Wilhelm Reich(March 24, 1897–November 3, 1957) was an Austrian-American
medical doctor, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, scientist and author, who
was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud.
In the 1930s, Reich
claimed to have discovered a physical mass-free energy, which he called
"orgone," and which he said was present in the atmosphere
and in all living matter. He developed instruments — orgone accumulators
— to detect and harness the energy, which he claimed could be
used to treat illnesses like cancer. His views were not accepted by
the mainstream scientific community.
His Mass Psychology
of Fascism, published in 1933, was banned by the Nazis. Because of his
committed anti-fascist struggle, Reich sought refuge in the United States
in 1939, where he began his orgone energy research. In 1947, following
a series of articles about orgone in the New Republic and Harpers, the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation into
Reich's claims about orgone therapy, and won an injunction against its
promotion as a medical treatment. Charged with contempt of court for
violating the injunction, Reich conducted his own defense, which involved
sending the judge all his books to read. He was sentenced to two years'
In August 1956,
several tons of Reich's publications were burned by the FDA. Reich died
of heart failure in jail just over a year later, one day before he was
due to apply for parole, and under suspicious circumstances.
Early life and career
Reich was born in Dobrzanica (now Dobryanichi or Dobzhanitsa, 49ºN34'
24ºE31'), a village in the Przemislany (now Peremyshlyany) district,
some 60 km SE of Lemberg (now Lviv), Galicia, presently part of Ukraine,
then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents, Leon Reich, a
prosperous farmer, and Cecilia Roniger, were Jewish. Shortly afterwards
the family moved south to a farm in Jujinetz, near Chernivtsi, Bukovina.
He attributed his later interest in the study of sex and the biological
basis of the emotions to his upbringing on his father's farm where,
as he later put it, the "natural life functions" were never
hidden from him. He was taught at home until he was 13 when his mother
Reich had to flee
his home shortly after his father's death in 1914, when the Russian
army invaded. In his Passion of Youth, he wrote: "I never saw either
my homeland or my possessions again. Of a well-to-do past, nothing was
He joined the Austrian
Army, serving from 1915-18, for the last two years as a lieutenant.
In 1918, when the war ended, he entered the medical school at the University
of Vienna. As an undergraduate, he was drawn to the work of Sigmund
Freud, who became aware of Reich's work in 1919 when Reich organized
a seminar on sexology. Reich was accepted for membership of the Vienna
Psychoanalytic Association in October 1920 at the age of 23. According
to the Museum's biography, he was allowed to complete his six-year medical
degree in four years because he was a war veteran, and received his
M.D. in July 1922.  He worked in Internal Medicine at University
Hospital, Vienna, and studied neuropsychiatry from 1922-24 at the Neurological
and Psychiatric Clinic under Professor Wagner-Jauregg, who won the Nobel
Prize in medicine in 1927.
The early development
of orgone therapy
In 1922, Reich set up private practice as a psychoanalyst, and became
first clinical assistant, and later vice-director, at Freud's Polyanalytic
Polyclinic. He joined the faculty of the Psychoanalytic Institute in
Vienna in 1924, and conducted research into the social causes of neurosis.
It was at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association that Reich met Annie
Pink, a fellow analyst-in-training. They married, and had their first
daughter, Eva, in 1924 and a second daughter in 1928, but Reich was
unable to control his interest in other women. The marriage was not
a happy one, and did not last.
a theory that the ability to feel sexual love depended on a physical
ability to make love with what he called "orgastic potency."
He attempted to "measure" the male orgasm, noting that four
distinct phases occurred physiologically: first, the psychosexual build-up
or tension; second. the tumescence of the penis, with an accompanying
"charge," which Reich measured electrically; third, an electrical
discharge at the moment of orgasm, and fourth, the relaxation of the
penis. He believed the force that he measured was a distinct type of
energy present in all life forms. He called it "orgone." 
