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ETHistory 1855-2005 | Sightseeing | Times | 1904-1911 |

1904-1911: From Polytechnic to University

Some dates

The School Council submits a proposal to the Federal Council for reorganizing the School
Robert Gnehm is the first professor to become president of the School Council
1908 Separation contract between Confederation, Canton and City of Zurich comes into force
Reorganisation of the School and introduction of normal study plans. Right to award doctorates
1909 Awarding of the first doctorates (six chemists, two mechanical engineers and a natural scientist)
1911 Renaming of the Federal Polytechnical School to the “Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule” ETH

The book on the history of the ETH


In 1911 the Polytechnic changed its name to the Federal Institute of Technology. This brought to an end a debate that had been going on since 1905.

The name “Polytechnic” had become very popular and in fact for a long time afterwards people continued to refer to it affectionately as the “Poly”. But it had become something of a handicap. Any Polytechnic wishing to be seen as progressive had to adopt the German model and call itself a “Technische Hochschule”. The change of name actually did justice to the new direction in which the school was moving, something which had been discussed for years and which brought about three decisive changes:

Firstly, in the separation contracts of 1905 and 1908, the ETH became a separate entity from the University, the City and the Canton of Zurich. Premises, collections and equipment which had hitherto been used and administered jointly were now scrupulously split off, with an ensuing reallocation of responsibilities. The simplification of the legal situation enabled the School Council to embark on long-cherished building projects.

Secondly, the ETH set about a fundamental reorganization of the study programme. From 1908 on, so-called normal study plans were developed for each subject, with the idea of making a course of study as effective as possible. These guidelines were not as binding as the previous timetables and allowed for a certain flexibility. The Poly students became fully-fledged university students.

Thirdly, in the same year, 1908, the ETH became entitled to award doctorates, which paved the way for it to become a centre for academic research. Chemistry in particular benefited from this innovation, having always been very much in favour of it. As early as 1909, six chemistry students were awarded a doctorate.

© 2005 ETH Zurich | Credits | March 31, 2005 | !!! This document is stored in the ETH Web archive and is no longer maintained !!!