Johann Heinrich von Thünen

Johann Heinrich von Thünen (born: 24th of June 1783 in Canarienhausen, Wangerland/ died: 22nd of September 1850 in Tellow, Mecklenburg) was a german agricultural- and economic scientist, social reformer and model farmer. He unified theoretical knowledge in the field of mathematics with practical experiences from his model farm.

He can be counted as a classical economist but was also an early author on the topic of economic geography.

Early Life:

Johann Heinrich von Thünen was born as the son of Edo Christian von Thünen (1760–1786), a land estate owner, and Anna Margaretha Catharina Trendtel (* 1765), a book merchants daughter from Jever.

Grown up in Hooksiel and Jever, Thünen was given an agricultural education (1799 – 1803) by  Lucas Andreas Staudinger in Groß Flottbek near Hamburg and Albrecht Daniel Thaer in Celle. After completing it, he studied two semesters at the University of Göttingen. In 1806 he married Helena Sophia, the daughter of a mayor and land estate owner. Also in 1806, he leased the land estate of Rubkow near Anklam in Vorpommern.


In 1809 he bought the land estate Tellow near Teterow in Mecklenburg. Besides cultivating and managing his business, he dealt with questions of soil fertibility („soil static“) as well as the development of grain prices. In 1818, he was accepted as an orderly member oft he Mecklenburg Patriotic Union and was the director of ist Teterow district fort he next two years. In 1826 he published his findings in the book „ The isolated state in relation to agriculture and national economy, or examinations on the influence of grain prices, soil richness and taxation on farming“ at Friedrich Perthes in Hamburg. For his scientific achievements, he was awarded with an honorary doctorates degree, by the University of Rostock in 1830. From 1836 to 1838 he was the deputy director oft he Mecklenburg Patriotic Union.

In 1842, the second, extended and improved edition of „The isolated state“ was published at Leopolds in Rostock. In 1844 he became a member of the Mecklenburg Society of Nature Scientists. He also became a honorary member oft he Mecklenburg Patriotic Union in 1848. Under the Influence of the events of spring 1848, he implemented a long planned participatig scheme for his workers in Tellow, which predated some points oft he later introduced social insurance. In June of the same year, he became an honorary citizen of the city of Teterow. He also was nominated as a deputy member of the newly created National Assembly in Frankfurt but was not able to actually take part in it.

In 1850 he published the second part of „The isolated state“, in which he tried to explore the question of a „natural employee´s wage“. In this book he postulated the formula: wage = workers necessary cost of living = worth of the work oft he product. This formula was quite controversial and caused lengthy discussions. Today it is seen as outdated but nevertheless is engraved into Thünens tombstone in Prebberede-Belitz near Teterow, Mecklenburg.


Pioneer Achievements:

Amongst his pioneer achievements in various scientific fields are agricultural- and forestry operational theories as well as location theory and theories on spatial structures, hence giving impulses to the fields of regional theory and economic geography. He was the founder of the science of agricultural business operations in Germany and provided way-leading examinations and proposals for the agricultural credit. (taxation and financial intermediation)

In addition, he developed a systematic explanation regarding the hight of wages, interest rates and ground rents as well as how this income is distributed within a national economy (theory of marginal production). He also deviated basic principles for optimized forestry operations, thereby forestalling some general approaches of capital theory. Thünen expanded the method of isolated abstraction and used differential calculations in order to solve problems of economic optimization. Last but not least, he conducted numerous, pratically oriented and emperical-statistical founded, agricultural- and economic examinations (econometry).

See Also:

Link Thünen Institut


  • Nachlass: Thünen-Archiv im Universitätsarchiv Rostock, Familien-Thünen-Archiv im Archiv der Universität Hohenheim, Thünen-Museum Tellow
  • Nachlass der Familie Thünen im NLA – Staatsarchiv Oldenburg Erw 110 (2)

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