Reich was a prolific
writer for psychoanalytic journals in Europe, and his book Character
Analysis brought forth a small revolution in the practice of psychoanalysis
itself, and is still used today as a textbook for analytically-oriented
classes in medical schools. The book introduced Reich's theory of "body
armoring." He argued that unreleased psychosexual energy could
produce actual physical blocks within muscles and organs, and that these
act as a "body armor," preventing the release of the energy.
An orgasm was one way to break through the armor. These ideas developed
into a general theory of the importance of a healthy sex life to overall
well-being, a theory compatible with Freud's views.
Reich agreed with
Freud that sexual development was the origin of mental disorder. They
both believed that most psychological states were dictated by unconscious
processes; that infant sexuality develops early but is repressed, and
that this has important consequences for mental health. They were both
atheists, believing that morality is a repression of the sexuality of
individuals imposed on them as they move from childhood to maturity.
At that time a Marxist, Reich argued that the source of sexual repression
was bourgeois morality and the socio-economic structures that produced
it. As sexual repression was the cause of the neuroses, the best cure
would be to have an active, guilt-free sex life. He argued that such
a liberation could come about only through a morality not imposed by
a repressive economic structure.  In 1928, he joined the Austrian
Communist Party and founded the Socialist Association for Sexual Counselling
and Research, which organized counselling centers for workers —
in contrast to Freud, who was perceived as treating only the bourgeoisie.
Reich employed an
unusual therapeutic method. He used touch to accompany the talking cure,
taking an active role in sessions, feeling his patients' chests to check
their breathing, repositioning their bodies, and sometimes requiring
them to remove their clothes, so that men were treated wearing shorts
and women in bra and panties. These methods caused a split between Reich
and the rest of the psychoanalytic community. 
In 1930, Reich moved
his practice to Berlin and joined the Communist Party of Germany, becoming
its spokesman. His best-known book, The Sexual Revolution, was published
at this time in Vienna. Advocating free contraceptives and abortion
on demand, he again set up clinics in working-class areas and taught
sex education, but eventually became too outspoken even for the communists,
and he was expelled from the party in 1933.
In the same year,
The Mass Psychology of Fascism was published, in which Reich categorized
fascism as a symptom of sexual repression. The book was banned by the
Nazis when they came to power. Reich was expelled from the International
Psychological Association in 1934 for political militancy. German newspapers
started attacking him as a womanizer, a communist, and a Jew who advocated
free love. He realized he was in danger and hurriedly left Germany disguised
as a tourist on a ski trip to Austria. He spent some years in Denmark,
Sweden, and Norway, before leaving for the U.S. in 1939.
The bion experiments
From 1934-37, based for most of the period in Oslo, Reich conducted
experiments seeking the origins of life. He examined protozoa, single-celled
creatures with nuclei that, like animals, display mobility and heterotrophy,
meaning they require organic matter to obtain carbon for growth. He
grew cultured vesicles using grass, beach sand, iron, and animal tissue,
boiling them, adding potassium and gelatin. Having heated the materials
to incandescence with a heat-torch, he noted bright, glowing, blue vesicles,
which, he claimed, could be cultured, and which gave off an observable
radiant energy, which he called orgone. He named the vesicles "bions"
and believed they were a rudimentary form of life, or halfway between
life and non-life. When he poured the cooled mixture onto growth media,
bacteria were born. Reich dismissed the idea that the bacteria were
already present in the air, or in the sand and other materials he used.
Reich's The Bion Experiments on the Origin of Life was published in
Oslo in 1938, leading to attacks in the press that he was a "Jew
pornographer" who was daring to meddle with the origins of life.
In 1936, in Beyond
Psychology, Reich wrote that: since everything is antithetically arranged,
there must be two different types of single-celled organisms: (a) life-destroying
organisms or organisms that form through organic decay, (b) life-promoting
organisms that form from inorganic material that comes to life.
This idea led Reich
to believe he had found the cause of cancer. He called the life-destroying
organisms "T-bacilli", with the T standing for Tod, German
for death. He described in The Cancer Biopathy how he had found them
in a culture of rotting cancerous tissue obtained from a local hospital.
He wrote that T-bacilli were formed from the disintegration of protein.
