atw - International Journal for Nuclear Power | 04.2019


atw Vol. 64 (2019) | Issue 4 ı April

Immediately after the war, Hahn

and Strassmann were put on a

pe destal: Look, here are two German

scientists who have discovered

something significant! The Deutsches

Museum proudly presented an object

that was saved under certainly difficult

circumstances and moved three

times through post-war Germany.

Whether the instruments were original

ones or the arrangement made

sense was not examined. One did not

bother to describe the components

and the experiments exactly. The

presentation aroused the feeling that

one stood at the desk of a Nobel Prize

winner and could almost look over his


That the contribution of Lise

Meitner was not mentioned is beyond

understanding: one glance into the

original literature would have been

enough to get a more complete picture.

Everyone involved was alive and

well, detailed first-hand documentation

would have been achievable.

However, the fact that nothing was

changed after Hahn’s rather unsatisfied

comment on the first text panel

suggests that it was already hanging

in the exhibition and the text was

literally carved into stone. Therefore,

the label of the exhibit was created:

“workbench of Otto Hahn”. Possibly, it

was also the glory of the Nobel Prize,

which put Meitner in the shade after

the war. In any case, there was no

effort to tell the whole story. General

Director Zenneck would have had to

question the exhibition more critically.

Judging from the friendlysubmissive

tone of his letters to Hahn,

however, this is completely unthinkable.

Hahn was the sole contact for

nuclear fission for Zenneck.

It must be stressed at this point

that Hahn and Meitner, both during

their direct cooperation and after the

war, communicated in an extremely

friendly and professional tone and

spoke with great appreciation of each

other and the scientific achievements

of each other. Surely they saw in the

other an equal scientific partner.

The post-war generation of exhibition

curators saw no need to change

anything in the presentation, and so

Meitner really fell into oblivion. She

lived abroad, was certainly not as

present at events in the Deutsches

Museum and on the German science

stage as Hahn. And it is precisely this

constellation that leads to the allegation

that Hahn had made his mark as a

leading figure in German science,

as a “good German” at the expense

of his colleagues and especially his

colleague with Jewish roots after

the war. [38] The ignorance of the

Museum concerning Meitner implied

that Hahn had built a memorial for

himself in the museum with “his”

object. Parts of today’s history of

science draw a strong picture, according

to which Hahn later “refused

to let Meitner participate in the

discovery.” [39] The fact that Hahn

collected the Nobel Prize alone is

often mentioned in this context, too.

The impression remains Hahn would

be personally responsible for that as


Since the 1990s, the museum has

sought a differentiated and more

detailed presentation. If this had

happened 40 years earlier, Hahn’s

reputation would probably be dif ferent

today. We can assume that Hahn

certainly would not have objected to

such a representation.

The curator’s dream may serve as

a last prospect, who would like to cut

the object – purely virtually, of course,

not in reality – in order to present the

individual parts of the experimental

set-up finally in a scientifically correct



1. This is a revised copy of: Rehn, The Nuclear Fission Table in the

Deutsches Museum: A Special Piece of Science History on the

Eve of World War II. In: M. Kaji, Y. Furukawa (Hg.): Proceedings

of the International Workshop on the History of Chemistry:

Transformation of Chemistry from the 1920s to the 1960s

(IWHC 2015, Tokyo). Tokio 2016, p. 20-27

See also: a) S. Rehn: Der Kernspaltungstisch im Deutschen

Museum. In: Keiser, V. (Hg.): Radiochemie, Fleiß und Intuition.

Neue Forschungen zu Otto Hahn. GNT-Verlag, Berlin, 2018,

p. 63 – 82 b) S. Rehn, Kultur und Technik 3/2013, p. 18-25

2. For milestones in Rutherford’s scientific life, see (last viewed



3. J. Chadwick, Nature 129, 1932, S. 312; J. Chadwick, Proc. Roy.

Soc. 136, 1932, p. 692-708

4. N. Bohr, Nature 137, 1936, p. 344-348

5. N. Bohr, Science, 80, 1937, p. 161-165

6. E. Fermi, Nature 133, 1934, p. 757; E. Fermi, ibid., p. 898-899

7. Lise Meitner: Wege und Irrwege zur Kernenergie (1963).

In: L. Meitner, D. Hahn (Ed.), Erinnerungen an Otto Hahn.

Hirzel Verlag Stuttgart, 2005, p. 69 – 73

8. F. Krafft, Otto Hahn und die Kernchemie, Museumsverein für

Technik und Arbeit, Mannheim, 1991, p. 14 - 15

9. Otto Hahn – 25 Jahre Atomzeitalter. Television movie

produced by the German television network NDR, 1963.

In German, Hahn uses the term “Glückszufall”, which is a

mixture of the words “luck” and “chance”. Deutsches Museum

archive, AV-F 0026 & 1743. (All translations of original

German quotes by S. Rehn-Taube.)

10. a) L. Meitner, O. Hahn, F. Straßmann, Z. f. Physik 106, 1937,

p. 249 - 270; b) O. Hahn, L. Meitner, F. Straßmann, Chem.

