Funk Kazimierz

Kazimierz Funk - Personal data
Date of birth: 23rd February 1884
Place of birth: Warszawa
Date of death: 18th November 1967
Place of death:
Occupation: biochemist, discoverer of vitamins, creator of the science of vitamins
Related towns: Albany, Paris, Berlin, Wiesbaden, London

Funk Kazimierz(23.02.1884, Warsaw - 19.11.1967, Albany) - Polish biochemist, discoverer of vitamins, creator of the term 'vitamin' and of the science of vitamins.

He was born into a Jewish family as a son of Jakub Funk (1855-?), son of Izrael and Baila née Ferntenberg, a dermatologist, and Gustawa née Zysman (1864-?), who gave up her medical practice. The grave of his grandfather Izrael, a merchant, an alumnus of the Agronomic Institute in Marymont, who died on 07.06.1891, survives to this day in the cemetery on Okopowa street in Warsaw. He had a sister, Janina (1887-?); her birth certificate is preserved in the book of births for the 10th Jewish Circumscription in Warsaw. During Kazimierz's childhood, his family lived in Warsaw, at Chmielna street (plot no. 1561), then probably at Włodzimierska 8 (now Czackiego street).

Between 1894 and 1900 he studied at the private J. Pankiewicz Gymnasium in Warsaw. In his youth, he was treated in Germany for congenital hip dysplasia.

He studied biology at the University of Genevaand then chemistry in Bern. In 1904, under the supervision of Stanisław Kostanecki , he conducted his doctoral thesis. The dissertation concerned two organic (stilbene) dyes: braziline and haematoxylin.

From 1904 to 1906, he worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He was involved in the study of organic compounds, amino acids, carbohydrates, phenols, among others. From 1906 to 1910, he worked as a researcher in the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Berlin, in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Emil Fischer (1902). From 1907 to 1908, for material reasons, he worked professionally at the city hospital in Wiesbaden.

In 1910 he moved to the Great Britain, where he worked at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London until 1913. Between 1913 and 1915 he was active in the Research Institute of the Cancer Hospital in London. As a result of his research into the causes of beri-beridisease, in 1911 he isolated a substance from rice bran that counteracted the symptoms of the disease, thus discovering vitaminB1.

Funk also coined the term 'vitamin'(Latin vita - life, amine - a compound containing an amino group), which he introduced in 1912 (the name appeared in his work on the causes of e.g. beri-beri disease). Funk's superiors opposed the use of the new term 'vitamin'; he was able to publish the results of his research with the help of Ludwig Rajchman - the article appeared in The Journal of State Medicine. Funk was concerned with the causes of avitaminosis, investigating the effect of vitamin deficiency on the occurrence of diseases such as beri-beri, rickets, scurvy and pelagra.

In 1914, in Wiesbaden. Funk's book Die Vitamine  was published (the English edition was revised due to advances in research; the Polish edition was published in 1925).

In 1914, he married a Belgian, Alix Denise Schneidesch. They had a son Ian (Jan, b. 1915), a psychiatrist, and daughter Doriane (b. 1924).

In 1915, he moved to the United States and took a job at the Harriman Research Laboratory in New York. For financial reasons, he found employment with The Calco Chemical Company near Bound Brook, where he was involved in the production of benzoic acid and the drug allophane. He collaborated from 1917 with the pharmaceutical company H.A. Metz & Co. of New York, working on the improvement of the drug Salvarsan. Through this, he contributed to the eradication of the syphilis epidemic in the United States. In collaboration with H. Dubin, he developed the first cod liver vitamin concentrate. Tablets containing vitamins A and D were sold from 1922 under the Oscodal trade name. From 1920 to 1923, he was involved in academic work at Columbia University, conducting research on hormones, including the synthesis of adrenaline. In 1920, he was granted American citizenship.

In 1923, he returned to Poland thanks to Ludwik Rajchman, who helped secure a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and facilitated K. Funk's appointment as head of the Biochemistry Department at the State Institute of Hygiene (SIH) in Warsaw. From 1923 to 1927, he headed this facility, working, among other things, on the isolation of insulin. In 1924, he initiated insulin production at SIH, investing his own funds. He also conducted research related to the effects of vitamin B1 on human health and research in the field of nutritional science.

Due to the political situation in Poland, he left for Paris in 1928, where he conducted research on hormones, working with various French and American companies. From 1929 to 1939, he worked as a biochemist for the Roussel Company. With funds obtained from grants, he built the Casa Biochemica, which was a private laboratory and the home of K. Funk. He was working with his son Ian at the time.

In 1940, he emigrated to the United States , leaving all his possessions in Paris. He took a job with the U.S. Vitamin Corporation in New York. In 1947, with the support of this company, he became director of The Funk Foundation for Medical Research, which he founded by himself. There he was mainly involved in research into the causes of cancer. In 1963, he resigned from his professional career.

Funk was interested not only in vitamins, but in nutrition in general, the mineral components of foods, hormones, and the causes of cancer. He was the author of several hundred scientific publications. He was also fluent in Polish, English, French, German and Russian.

In 1922, he became a member of the German Leopoldina Academy of Naturalists. Kazimierz Funk was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize: in 1914 and 1925 for physiology and medicine, and in 1926 and 1946 for chemistry. In 1959, a glacier located in Graham's Land on the Antarctic Peninsula was named after Kazimierz Funk.

Since 1995. The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, based in New York, has been awarding the Kazimierz Funk Prize in the natural sciences. Its laureates include e.g. Roald Hoffmann, Hilary Koprowski, and Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

Kazimierz Funk was posthumously awarded membership of the Nutrition Hall of Fame. The award was accepted by his grandson Erik J. Funk, a physician.



  • Funk, C. 1914. Die Vitamine, ihre Bedeutung für die Physiologie und Pathologie: mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Avitaminosen: (Beriberi, Skorbut, Pellagra, Rachitis), Wiesbaden.
  • Harrow, B. 1955. Casimir Funk, Pioneer in Vitamins and Hormones, New York
  • Stachoń, M., Lachowicz, K. 2017. Kazimierz Funk – naukowiec na miarę naszych czasów. [in:] 'Kosmos. Problemy nauk biologicznych', vol. 66, no. 4.


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