Papers of Erwin Finlay Freundlich

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

5 boxes of papers comprising correspondence with other scholars, notes and writings, ca. 1906-1956;5 boxes of papers comprising correspondence with other scholars, notes and writings, ca. 1906-1956;2 boxes of glass plates and photographs of stars;2 boxes of glass plates and photographs of stars;Observing log book for Scott Lang telescope, University of St Andrews, 1955-58.

Administrative / Biographical History

Erwin Finlay Freundlich (1885-1964) was the son of a German businessman and his British wife. (Finlay Freundlich only called himself 'Finlay' after he came to live in Scotland, being known as Erwin Freundlich for the first fifty years of his life). He was born in Biebrich and educated in Wiesbaden, Germany. In 1903 Freundlich completed his school education and went to work in the dockyards in Stettin. He entered the Technische Hochschule of Charlottenburg and began a course of study in naval architecture. Ill-health forced him to change his plans and he entered the University of Gttingen to study mathematics, physics and astronomy.

Freundlich was awarded a doctorate by the University of Gttingen for a thesis on analytic function theory in 1910. Klein suggested to Freundlich that he might wish to apply for a post as an assistant at the Royal Observatory in Berlin and his appointment was confirmed on 1 July 1910. Freundlich worked with Einstein in 1911 attempting to make the measurements of Mercury's orbit required to confirm the general theory of relativity. He confirmed it in a paper of 1913 but Freundlich had to go against the wishes of the Director of the Berlin Observatory who strongly advised him against publishing such a revolutionary idea. His plans for an expedition to the Crimea funded by Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach were made impossible by the outbreak of World War I. He wrote his first book in 1916 following Einstein's publication of the general theory of relativity. Freundlich's book Grundlagen der Einsteinschen Gravitationstheorie discussed the ways that the general theory of relativity could be tested by astronomical observations.

In 1918 Freundlich resigned his post in Berlin to work full time with Einstein. In 1920 the Einstein Institute was created as the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam and Freundlich was appointed as observer there in 1921. He was later promoted to chief observer and professor of astrophysics. In 1929 he observed a solar eclipse that yielded data intriguingly different from the Einstein prediction. His speculations on these data and on astronomical red shifts, published and defended during the last half of his life, are still controversial.

After Hitler came to power in 1933 Freundlich reluctantly resigned from his position in Potsdam and emigrated to Turkey, since his wife was Jewish and they had recently become the guardians of his wife's sister's two young children who were also Jewish. In Istanbul Freundlich helped create a modern observatory. He returned to Europe in 1937 when he was appointed professor of astronomy at the Charles University of Prague. However, he was forced out again by Hitler's policies in 1939 and escaped to Holland.

While there he received an offer from the University of St Andrews to set up a department of astronomy at the university and organise the construction of an observatory. In St Andrews, Freundlich fitted in easily. An outstanding scientist, he commanded great respect for both his abilities and also for his exceptional personal qualities. Freundlich became Napier Professor of Astronomy in St Andrews on 1 January 1951, a post he held until 1959. During his years in St Andrews, as well as supervising the work of constructing a thirty-seven-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, he wrote another important text Celestial mechanics (1958). Freundlich left St Andrews for Wiesbaden where he was appointed honorary professor at the University of Mainz. He died in 1964.

Conditions Governing Access

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special restrictions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

University of St Andrews


Biographical history is based on text from the History of Mathematics archive of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

No list.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Special restrictions apply to photographs.

Custodial History

Transferred from the Astronomy department of the University of St Andrews in 1974.


H von Klber, 'Obituary Notice of Erwin Finlay Freundlich', in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 6 (1965), 82-84.

Additional Information

This material is original.

Geographical Names