Ber. 70, 1937, p. 1374-1392

11. O. Hahn, Mein Leben. Bruckmann, München,1968, p. 150

12. O. Hahn, F. Straßmann, Naturwissenschaften 46, 1938,

p. 755 - 756

13. A very detailed description of the experiments is given in:

F. Krafft, Im Schatten der Sensation. Leben und Wirken von

Fritz Straßmann. Verl. Chemie, Weinheim 1981, p. 212 and

following pages

14. Quote by O. Hahn, note 9

15. Letter quoted in: a) J. Lemmerich, Die Geschichte der Entdeckung

der Kernspaltung. Catalogue of the exhibition by the

Deutsches Museum and the Hahn-Meitner-Institute of the

Technical University, Berlin, 1989, p. 166 - 170; b) W. Gerlach:

Otto Hahn, Ein Forscherleben in unserer Zeit. Deutsches

Museum Abhandlungen & Berichte, 37, 1969, p. 52 - 53

16. A modern essay about the finding of nuclear fission and the

liquid-drop model is found in: H. J. Krappe, K. Pomorski,

„ Theory of Nuclear Fission“. Springer Verlag Heidelberg, 2012

17. J. Lemmerich (Ed.), Gedächtnisausstellung zum 100.

Geburts tag von Albert Einstein, Otto Hahn, Max von Laue,

Lise Meitner 1.3. – 12.4. 1979. Catalogue oft he exhibition

held in the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

Berlin, 1979, p. 122

18. O. Hahn, F. Straßmann, Naturwiss. 27, 1939, p. 11 - 15

19. O. Hahn, F. Straßmann, Naturwiss. 27, 1939, p. 89 - 95

20. L. Meitner, O. R. Frisch, Nature 143, 1939, p. 239

21. O. R. Frisch, Nature 143, 1939, p. 276

22. L. Meitner, O. R. Frisch, Nature 143, 1939, p. 471 - 472

23. H. v. Halban, F. Joliot, L. Kowarski, Nature 143, 1939,

p. 470 - 471

24. N. Bohr, J. A. Wheeler, Phys. Rev. 56, 1939, p. 426 - 450

25. N. Bohr, Phys. Rev. 55, 1939, p. 418-419

26. E. McMillan, P. H. Abelson, Phys. Rev. 57, 1940, p. 1185-1186

27. F. Straßmann, O. Hahn, Naturwissenschaften 30, 1942,

p. 256-260

28. The results were not published until 1946. In the publications

it was mentioned that the corresponding experiments took

place in 1941.

29. a) G. T. Seaborg, E. M. McMillan, J. W. Kennedy, A. C. Wahl,

Phys. Rev. 69, 1946, p. 366 - 367; b) G. T. Seaborg, A. C. Wahl,

J. W. Kennedy, Phys. Rev. 69, 1946, p. 367; c) J. W. Kennedy,

A. C. Wahl, Phys. Rev. 69, 1946, p. 367 - 368; d) J. W. Kennedy,

G. T. Seaborg, E. Segrè, A. C. Wahl, Phys. Rev. 70, 1946,

p. 555 - 556

30. Uranium was discovered in 1789 and named after the recently

discovered planet Uranus.

31. Radio interview with Otto Hahn (1967), Deutsches Museum

archive, AV-T 0457


33. DMVA (Deutsches Museum administration archives) 1286/1;

DMVA 1290/2, DMVA 1291/1

34. „Otto Hahn entdeckte 1938 zusammen mit Fritz Straßmann

die Spaltung des Urans durch Neutronen und schuf damit

die Grundlage für die technische Verwertung der Atomkern-


35. Hahn to Zenneck, 8.4.1953, Archive of the Max-Planck-

Gesellschaft, Abt. III, Rep. 14, Nr. 5287, Bl. 14

36. The author thanks Jost Lemmerich for this special note.

Personal message (16.4.2013)

37. This can be found in various publications, e.g. (both published

by employees of the museum): T. Brandlmeir, Arbeitstisch zur

Uranspaltung. In: Meisterwerke aus dem Deutschen Museum

Band 1, Deutsches Museum, München (2004). In this paper,

Heinz Haber was even cut off the picture. The caption: Fritz

Straßmann and Otto Hahn during the installation of the

workbench for uranium fission; J. Teichmann, Das Deutsche

Museum. Ein Plädoyer für den Mythos von Objekt und

Experiment. In: G. Bayerl, W. Weber (Hrsg.), Sozialgeschichte

der Technik, Waxmann, Münster (1998), p. 199 – 208

38. R. L. Sime, Phys. Perspect, 12 (2010), p. 190 - 218

39. R. L. Sime, Angew. Chem. 103, 1991, p. 956 – 967


Dr. Susanne Rehn-Taube

Deutsches Museum

Museumsinsel 1

80538 München, Germany


Energy Policy, Economy and Law

The Nuclear Fission Table in the Deutsches Museum: A Fundamental Discovery on Display ı Susanne Rehn-Taube

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