Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Chronology of his Life & Work

Late 18th Century 

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s great great grandfather Meyer Moses, originally from the village of Laasphe, in county Wittgenstein, Westphalia, Germany, (and rumoured by the later members of the family to have been a fish-merchant) has a son Moses Meier (alternative spellings: Maier, Meyer), born in Korbach, a Hanseatic town in the principality of Waldeck, Hesse, Germany (McGuinness, p.1).

Moses Meier, LW’s great grandfather, becomes a steward, factor or land-agent to the Prince of Seyn-Wittgenstein (or Sayn-Wittgenstein), in county Wittgenstein (Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Monk, p.4; Kanterian, p.12; Waugh, p.225). He marries Brendel Simon (or Breindel Brendel, or Bernadine Simon), and builds up a large trading business in the area of Korbach (Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Kanterian, p.12; Waugh, p.225; plus Cambridge Archive). 


12th September: Brendel gives birth to a son, Hirsch (or Herz) Moses Meyer (or Meier or Maier) in Korbach (McGuinness, p.1; Monk, p.5; Waugh, pp.219, 225; Wiener Ausgabe, p.11).


Meyer Moses (Moses Meyer’s father) dies in Korbach (McGuinness, p.1).


A decree by Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, demanding that Jews adopt a family name means that Moses Meier takes the name of the county, becoming Moses Meier-Wittgenstein (McGuinness, p.1, Monk, p.4, Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Kanterian, p.12; Waugh, p.225).


7th April: Franziska (‘Fanny’) Figdor, LW’s paternal grandmother, is born in Kittsee, Austria, into a notable and highly-cultivated Jewish business family (Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Kanterian, p.12; Waugh, p.219).

Jakob Kalmus, LW’s maternal grandfather, is born into a Jewish family in Prague (McGuinness, p.21 and family tree; Wiener Ausgabe, p.13; Waugh, p.219).


Marie Stallner, LW’s maternal grandmother (later to become Marie Kalmus), born into a catholic family of tradesmen and landowners in Lichtenwald, Southern Styria, Austria (McGuinness, p.21 and family tree; Wiener Ausgabe, p.13; Waugh, p.219).


Jakob Kalmus and his mother convert to Catholicism (Waugh, p.219).


Probably because of business decline in Korbach, Moses Meier-Wittgenstein sets himself up as a wool-merchant in Leipzig, Germany (McGuinness, p.3; Cambridge Archive).


Moses Meier-Wittgenstein meets Fanny Figdor while staying at a friend’s house in Vienna (McGuinness, p.3).

Having converted to Protestantism, and in an attempt to dissociate himself from his Jewish background, Moses Meier-Wittgenstein drops the remaining Jewish parts of his name and takes the middle-name ‘Christian’, becoming Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (McGuinness, p.2; Monk, p.5; Waugh, p.225). Fanny Figdor also converts to Protestantism, and they marry in the Lutheran church at Dresden (McGuinness, p.3, Monk, p.5; Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Waugh, p.225).

Hermann Christian severs his ties to the local Jewish community, goes into partnership with his wife’s family, and moves with Fanny from Korbach to Gohlis, near Leipzig (McGuinness, pp.3-4; Monk, p.5; Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Kanterian, p.12). Their first seven children are born here (Anna (1840), Marie (1841), Paul (1842), Bertha (1844), Louis (1845), Karl Ludwig (LW’s father) (1847), and Josephine (1848)) (McGuinness, p.4; Wiener Ausgabe, p.11).


8th April: A third son, Karl Ludwig Wittgenstein, is born to Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (now a successful wool-merchant) and Fanny in Gohlis (Monk, p.5; Waugh, family tree & p.14).


14th March: Leopoldine (‘Poldi’ or ‘Poldy’) Kalmus, LW’s mother, is born in Vienna into a rich and cultivated Jewish family, successful in business (Wiener Ausgabe, p.12; Kanterian, p.12).

1850 or 51

Hermann Christian, Fanny, and their family move to Austria, first to Bad Vöslau, then to Vösendorf, near Vienna (McGuinness, p.5; Monk, p.5; Waugh, pp.14-15). Hermann Christian works as an estate manager there, ‘buying up and leasing run-down properties, mostly in Hungary and the Balkans, and disposing of them at a profit after carrying out improvements’ (Cambridge Archive, plus Waugh, pp.14-15). The four youngest of their eleven children (Clara (1850), Milly (1852), Lydia (1854), and Clothilde (1855)) are born here (McGuinness, p.5; Cambridge Archive)).

late 1850s - 1860

Karl, aged 11, runs away from school in Vösendorf, to Klosterneuburg and unsuccessfully tries to pass himself off as an orphan from Leipzig (McGuiness, p.10; Wiener Ausgabe, p.11).

Hermann Christian, Fanny, and their family move from Leipzig to Vienna (McGuinness, p.6; Monk, p.5; Kanterian, p.12; plus Cambridge Archive). In Vienna, the Wittgensteins do not participate in the Jewish community, but give their children a thoroughly Germanic education (Kanterian, p.12). Through Fanny’s family they maintain close connections to the Viennese cultural and artistic elite (Kanterian, p.12). They are known as art collectors and patrons of music (Kanterian, p.12). Hermann Christian works as an agent for the house of Esterhazy (a Hungarian noble family), and he ‘managed or bought, and restored to rentability, properties with which their noble owners could do nothing’ (McGuinness, p.6).


