Teuber, Eugen, 1889-1958.

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Eugen Teuber established the Primate Station on Tenerife Island for the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1913 and was its first director.

From the description of Papers, 1913-1987. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122523579

As a young graduate student at the University of Berlin in 1912, Eugen Teuber (1889-1958) was hired to help establish the Anthropoiden Station auf Teneriffa (Tenerife Primate Station) for the Prussian Academy of Sciences, the first field station devoted to behavioral research on primates. As its first director, Teuber played a crucial role in setting up the facilities and acclimating the chimpanzees to their new environment, and he was a co-participant in the first trials of Wolfgang Köhler's famous experiments to evaluate the intelligence of apes.

Born and raised in Berlin, Teuber was educated at the Collège Français before entering the University of Leipzig to study under Wilhelm Wundt. Influenced by Wundt's psychology, Teuber enrolled at the University of Berlin to pursue a doctorate. In the midst of his studies, the neurophysiologist Max Rothmann proposed establishing a research station under the auspices of the Prussian Academy of Sciences not only as a means of supplying experimental animals for neuroanatomical research, but as a place to study the behavior of higher primates in an environment relatively similar to their natural habitat. Although his first request for support in 1910 was declined, Rothmann persevered and obtained approval his station on reapplication in 1912, securing funding from both the Academy and from private sources, including the Plaut and Selenka Foundations and the recently-established Albert Samson Foundation, chaired by the eminent anatomist Wilhelm Waldeyer. The difficulties of working on mainland Africa persuaded Rothmann to locate his facilities in the Canary Islands, comparatively near the German colony of Cameroon (a source for his experimental subjects).

At the suggestion of the psychologist Carl Stumpf from the Academy, Rothmann considered the young Wolfgang Köhler, Max Wertheimer, and David Katz for the position of director at the Station, but he initially favored Oskar Pfungst, the experimental psychologist known for his work debunking Kluge Hans, the calculating horse. In November 1912, however, Pfungst declined the position, and with the first shipments of chimpanzees slated to arrive soon at Tenerife -- some having already been held in captivity for several months -- the need for a replacement became critical. Under the circumstances, Waldeyer suggested that Eugen Teuber, then only 23, might be suitable for the position, and despite Stumpf's reservations about Teuber's inexperience in animal psychology, Teuber agreed to a one year contract on Dec. 17, 1912.

On Januayr 8, 1913, Teuber and his wife Rose (who also acted as assistant) landed at Tenerife, carrying with them a set of architectural plans for the new facility. Drawn in Berlin by the architect Erich Levy, but never implemented, the plans would have resulted in a building that more resembled a Schwartzwald chalet than a research station, however other needs more pressing than construction soon took precedence. Discovering that the seven chimps who had recently arrived (Sultan, Rana, Chica, Grande, Konsul, Tercera, and Tchego) were suffering from colds, and that one had died, Teuber moved quickly to improve their conditions and nurse them back to health. A ordered the construction of a large, open-air pen enclosed by high netting in which the apes could run about, while work proceeded on an ape house with four sleeping chambers and a long runway for exercise. Although it was small, the attached laboratory had up to date facilities for photography and sound recording.

Although much of Teuber's time was occupied with the details of care and feeding of the animals and construction of the station itself, Teuber also engaged in observations on chimpanzee behavior and, at the suggestion of Rothmann, he took notes their physical development. Teuber was particularly interested in the spontaneous behaviors exhibited the young male, Sultan, who often took the lead in their boisterous play, but he also made important observations on chimp communication and emotional expression, including vocalizations, facial expressions, gestures, and "dances." Using both the camera and sound recordings to document his work, Teuber concluded that chimp vocalizations were expressions of affect rather than a true language, though at one point, he considered the possibility that chimps might be able to learn sign language (likely, he thought), and he and Rothmann considered whether chimps could be taught to recognize vocal or visual signs as representatives of "certain objects," such as foods (not probable).

When Rothmann toured the station in August 1913, he found things in excellent order and reported positively on the health of the animals, the state of the buildings, and Teuber's diligent care. When Köhler arrived in December 1913 to take over control of the Station, the laboratory was already fully functional. Under Köhler, the priorities of research at the station shifted dramatically, moving away from the project of finding a substitute for language to performing "language-free" experiments of goal-oriented behavior to reveal "insight" or thought. Teuber and his wife remained in Tenerife for a few weeks to help Köhler find his bearings and to ease the transition for the chimpanzees, and they were co-participants in the first version of Köhler's famous fruit basket experiment on Dec. 31, 1913, the first conclusive demonstration of ape intelligence.

The Teubers left for Berlin in mid-January 1914, only ten months before the start of the First World War. During the war Eugen Teuber served as a communications officer on the Eastern front, after which he completed his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rostock in 1921 with a dissertation on the artistic philosophy of Jean-Baptiste Dubos. Rather than entering academia, however, Teuber signed on as scientific director for Adrema, a business machine company. He was transferred to Denmark in 1938 to serve as director of exports, and he and his wife both became Danish citizens.

Köhler remained at the Anthropoiden Station throughout the War, but when the owner of the property on which the Station was located sold out to a British firm in 1918, Köhler was forced to relocate. The Station closed permanently in October 1920, five months after Köhler returned to Germany to become Director of the Psychological Institute at the University of Berlin.

From the guide to the Eugen Teuber Papers, Bulk, 1912-1914, 1910-1994, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Eugen Teuber Papers, Bulk, 1912-1914, 1910-1994 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Teuber, Eugen, 1889-1958. Papers, 1913-1987. American Philosophical Society Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Ahlers, Jakob person
associatedWith Anthropoiden Station auf Teneriffa corporateBody
associatedWith Dexler, H. person
associatedWith Köhler, Wolfgang, 1887-1967 person
associatedWith Lander person
associatedWith Levy, Erich person
associatedWith Rothmann, Max person
associatedWith Russak, Hugo person
associatedWith Tenerife Primate Station. corporateBody
associatedWith Tenerife Primate Station Erich Levy person
associatedWith Teuber, Eugen person
associatedWith Teuber, Marianne L. person
associatedWith Teuber, Marianne L. person
associatedWith Waldeyer-Hartz, Wilhelm von, 1836-1921 person
associatedWith Waldeyer, Wilhelm person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Tenerife (Canary Islands)
Animal psychology


Birth 1889

Death 1958



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