Franz Groedel, Bruno Kisch and the Founding of the American College of Cardiology

To: Simon Dack, MD, Editor-in-Chief

At present I am the President of the German Society for Cardiovascular Research, and this letter to you is to ask for some help. It has become customary for the current President to select for presentation to the Society's Annual Meeting, a person who has contributed to cardiology, science and human understanding. This year I have chosen Franz Groedel.

The Kerckhoff-Klinik, whose Director I am, is a cardiologic hospital and part of the Kerckhoff-Institute, which is now an institution of the Max-Planck-Society. Its formal name is Max-Planck-Institute for Physiological and Clinical Research. When the Kerckhoff-Institute was founded. It was done so by a generous donation from William G. Kerckhoff, a resident of Los Angeles, who came several times to Bad Nauheim, to take a " Kur,” as it was then called. His physician in charge in Bad Nauheim was Franz Groedel, who convinced this immensely wealthy man that he was obliged to contribute to science. Thus, it was, in fact, Groedel who was the real founder of the Bad Nauheim Kerckhoff-Institute and most likely also of the Kerckhoff-Institute in Pasadena, because he became not only W.G. Kerckhoff's physician, but also his close friend.

Because Groedel was Jewish, he was expelled from his home country and his home town, but he remained Director of the Bad Nauheim Institute for life and, although he was living in the United States, he convinced Mrs. Kerckhoff that further financing of the Kerckhoff Institute in Bad Nauheim was mandatory. This in itself is quite an outstanding contribution for a man who had been thrown out of his position, his city and his country.

While working in Germany Groedel made some extraordinary contributions to cardiology and especially to cardiologic radiology. To my knowledge he was the first to show a moving picture of the beating heart taken from the fluoroscopic screen, and I have just come across some information stating that be performed pulmonary angiography as early as 1927. In 1934, when Groedel was living in New York, his bank entitled "Dar Extremitaten-, Thorax- and Partial-Elektrokardiogramm des Menschen" was published in Germany by Steinkopff of Dresden and Leipzig. As soon as it appeared it was banned by the Nazis so that only very few copies still exist.

Together with Dr. Bruno Kisch, Groedel was one of the founders of the German Society for Cardiovascular Research, but he never became President of that Society because he had to leave Germany. I have been given information that both Franz Groedel and Bruno Kisch played an important role in the founding of the American College of Cardiology. I have, however, only sparse information on these contributions of Groedel and what he had in mind in engaging himself in such a difficult task so shortly after he came to the United States. As an intent and resident in the United States in the mid-1950s I remember that there was a Franz Groedel memorial lecture, so I assume that he was highly honored at that time after his death. Not only for his contributions to science and cardiology but also as an expelled Jew forced to emigrate under inhuman conditions he showed such a gallant behavior toward an institution that he still nominally directed but could not influence, I have selected Franz Groedel and, in part, Bruno Kisch to be honored at the Annual Meeting of the German Society.

My question to you, as the longtime Editor-in-Chief of the official Journal of the American College of Cardiology, is whether you can provide me with information about the founding of the American College of Cardiology and the role Franz Groedel played in it. I hope that you are able to help me. I deem it necessary to tell the younger generation, who have no personal knowledge about what happened during those dreadful years in Germany, something about the contributions that men like Franz Groedel and Bruno Kisch made to science, cardiology and humanity.

Martin Schlepper, MD
President, German Society of Cardiovascular Research
D-6350 Had Nauheim
Benekestr. 6-8. West Germany


In response to your letter, I have tried to recall the events that led to be founding of the American College of Cardiology. The following summary is based on my own recollections as well as notes kept by the late Philip Reichert, longtime Executive Director and Historian of the College, and by the late Bruno Kisch, who was a colleague of Groedel and succeeded him as President of the College.

You are aware of Groedel's accomplishments as a researcher and practitioner in cardiac radiology, venous pulse and heart sound tracings, semi-unipolar chest leads and direct electrocardiographic leads of the human heart. These led to a prestigious appointment as Professor of Roentgenology and Cardiology in various hospitals and universities in Germany, and to the authorship of several textbooks on radiology and electrocardiography.

