Krönlein, for example, was the fruit mainly of his initiative.

In 1914, he became chancellorship of the University of Zurich. He conducted the affairs of the university during the difficult war years, in addition to his activities as a researcher and an academic lecturer.

Despite receiving honourable appointments in Göttingen (1908), in Prague (1911) and being offered a chair in Munich (1917), he remained faithful to the university of his home-town.

In 1935, his state of health forced him to give up his academic teaching activities. It was not easy for him to part from his lecturing and his students. Until very shortly before his last severe illness, Max Cloëtta still devoted all the time to his pharmacology interests.

Despite total devotion to his beloved field of science, pharmacology, which he served with an inner driving force and with the delight of watching an insight unfold, all Max Cloëtta’s endeavours always remained fundamentally humane. This is why Max Cloëtta deserves the tribute being paid to him here, not only in his role as a scientist, but equally as a human being. Time and again, he distinguished himself by his profound knowledge of human nature and by his modesty. He summed up the essence of his life in the following words:

“Were I to try and justify to myself on the eve of my life, how I managed to cope with everything despite my various physical ailments and average intellectual abilities, it is probably as follows: I have always tried not to be taken unaware by sudden demands, but rather, whenever possible, to anticipate and control the latter. This is not exactly the manner of a genius or of a bohemian, but it does give an average man the possibility of more or less managing the exigencies of life”.