He claimed they were 0.2 to 0.5 micrometre in length, shaped like lancets,
and when injected into mice, they caused inflammation and cancer. He
concluded that when orgone energy diminishes in cells, through ageing
or injury, the cells undergo "bionous degeneration" or death.
At some point, the deadly T-bacilli start to form in the cells. Death
from cancer, he believed, was caused by an overwhelming growth of the
Reich with a "cloudbuster"In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria.
Reich's ex-wife and daughters had already left for the U.S., and in
August 1939, Reich sailed out of Norway on the last boat to leave before
the war began. He settled in Forest Hills, Long Island, and in 1946,
married Ilse Ollendorf, with whom he had a son, Peter.
It was during this
period, according to some researchers, that Reich appeared to suffer
a breakdown. They say that he became paranoid and revised parts of his
earlier works to remove references to Marxist theory.  Reich's defenders
say that Reich's revisions were minor, confined only to the English-speaking
American period of his work, and were primarily sexological, clinical,
or scientific in nature. Reich was one of the first of the European
socialists to break ranks completely with the Communist Party; for example,
in his book Mass Psychology of Fascism, which he wrote after a trip
to Russia, he identified communism as "Red Fascism". His defenders
say that the charge of "paranoia" is intended to discredit
Reich's critique of Marxism. American writer Jim Martin alleges that
many of those who have attacked Reich's biophysical research —
on the orgone accumulator, for example — are themselves leftist
and Marxist (Martin, 2000).
In 1940, Reich built
boxes — orgone accumulators — to concentrate orgone energy
in the atmosphere, some for lab animals, and some large enough for a
human being to sit inside. He now believed orgone was a type of primordial
cosmic energy, blue in color, which he claimed was omnipresent and responsible
for such things as weather, the color of the sky, gravity, the formation
of galaxies, and the biological expressions of emotion and sexuality.
Composed of alternating layers of ferrous metals and insulators with
a high-dielectrical constant, his orgone accumulators had the appearance
of a large hollow "capacitor". He believed that sitting inside
the box might provide a treatment for cancer and other illnesses. It
was the construction of these boxes that caught the attention of the
press, and wild rumors spread that they were "sex boxes" which
caused uncontrollable erections. 
Reich also designed
a "cloudbuster" with which he said he could manipulate streams
of orgone energy in the atmosphere to induce rain by forcing clouds
to form and disperse. Based on experiments with the orgone accumulator,
he argued that orgone energy was a negatively-entropic force in nature
which was responsible for concentrating and organizing matter. During
one drought-relief expedition to Arizona, he claimed to have observed
UFOs, and speculated that orgone might be used for the propulsion of
According to his
theory, illness was primarily caused by depletion or blockages of the
orgone energy within the body. He conducted clinical tests of the orgone
accumulator on people suffering from a variety of illnesses. The patient
would sit within the accumulator and absorb the "concentrated orgone
energy". He built smaller, more portable accumulator-blankets of
the same layered construction for application to parts of the body.
The effects observed were claimed to boost the immune system, even to
the point of destroying certain types of tumors, though Reich was hesitant
to claim this constituted a "cure". The orgone accumulator
was also tested on mice with cancer, and on plant-growth, the results
convincing Reich that the benefits of orgone therapy could not be attributed
to a placebo effect. He had, he believed, developed a grand unified
theory of physical and mental health. 
In 1940 wrote to Albert Einstein in Princeton suggesting that he had
a scientific discovery to discuss. On January 13, 1941, Reich visited
Einstein in Princeton. They talked for 5 hours, and Einstein agreed
to test the apparatus that Reich would supply, an "orgone accumulator",
a box made up of a Faraday cage (galvanized steel) insulated by wood
and paper on the outside. Einstein performed the experiment which involved
taking the temperatures atop and near the device. Einstein also stripped
the device down to its Faraday cage. In both cases, Einstein observed
a positive temperature difference for a week in his basement, and confirmed
Reich's finding in a published letter. Einstein originally agreed with
Reich that this discovery was a "a bomb in physics". Since
there was no explanation for the finding, Reich concluded that the heat
was the result of a novel form of energy (massfree orgone energy) that
accumulated inside the Faraday cage. However, Einstein's assistant Infeld
interpreted the phenomenon as the result of thermal convection, but
he failed to provide an experimental demonstration of his contention.