In 1929, before his expulsion from Germany, Groedel was entrusted with $4 million by the widow of his patient, William G. Kerckhoff, for the creation of a cardiology research center in Bad Nauheim. This institution became a model for similar centers throughout the world. After arriving in New York in 1934, Groedel became a well established cardiologist, with a distinguished list of devoted patients and physicians who admired his work. Among these was Dr. Philip Reichert, a cardiologist trained at Cornell University and Rockefeller Institute. Reichert was a great gadget maker by hobby, and he built Groedel an impressive apparatus to map the electrocardiogram from multiple sites on the chest wall. This enabled Groedel to continue his research on the pathways of impulse conduction through the heart and over the body surface.

His talent for organization led him to become active in the Rudolph Virchow Medical Society and the New York Cardiology Society, which was founded in 1927. Groedel became President, and Reichert, Secretary-Treasurer, in 1945. It was then that Groedel which led him to the founding of the American College of Cardiology in 1949. Despite opposition from within the Society and from other organizations, he pursued this objective with great vigor. A group of trustees of the New York Cardiology Society who supported him became the founding trustees of the College; Groedel was elected the President and Reichert the Secretary. At this time, Groedel gave up his clinical practice to devote all his time and that of his entire office staff to recruitment of College members. All recognized and certified cardiologists were invited to apply for membership. This drive was successful. Membership applications grew gradually and by 1951 the American College of Cardiology became an established and respected national organization, as expressed in its Constitution, the aims of the College are to "encourage and participate in the continuing education of physicians and surgeons and other scientists in fields related to cardiovascular disease."

I first met Groedel in 1951 when Bruno Kisch invited me to apply for membership. Kisch was a senior member of the Electrocardiography Division of The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. I had joined the Division in 1934 and served as Research Fellow and later as Attending in Cardiology. As you state in your letter, Groedel and Kisch were among the founders of the German Society for Cardiovascular Research before they were forced to fee Germany.

In 1951 Groedel and Kisch were preparing for the first Annual Meeting of the American College of Cardiology planned for December. It was during this period of intense work and activity that Groedel had his fatal accident. Fatigued one night, he slipped and fell, smashing his head into the glass door of a bookcase. He remained semi-comatose and confused, his condition declined steadily and he died after several days. Bruno Kisch succeeded him as President of the College. The first annual meeting was a major success. Kisch continued to serve as President for 2 years during the formative years of the College, when he led the College along the guidelines of Groedel. He attracted many distinguished cardiologists and surgeons who later were elected to serve as officials and trustees of the College. Elected to honorary fellowship during the first year were such renowned scientists as Carl J. Wiggers, Frank N. Wilson, Russel B. Opitz and Rudolph Matas. The subsequent growth and prestige of the College have certainly fulfilled the visions and aspirations of Franc Groedel, Bruno Kisch and the Founding Trustees and Officers.

In 1955, the Board of Trustees established the prestigious Groedel Medal, a silver medal featuring a bas relief of Franz Groedel. The first recipient was John F. Fulton of Yale University, an outstanding medical historian who was the Convocation Lecturer at the 5th Annual Meeting in 1956. At the present lime the Groedel Medal serves as the Convocation Medal awarded every If years at the College Convocation to a lecturer who has made major contributions to medicine, science or teaching.

The American Journal of Cardiology had its origins in the Transactions of the College starting in 1951. These contained the papers presented at the Annual and Semi-Annual Meetings, as well as other news of the educational activities of the College. Bruno Kisch was the first Editor and, after sewing as Assistant Editor, I succeeded him in 1954. Later, during my term as President of the College in 1956 to 1957, the American Journal of Cardiology was founded by the College as its official journal and I was appointed its Editor-in-Chief by the Board of Trustees. My apprenticeship under Bruno Kisch had apparently served me well. The first issue of the Journal appeared in January 1958 .1 had the honor of serving as its Editor until 1982 when the College changed publishers and founded a new official Journal, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). I was invited to continue as Editor-in-Chief, and since its first issue in January 1983, JACC has continued to reflect the prestige and achievements of the American College of Cardiology.

Both Franz Groedel and Bruno Kisch as well as Philip Reichert would be very proud if they were alive to see the fulfillment of their visions and dreams that led to the birth of the College in 1949. I hope that this brief summary will be of help to you in publicizing their contributions to "science, cardiology and humanity." It is ironic that their "dreadful years in Germany" and their loss to German cardiology helped to contribute to advances in American and international cardiology.

Simon Dack, MD, FACC
Journal of the American College of Cardiology

The preceding Letter to the Editor and response was originally published in the August, 1988 edition of JACC.

Dack S. Reply. J Am Coll Cardiol. 1988;12(2):577-578. doi:10.1016/0735-1097(88)90442-1.

< Back to Listings