Having written an essay expressing doubts about the immortality of the soul, Karl is expelled from school (McGuinness, p.10; Wiener Ausgabe, pp.11-12; Waugh, pp.10-11). His father decides that Karl should continue to study privately to sit his Matura exam the following Easter (McGuinness, p.10).


January: Karl (aged 17) runs away from home with a violin and some money belonging to his sister (McGuinness, p.11; Waugh, p.10). After two months in hiding in Vienna, he makes his way to the Austrian border, and then to Hamburg (McGuinness, p.11; Waugh, p.10).

April: From Hamburg Karl travels to the U.S.A., enters New York on a false passport and with no means, and takes jobs in succession as a waiter, a member of a minstrel band, pilot of a canal boat, and a bartender in a bar in Washington DC (Waugh, p.12). Still out of contact with his family, he then returns to New York, taking a job teaching mathematics and violin at a school in Manhattan, working as a night-watchman at an asylum for destitute children in Westchester, and then teaching at a college in Rochester (Waugh, pp.12-14).

1866 or 7

Spring: Karl returns to Austria (McGuinness, p.11; Monk, p.7; Waugh, p.14). He is sent first to his father’s farm near Deutschkreutz (Waugh, p.14). Over the next few years, he first studies at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna (McGuinness, p.12; Waugh, p.15), then takes a job at the factory of the Staatsbahn (State Railway Company) (McGuinness, p.12; Waugh, pp.15-16).


Karl leaves University without qualifications, then gets jobs in various technical companies (McGuinness, p.12; Waugh, p.16).


Jakob Kalmus, LW’s maternal grandfather, dies (McGuinness, p.21; Waugh, p.219).


Karl begins his career as a technical draughtsman in Ternitz, Lower Austria, working ‘as a draughtsman under Paul Kupelweiser, the brother of his brother-in-law and a director of the Teplitz rolling mill’ (McGuinness, p.12). At the same time, Leopoldine Kalmus is living ‘in the small castle at Laxenburg that was the Wittgenstein family home’ (McGuinness, p.13). They come to know each other through family connections, and through making music together (McGuinness, p.13).


Karl moves to Teplitz, in the Sudetenland, where he gets a job as an engineer working on the construction of a Bessemer furnace at the Teplitz steel-rolling mill (McGuinness, p.12). Karl gets engaged to Leopoldine (McGuinness, pp.12-13).


14th February: Karl Ludwig Wittgenstein marries Leopoldine Kalmus in St. Stephen’s Cathedral Vienna (Waugh, p.17). They move to Eichwald, near Teplitz, but Karl’s job in Teplitz does not last long, and he resigns in protest at the chairman’s treatment of Paul Kupelweiser, the managing director (McGuinness, p.13; Waugh, p.18). For a year Karl is unemployed (Waugh, p.18).

1st December: A first daughter, Hermine (‘Mining’), is born to Poldy and Karl in Teplitz (Waugh family tree).


Karl takes a job as an engineer with a company in Vienna (Waugh, p.18).


Karl is reinstated at the Teplitz rolling mill, the chairman having resigned (Waugh, p.18), and succeeds Kupelweiser as its managing director (McGuinness, p.13). He turns its finances around by securing an order for railway rails from the Russians, who are at war with Turkey (McGuinness, p.13; Waugh, p.18).

A second daughter, Dora, is born to Poldy and Karl, but she dies in this same year (Waugh family tree).


Karl is elected to the management board of the Teplitz steel-rolling mills (McGuinness, p.13), soon becoming its main shareholder.

A first son, Hans, is born to Poldy and Karl in Vienna (Waugh family tree).


1st May: A second son, Konrad (‘Kurt’), is born to Poldy and Karl in Vienna (Waugh family tree).

May: Hermann Christian Wittgenstein, LW’s paternal grandfather, dies (Kanterian, p.12; Waugh, pp.11, 219).


23rd August: A third daughter, Helene (‘Lenka’), is born to Poldy and Karl in Vienna (Waugh family tree).

(1879 - Publication of Gottlob Frege’s Begriffschrift [Conceptual Notation or Concept-Writing]).


Karl buys the rights to the Bessemer process for almost all of Bohemia, thus marginalising the Bohemian Mining Company (McGuinness, pp.13-14).


27th June: A third son, Rudolf (‘Rudi’), is born to Poldy and Karl in Vienna (Waugh family tree).


19th September: A fourth daughter, Margaret (‘Gretl’), is born to Poldy and Karl in Vienna (Waugh family tree). Karl Wittgenstein’s commercial group takes over the Bohemian Mining Company (McGuinness, p.14).


Karl, managing the Prague Iron Industry Company, which took over his commercial group’s holding, completes the reorganization of the Bohemian iron industry, and the Austrian Iron Cartel, becoming its first General Director (McGuinness, p.14; Waugh, p.12).

(1884 - Publication of Gottlob Frege’s Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik [The Foundations of Arithmetic]).

(1886 - Publication of Ernst Mach’s Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen [Contributions to the Analysis of Sensations]).


5th November: A fourth son, Paul, is born to Poldy and Karl in Vienna (Waugh family tree).