Einstein reversed himself and concurred that the experiment seemingly
could be explained by convection.
Over the next three
years of correspondence, Reich and Einstein disagreed on the interpretation
of the experiment. The entire correspondence between Reich and Einstein
was published in a book called The Einstein Affair. Official biographers
of Einstein have seen fit to omit or insufficiently describe the only
experiment that Einstein conducted with Reich, and properly described
in the literature as "the Reich-Einstein experiment". In 2001,
Paulo Correa and Alexandra Correa reproduced the experiment and introduced
controls that rule out the possibility of convection as an explanation.
A similar reproduction was independently carried out by Eugene Mallove.
Reich with his
wife Ilse and their son Peter, who wrote A Book of Dreams about his
close relationship with his father, how they would go cloudbusting together,
and his bewilderment when Reich died in prison when Peter was 11 years
old.In 1947, Reich was attacked in the New Republic and Harpers in a
series of articles written by Mildred Brady, a freelance writer. Jim
Martin writes that Michael Straight, a former member of the Cambridge
Apostles and friend of some of those involved in the Soviet-Cambridge
spy ring, was the publisher of the Brady articles, and that the attack
on Reich may have been prompted by Reich's turning his back on Marxism
(Martin, 2000). The articles triggered an investigation of Reich by
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who believed he was peddling
a quack cancer cure. Reich had already been investigated by the FBI
because he was an immigrant with a communist background. According to
an FBI press release dated February 25, 2000:
This German [sic]
immigrant described himself as the Associate Professor of Medical Psychology,
Director of the Orgone Institute, President and research physician of
the Foundation, and discoverer of biological or life energy. A 1940
security investigation was begun to determine the extent of Reich's
communist commitments. In 1947, a security investigation concluded that
neither the Orgone Project nor any of its staff were engaged in subversive
activities or were in violation of any statute within the jurisdiction
of the FBI. 
Though cleared of
suspicion of subversive activities, the FDA investigation continued.
On February 10, 1954, acting on allegations in the Brady articles, they
filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction under the Federal Food,
Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prevent interstate shipment of orgone-therapy
equipment and literature.  Reich refused to appear in court, apparently
believing that no court was in a position to evaluate his work. On February
25, he wrote to Judge Clifford:
My factual position
in the case as well as in the world of science of today does not permit
me to enter the case against the Food and Drug Administration, since
such action would, in my mind, imply admission of the authority of this
special branch of the government to pass judgment on primordial, pre-atomic
cosmic orgone energy." 
Because of Reich's
failure to appear, Judge Clifford granted the injunction on March 19,
1954.  The ruling stated that all written material, including books,
papers and pamphlets that mentioned "orgone energy" had to
be destroyed, and that further copies of Reich's books could not be
published, including his revised classics like The Mass Psychology of
Fascism, unless the words "orgone energy" were deleted.
In May 1956, Reich was arrested for technical violation of the injunction
when an associate moved some orgone-therapy equipment across a state
line, and Reich was charged with contempt of court. Once again, he refused
to arrange a legal defense. He was brought in chains to the courthouse
in Portland, Maine. Representing himself, he admitted to having violated
the injunction and arranged for the judge to be sent copies of his books.
He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment.
Dr. Morton Herskowitz,
a fellow psychiatrist and friend of Reich's wrote of the trial:
Because he viewed
himself as a historical figure, he was making a historical point, and
to make that point he had conducted the trial that way. If I had been
in his shoes, I would have wanted to escape jail, I would have wanted
to be free, etc. I would have conducted the trial on a strictly legal
basis because the lawyers had said, "We can win this case for you.
Their case is so weak, so when you let us do our thing we can get you
off." But he wouldn't do it. 
