Fritz Thyssen was born in Mülheim an der Ruhr as the oldest son of the entrepreneur August Thyssen on 9 November 1873. He married the daughter of an industrialist Amélie zur Helle in 1900. Their daughter Anita was born on 13 May 1909. In 1926, following the death of August Thyssen, he placed his industrial inheritance in Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG. He served as Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the company from 1926 until 1939. Fritz Thyssen died in Buenos Aires on 8 February 1951 at the age of 77.
The donors placed a stock package of shares in August Thyssen-Hütte AG valued at DM 100 million in the foundation in 1959. The stock package came from their private estate. The Fritz Thyssen Foundation was the first major individual private foundation supporting science and research founded in the Federal Republic of Germany following the Second World War. The donors were especially interested in support for medical research projects and junior researchers. It is for this reason that the Statutes state that the purpose of the foundation is to support research at scholarly schools of higher learning and research centres.
In establishing the foundation, Amélie Thyssen and her daughter were advised by Dr. h.c. Robert Pferdmenges – the oldest friend of the Thyssen family – by Prof. Dr. Robert Ellscheid – the executor of the Fritz Thyssen estate – by Dr. Dr. h.c Kurt Birrenbach and Dr.-Ing. E.h. Hans-Günther Sohl. The German Chancellor at the time, Konrad Adenauer, also encouraged Amélie Thyssen in her project of establishing a foundation to support science and research. The Fritz Thyssen Foundation was approved by the Minister of Interior of Nordrhein-Westphalen, Hermann Josef Dufhues, on 10 July 1959.
The following persons were members of the first Board of Trustees:
- Dr. h.c. Robert Pferdmenges, Chairman
- Prof. Dr. Robert Ellscheid, Deputy Chairman
- Dr. Dr. h.c. Kurt Birrenbach, Deputy Chairman
- Dr. Julian Freiherr von Godlewski
- Dr. h.c. Harald Kühnen
- Dr.-Ing. E. h. Hans-Günther Sohl
- Fritz Berg
The appointment of the first Advisory Council was of crucial importance. In selecting the members of the Advisory Council, the Board of Trustees was advised by Prof. Dr. Helmut Coing, the Chairman of the Science Council at that time. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Adolf Butenandt (President of the Max Planck Society), Prof. Dr. Gerhard Hess, (President of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and Dr. Ernst-Hellmut Vits (Chairman of the Board of the Stifterverband der Deutschen Wissenschaft) and Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hermann Jahrreiß (President of the Westdeutsche Rektorenkonferenz) supported the Board of Trustees in selecting the members of the Advisory Committee.
The first members of the Advisory Scientific Council were:
- Prof. Dr. Helmut Coing, Chairman
- Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hermann Jahrreiß, Deputy Chairman
- Prof. Dr. Arnold Bergsträsser
- Prof. Dr. Götz Briefs
- Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Adolf Butenandt
- Prof. Dr. Alois Dempf
- Lazy Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck
- Prof. Dr. Ulrich Haberland
- Prof. Dr. Gerhard Hess
- Prof. Dr. Paul Martini
- Prof. Dr. Hans Peters
- Dr. Hans Reuter
- Prof. Dr. Hans Rothfels
- Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schadewaldt
- Prof. Dr. Hermann Schenck
- Prof. Dr. Helmut Thielicke
- Dr. Ernst-Hellmut Vits
- Prof. Dr. Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker
- Prof. Dr. Theodor Wessels
Dr. Ernst Coenen was a member of the first Board in 1961, as was Georg Eichhorn, retired President of Finance, for a brief period of time. He was replaced by Werner Schütz, retired Minister of Education, in 1963.
The Fritz Thyssen Foundation has apportioned a total of approximately EUR 494 million to support science and research since its inception.