Johann Heinrich von Thünen (1783 - 1850)

Agricultural Scientist, National Economist, Social Reformer

Büste Johann Heinrich von Thünens

Johann Heinrich von Thünen was born on June 24, 1783 at Canarienhausen Manor (near Jever, Lower Saxony) and died on September 22, 1850 at Tellow, near Teterow in Mecklenburg.

Thünen began his agricultural training in 1799 and started studying national economy in Göttingen in 1803. In 1809, he bought Tellow Manor in Mecklenburg-Schwerin where he occupied himself with the rational organisation of the business of his estate as well as with studies of national economics for his entire lifetime. In 1826, the first part of his main work, “The isolated state in relation to agriculture and national economics: studies on the influence of grain prices, the richness of soil and the yields from crop farming”, was published, which included his central thesis on the concentric model of ideal agricultural land use (Thünen's Resource Cycles).

Thünen Gutshaus in Tellow, heute Sitz des Thünen-Museums.
Main buildung of the Tellow Manor in Mecklenburg. Today it hosts the Thünen museum. (© Michael Welling)

Thünen's pioneering achievements include the development of theories on agricultural and forestry production, location and spatial structures (Thünen’s Resource Cycles) which generated ideas in economic geography and regional science. Whilst he was developing his groundbreaking theories, he also drafted basic guidelines for running a farm. He drew up a systematic explanation for the level of wages, interest and land rents as well as for the distribution of this income in a national economy (marginal productivity theory). He also derived basic principles of ideal forest management.

Thünen was highly successful in combining his knowledge of mathematical theory with practical experiences from his model farm. In 1830, he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his scientific achievements by the University of Rostock.