On June 5, 1956,
FDA officials traveled to Orgonon, Reich's 200-acre (80-hectare) estate
near Rangeley, Maine, where they destroyed the accumulators, and on
June 26, burned many of his books. On August 25, 1956 and again on March
17, 1960,  the remaining six tons of his books, journals and papers
were burned in the 25th Street public incinerator in New York's lower
east side. In March 1957, he was sent to Danbury Federal Prison, where
a psychiatrist examined him, recording: "Paranoia manifested by
delusions of grandiosity and persecution and ideas of reference."
Reich died in his
sleep of heart failure on November 3, 1957 in the federal penitentiary
in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, one day before he was due to apply for parole.
He was buried in Orgonon. At his own instruction, his granite headstone
Born March 24, 1897Died
Not one psychiatric or established scientific journal carried an obituary.
Time Magazine noted:
Died. , 60, once-famed
psychoanalyst, associate, and follower of Sigmund Freud, founder of
the Foundation, lately better known for unorthodox sex and energy theories;
of a heart attack in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, Pa; where he was
serving a two-year term for distributing his invention, the "orgone
energy accumulator" (in violation of the Food and Drug Act), a
telephone-booth-size device which supposedly gathered energy from the
atmosphere, and could cure, while the patient sat inside, common colds,
cancer and impotence.
Status of Reich's
William Steig, Norman Mailer, William S. Burroughs and Orson Bean have
all undergone Reich's orgone therapy. In the late 1960s and early 1970s,
Reich's ideas on social and sexual freedom enjoyed a revival and most
of his books were reprinted and widely read, including by the loosely
defined "New Left" and students' movements in Europe and the
U.S., though often with considerable distortion of his ideas. As of
2005, the mainstream scientific community pays little attention to Reich's
His influence, however,
is strongly felt in psychotherapy. He was a forerunner of body-oriented,
emotions-based psychotherapies, influencing Fritz Perls' Gestalt therapy
and Arthur Janov's primal therapy. His pupil Alexander Lowen, the founder
of bioenergetic analysis, Charles Kelley, the founder of Radix Therapy,
and James DeMeo of the Orgone Biophysical Research Laboratory  ensure
that his research receives widespread attention. Many practising psychoanalysts
give credence to his theory of character, and his book Character Analysis
is still used as a textbook. The American College of Orgonomy ,
originally led by Dr. Elsworth Baker, and the Institute for Orgonomic
Science  led by Dr. Morton Herskowitz, still use Reich's original
Reich's life and
work continue to influence popular culture, with references to orgone
and cloudbusting found in songs by Hawkwind, Pop Will Eat Itself, and
Patti Smith. Kate Bush's song, "Cloudbusting,"  describes
Reich's arrest and incarceration through the eyes of Reich's son, Peter,
who wrote his father's story in A Book of Dreams, published in 1973.
Frank Zappa was also influenced by Reich's work. A film about Reich's
teachings called W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism was made in 1971 by
Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev.
-- Time line by
Biography of and
his Orgonomic Research -- Time line by date
Year/Month/Date Event-Person-Organization Description Extra
was born March 24, 1897 in Dobryzcynica, Austria. His father's name
was Leon and his mother's name was Cecilie. He grew up on a farm. His
mother language was German. cc
1898 . A sister is born but dies shortly after. .
1899 . . .
1900 . A brother, Robert is born. Cecilie is not well after birth and
is away for medical attention for about 2 years. ..
1901 age 4 . Reich overhears and observes housemaid and coachman during
their sexual act. Reich remembers that this causes erotic sensations
of great intensity. Wilhelm spends nap time with house nurse and occassionally
is allowed by her to explore her genital area but soon Wilhelm is not
allowed to nap with the nurse. .
1902 . . .
1903 - age 6 . Wilhelm begins learning primary school subjects. Both
parents participate but his father is impatient with Wilhelm's distractions
and resorts to sending him to a corner to stand or hits him. His mother
often stands between them to protect Wilhelm. Soon Wilhelm requests
that his mother teaches him only and agrees to work without distracting.
He excels in all subjects.
