Sigmund Freud

“Die Anatomie ist das Schicksal.” – “Anatomy is destiny.” – Sigmund Freud

The Austrian founder of psychoanalysis was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in the town of Freiberg (now Pribor) in the Austro-Hungarian region of Moravia (Mähren, today in the Czech Republic) on May 6, 1856.

Freud and cigar

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sigmund Freud and his famous cigar around 1921. PHOTO: A. Max Halberstadt

Following religious tradition, his Jewish parents, Jacob and Amalia Freud, gave him the Yiddish middle name Schlomo. When he turned 21, Freud simplified his first name to Sigmund. Although he later became an atheist, Freud always acknowledged the influence of Judaism in his life.

Born just four years before the start of the American Civil War, Sigmund Freud became the world-famous inventor of psychoanalysis and the vocabulary of neuroses. He lived to see his books burned by the Nazis before he fled Austria for London just prior to his death.

Although born in Moravia, Freud was only four years old when his family moved to Vienna, where he grew up, was educated, and spent most of his life. Already as a young man Freud began to travel within Europe. He was particularly fond of Italy and he later also visited England (age 18) and the United States (in 1909), a nation which he viewed as “a big mistake.”

Freud’s immense influence on the western world colors our thinking even today. (Is there anyone who has not heard of Freud or things “Freudian”?) Even if his theories prove to be total bunk, as his detractors claim, Freud has certainly helped contribute to a better understanding of what makes humans tick. His sexually based theories about the id and the ego—largely formulated by the 1920s—and the technique of psychoanalysis in general continue to provoke intense debate. And just try to imagine world cinema and literature without Freud’s influence.

Freud couch, London

Freud’s couch on display at the Freud Museum in London. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Freud’s chief collaborators, fellow Austrian Alfred Adler (1870-1937) and the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1885-1961), broke with the master to develop their own influential psychological theories and practices.

From the very beginning Freud’s theories and practices have been subject to criticism and debate. That is still true today, but there can be no doubt concerning the tremendous influences of all things “Freudian” on the world and the field of psychiatry.

Sigmund Freud: Biographical Timeline

Key events in the life of Sigmund Freud and his family:

  • 1856 | On May 6 Sigismund Freud is born in Austro-Hungarian Moravia, now in the Czech Republic. His Jewish parents are 41-year-old Kallamon Jacob Freud and his 21-year-old wife Amalia Nathanson. Jacob already has two children by his first wife, but Sigismund is Amalia’s first child.
  • 1859-1860 | Financial difficulties force the Freud family to move to Leipzig, Germany, and soon thereafter to the Austrian capital, settling in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt Jewish district in 1860.
  • 1865 | Freud enters the Gymnasium (secondary school) in Leopoldstadt where he becomes an outstanding student. He graduates with the Matura diploma in 1873.
  • 1873 | Freud begins his medical studies at the University of Vienna.
  • 1876 | Conducts medical research in Trieste (Triest, then part of Austria, now in Italy). Returns to Vienna to work in physiology with Ernst Wilhelm Brücke.
  • 1879 | Serves his compulsory one year of miltary duty.
  • 1881 | Obtains his medical degree from the University of Vienna.
  • 1884-1887 | Research and experimentation with cocaine. He publishes the monograph “Über Coca” (“On Coca”), but his attempt to cure a morphine-addicted friend with doses of cocaine turns out badly.
Freud bust

A bust of Sigmund Freud on display in the London Freud Museum. Photo: Hyde Flippo

  • 1886 | Freud sets up his private medical practice in Vienna.
  • 1886 | In September Freud (age 30) marries Martha Bernays (1861-1951). They will have six children, including last-born Anna Freud (1895-1982) who became a noted leader in the field of child psychology.
  • 1887 | First use of hypnosis. Meets Wilhelm Fliess, with whom Freud later develops his first ideas on psychoanalysis and the “Oedipus complex.”
  • 1891 | The Freud family moves into a new home at Berggasse 19 in Vienna. (See photo below.) Freud will live here for the next 47 years.
  • 1896 | First use of the term “psychoanalysis” (die Psychoanalyse), in “Zur Ätiologie der Hysterie.” Freud’s father Jacob dies in October.
  • 1897 | Self-analysis begins, altering some of the theories on neuroses that Freud had developed with Josef Breuer (1895).
  • 1899 | Publishes The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung) in November (dated 1900). Many consider Freud’s Dreams to be the true beginning of psychoanalysis.
Freud house in Vienna

Berggasse 19, the Sigmund Freud house and museum in Vienna, Austria. There’s also a Freud museum in London. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

  • 1909 | Travels to the US with C.G. Jung in September to give lectures. Four years later he and Jung will go their separate ways.
  • 1913 | Publishes Totem and Taboo offering the theory that society is based on a universal prohibition against incest (contrary to Jung’s research).
  • 1920 | Freud’s eldest daughter Sophie (b. 1893) dies.
  • 1922 | Freud is diagnosed with gum cancer (Gaumenkrebs). Following surgery in 1923 to remove part of his jaw and gums, his condition will steadily worsen until his death.
  • 1930 | Freud receives the Goethe Prize from the city of Frankfurt. Freud’s mother Amalia dies at the age of 95.
  • 1932 | Adolf Hitler comes to power in Germany.
  • 1933 | In Berlin, Freud’s books are publicly burned by the Nazis.
  • 1936 | Freud celebrates his 80th birthday in Vienna.
  • 1938 | Hitler and the Nazis annex Austria (der Anschluss). Freud and his family flee to England, taking up residence at 20 Maresfield Gardens in the Hampstead section of London.
  • 1939 | September 23 – Sigmund Freud dies in London, losing his long battle with cancer.
  • 1982 | On October 9 Anna Freud (b. 1895) dies in London. She had been devoted to her father, serving as his secretary, manager, nurse, and confidant. She carried on her father’s cause after his death, but did not always agree with his theories. Her own interests centered on children’s psychology. She frequently traveled to the United States.

Publications by Sigmund Freud

A selected list of Freud’s more significant works:

  • “On Coca” (Über Coca, study), 1887
  • Über den psychischen Mechanismus hysterischer Phänomene, 1893
  • Studies on Hysteria (Studien über Hysterie, with J. Breuer), 1895
  • The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung), 1899/1900
  • The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens), 1901
  • Totem and Taboo (Totem und Tabu), 1913
  • Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Jenseits des Lustprinzips), 1920
  • The Ego and the Id (Das Ich und das Es), 1923
  • Civilization and Its Discontents (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur), 1929
  • Moses and Monotheism (Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion), 1939
  • Book: Freud for Beginners – Recommended reading from Amazon.com