Arthur Rohn (1878–1956)

Full professor of construction statistics and bridge-building at ETH Zurich and President of the School Board

Arthur Rohn was born in Geneva on 1 April 1878, where he completed his primary schooling. 

He obtained his school leavers' certificate in the Technology Department of Geneva's "Gymnasium" (grammar school).

He was awarded his diploma as a construction engineer at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in 1899.

Practical experience

After a number of years in industry as an engineer at the Jura-Simplon Railway's bridge-building office in Lausanne and as an engineer and head of the bridge-building department at Gute-Hoffnungshütte in Oberhausen-Sterkrade (Germany), the Federal Council appointed him as a full professor of construction statistics and bridge-building at ETH Zurich in 1908.

In 1923 he was made Rector and, three years later, the Federal Council elected him to succeed Professor Robert Gnehm as the fourth President of the Swiss School Board – a position he held until 1948.  

Linking research and teaching

The focus of his twenty-two-year tenure as president lay on expansion and promoting research, from which both science and economics stood to benefit. Numerous research institutes were founded or expanded under his leadership, and the Federal Council created more than forty new full and associate professorships. Rohn also initiated new research disciplines, such as aerodynamics and aircraft construction. He knew how to cultivate relationships between the university and interested circles in industry and public administration, which garnered numerous suggestions – and subsidies – for the establishment of new chairs, laboratories or institutes. The spatial expansion of ETH Zurich went hand in hand with the development of scientific research. For instance, the new machine laboratory with the district heating plant and its supplementary heat pump, the Laboratory of Hydraulics, the High Voltage Laboratory and the Institute for Technical Physics were launched. 

International commitment 

Arthur Rohn regarded ETH Zurich as an international study centre and seized every opportunity to foster its relations with foreign countries. The establishment and direction of the student exchange programme between Switzerland and the USA in 1926 was followed by agreements on professor, researcher and student exchanges with many European countries and Canada, as well as the inclusion of special loan facilities for exchange grants in the university’s budget. By the time Rohn stepped down as President of the Swiss School Board in 1948 after almost twenty-three years in office, he had received numerous accolades. He held honorary doctorates at three universities and was an honorary member of several prestigious societies and institutions. He died in Zurich on 3 October 1956.  

Manuscript

Rohns Handschrift

Letter from Heinrich Rothmund to Arthur Rohn, 16 July 1940, in which, responding to a request from the recipient, the Head of the Police Department explains the rejection of Wolfgang Pauli’s naturalization. Rohn had supported the naturalization of the future Nobel Prize winner. (ETH-Bibliothek, University Archives, SR3: Minutes of the School Board Meetings 1940/221.0).

Holdings

The ETH Zurich University Archives contain various documents on Arthur Rohn's work at ETH Zurich: besides documents from the School Board Archive, these also include manuscripts and letters in diverse personal papers. The inventories (external link) and the Minutes of the School Board Meetings (external link) can be viewed online. Information on Rohn's life and work is collated in the biographical files. The Image Archive possesses some photographic documents on the scientist. ETH-Bibliothek owns numerous publications on and about Rohn, which can be ordered via the Knowledge Portal.