Wilhelm later refers to his father having a ferocious temper yet he
was extremely kind, intelligent and knowledgable person. Wilhelm was
his mother's favorite while Robert was his father's favorite son.
1907 *10 years old . . .
1910 . Cecilie, Wilhelm's mother, dies from second attempt at suicide.
1914 WR's father dies 's father dies from pnuemonia. WR continues to
run farm and his studies at school. .
1915 WR leaves home
WWI in Army Farm and property is destroyed as a result of WWI, Reich
joins Austrian Army. .
1916 WWI in Army Reich becomes a lieutenant in Army. .
1917 *20 years old WWI in Army Reich a lieutenant in Army at Italian
1918 WWI ends
WR at Medical school WR at end of war enters Universty of Vienna to
study law but in short time shifts to the study of Medicine at the Medical
School of Universty of Vienna. As a war veteran he is allowed to complete
the 6 year course in 4 years. .
1920 WR at Medical school In October 1920 WR attains membership in Vienna
Psychoanalytic Society under Professor Sigmund Freud.
1922 WR at Medical school WR graduates from Medical school in July 1922
with distinction of excellent in all the pre-medical subjects. He enters
postgraduate work in Internal Medicine at University Clinics of Ortner
and Chvostek at University Hospital in Vienna. He also begins postgraduate
work in Neuro-Psychiatry at Neurological and Psychiatric University
Clinic under Professor Wagner-Jauregg. WR begins his own private practice
in psychoanalytic and psychiatric medicine. WR was the First Clinical
ssistant to Frued's Psychoanalytic Polyclinic in Vienna from its beginning
in 1922-1928 under the directorship of Dr. Edward Hitschmann. .
1923 WR post graduate
work in Medical Work WR works with patients in the disturbed wards of
Neurological and Psychiatric University Clinic under Paul Schilder.
Wr's post-graduate studies included attendance at polyclinical work
in hynosis and therapy at Neurological and Psychiatric University Clinic.
1924 WR post graduate work
in Medical Work WR is Director of the Seminar for Psychoanalytic Therapy
at Psychoanalytic Polyclinic in Vienna from 1924-1930. He is also a
member of the faculty of Psychoanalytic Institute in Vienna from 1924-1930.
1925 WR publishes Der Triobhafte Charakter 1925, 132 p .
1927 *30 years old WR publishes Die Funktion des Orgasmus. 1927, 206
1928 Medical work WR is Vice-Director of the Polyclinic in Vienna from
WR is force to leave Germany as Hitler takes complete control of Germany.
1934 WR publishes WR's divorce with Annie Reich is finalized with Annie
retaining full custody of both daughter Eva & Lore. She fills childrens
minds with negative thoughts of their father.
Publishes: Dialekticher Materialismus und Pychoanalyse. 1934, 60 pp
Research and lectures
at Psychological Institute of the University of Oslo, Norway from 1934-1939.
1935 WR publishes Massenpsychologie des Faschismun. 1935, 288 pp
Der Einbruch Der Sexualmoral. (Second Ed.) 1935. 155 pp.
Psychischer Kontakt und Vegetative Stromung. 1935, 61 pp
Religionestreit in Deutschland. 1935, 112 pp
by "Karl ?Teschitz" a pseudonym for W.R.
WR does research into Orgone Biophysics and lectures at Psychological
Institute of the University of Oslo, Norway
1936 WR publishes Die Sexualitaet im Kulturkampf. 1936. ; 250 pp.
(date?? Zeitschrift fur Politische Psychologie und Sexualokonomie; Heft
l, Band 1, by
E Parell a pseudonymfor W.R. (?)
Zeitschrift fur Politische Psychologie und Sexualokonomie; Heft 2, Band
1, 167 pp ??date)
Research into Orgone
Biophysics and lectures at Psychological Institute of the University
of Oslo, Norway
1937 *40 years old WR publishes Experimentelle Ergebnisse Ueber Die
Elektrische Funktion von Sexualitaet und Angst. 1937; 55 pp.
Orgasmusreflex, Musskelhaltung und Koerperausdruck, 1937; 30 pp.