Nitze, Maximilian
Portrait of Maximilian Nitze, 1848-1906
Maximilian Nitze, 1848-1906 from Dresden and the Viennese instrument maker Joseph Leiter, 1830-1892, developed the first viable cystoscope.

Int. Nitze-Leiter Research Society for Endoscopy

Maximilian Nitze (1849-1906)

Maximilian Nitze was born in Berlin on 18 September 1849. He was the son of the government assessor Gustav Nitze and his wife Berta née Kreyenberg. According to the records, he was a remarkably reserved child, if not difficult. He got his medical education at the universities of Heidelberg, Würzburg and Leipzig and graduated in 1874. After one year of military duty Maximilian Nitze started to work as an assistant at the department of medicine at the City Hospital in Dresden/Friedrichstadt.

It was at this time, that his keen interest in endoscopy arose. During his time at the surgical department, he started to work on improvements for cystoscopic examinations. Together with the mechanic Wilhelm Heinrich Deicke and the optician and mechanic Louis Bénèche, the quiet bachelor Max Nitze developed and designed his first instruments for the illumination of the bladder. However, they were only prototypes. In 1877, Nitze demonstrated his urethroscope and cystoscope to the member of the National Medical College in the Pathology Institute in Dresden, using a corpse. Due to some technical problems the instruments were not clinically usable yet. 

The Vienna Years

On the recommendation of Wilhelm Deicke, Max Nitze contacted the instrument maker Josef Leiter in Vienna. In December 1878, Nitze travelled to Vienna where he was able to discuss with Josef Leiter on the spot every technical detail leading to a workable cystoscope. In this initial period, their cooperation was very successful indeed. The first clinically applicable cystoscope was demonstrated on 9 May 1879 during a session of the Royal Imperial Society of Physicians in Vienna.

In addition to the cystoscope and uretheroscope, Nitze developed a laryngoscope, a pharyngo-rhinoscope and a gastrocope as well as a vaginoscope. He had his instruments patented not only for bladder and urethra but also for stomach and esophagus as early as 1879 in both Europe and the United States. Soon priority claims deteriorated the once cordial relationship between Nitze and Leiter which finally lead to a long-lasting conflict. The very emotional correspondence between the two very strong characters is kept at the Nitze-Leiter Society in Vienna and gives evidence of the serious conflict. Nitze, who planned a longer stay in Vienna, applied to the Royal and Imperial Ministry of Interior for a special license to practice medicine in the Austrian Empire without having to repeat his medical examinations. He received his license; however, by December 1879 he had left Vienna and returned to Dresden.

In Dresden, Nitze joined his old friends and colleagues and continued to demonstrate his cystoscopes. Shortly later, by April 1880 Maximilian Nitze went to Berlin and opened a practice for urinary and kidney diseases. He gave seminars in cystoscopy to a number of physicians from inside the country and abroad.

Bitter and Lonely

During the following years, Nitze grew increasingly withdrawn from his colleagues and friends blaming the sometimes vicious criticism from his peers. The lack of recognition from them embittered him, and he began to feel “like a torch held upside down, which illuminates but rapidly consumes itself.” The complicated and expensive water cooling for the incandescent filament turned out to be a fatal mistake and obviously unnecessary.

In 1896 Max Nitze opened the first private urologic hospital and also gave seminars there. In 1889, Nitze published his Textbook of Cystoscopy, the first book of its kind. After the approval of his habilitation in November 1889, Maximilian Nitze was assigned to teach at the Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Berlin in 1900.

Maximilian Nitze was bitter and egocentric, clearly a lonesome man, who lived only for his inventions. Towards the end of his life he had broken with almost everyone with whom he had fruitful cooperation. He brought lawsuits against Josef Leiter, who constructed his first cystoscope, against Hartwig, who made several others for him, and against Heinemann who had also worked with him. When Leopold Casper brought out his catheterising cystoscope, Nitze had sued him for a large sum.

On 21 February, 1906, at age 57, Nitze suffered a stroke, with a second stroke that same evening while in his office. Relatives were unable to arrive in time. During his last hours only his old servant Hermann and his student Rudolf Jahr were with him, “around 1 o’clock in the morning he became progressively cynanotic and died in our arms on February 22.”

Source: Matthias Reuter, Hans J. Reuter, Rainer Engel: History of Endoscopy, pp 163-169.

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