10 Biographical Facts About Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is one of the most famous thinkers in psychology history. While many of his ideas and theories are not widely accepted by modern psychologists, he played a major role in the development of psychology. Here are 10 interesting facts about his life.


The Oldest of Eight Children

Sigmund Freud
Imagno/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Freud was born as Sigismund Schlomo Freud on May 6, 1856. His father Jakob was a 40-year-old wool merchant who already had two children from a previous marriage. Freud's mother, Amalia, was 20 years younger than her husband. The failure of his father's business forced the Freud family to move from their home in Freiberg, Moravia to Vienna.

Freud had seven biological siblings, yet he often described himself as his mother's special favorite—her "golden-haired Siggie."

"I have found that people who know that they are preferred or favored by their mothers give evidence in their lives of a peculiar self-reliance and an unshakable optimism which often bring actual success to their possessors," Freud once suggested.


Advocate and User of Cocaine

Before the harmful effects were discovered, cocaine was often used as an analgesic and euphoric. It was even used in common household products, including soda pop and throat lozenges.

Freud developed an interest in the potential antidepressant effects of cocaine and initially advocated its use for a variety of purposes. After the addictive and harmful side effects of cocaine became known, Freud's medical reputation suffered somewhat as a result.


Founder of Psychoanalysis

It isn't often that an entire school of thought can be attributed to a single individual. In Freud's case, his theories served as the foundation for a school of psychology that would quickly rise to become a dominant force during the early years of the science of the mind and behavior.

The 1899 publication of his book The Interpretation of Dreams established the basic groundwork for the theories and ideas that formed psychoanalysis.

By 1902, Freud was hosting weekly discussions at his home in Vienna. These informal meetings would eventually grow to become the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.


Became a Doctor in Order to Marry

When Freud was 26, he fell madly in love with a 21-year-old woman named Martha Bernays and they became engaged two months later. As a poor student still living with his parents, Freud's science lab job did not pay enough to support a family. "My sweet girl, it only pains me to think I should be so powerless to prove my love for you," Freud wrote to Martha.

Six months after they met, Freud gave up his scientific career to become a doctor. He spent three years training at the Vienna General Hospital and was rarely able to see his fiance who had moved to Germany. After four years of waiting, Freud and Bernays were married on September 14, 1886.

The couple went on to have six children. Historians have long speculated, however, that Freud later had an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays.


Developed the Use of Talk Therapy

While Freud's theories are often criticized or rejected outright by today's psychotherapists, many continue to utilize the famous psychoanalyst's methods to a certain extent. Talk therapy plays a primary role in psychoanalytic therapy and has become an important part of many different therapeutic techniques. Using talk therapy, the therapy provider looks for patterns or significant events that may play a role in the client’s current difficulties.

Psychoanalysts believe that childhood events and unconscious feelings, thoughts, and motivations play a role in mental illness and maladaptive behaviors.


Daughter Was Also Influential

Anna Freud began her career influenced by her father's theories. She was far from simply living in her father's rather long shadow, however. Anna Freud made important contributions of her own to psychology. She founded child psychoanalysis and summarized the ego's defense mechanisms in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936).


May Have Been Misquoted

While the famous quote is often repeated and attributed to Freud, there is no evidence that he ever actually said that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Freud was a lifelong cigar smoker, smoking up to 20 a day according to his biographer Ernest Jones.

As the story goes, someone once asked Freud what the cigar he so often smoked symbolized. The response is meant to suggest that even the famous psychoanalyst believed that not everything held an underlying, symbolic meaning. In reality, the quote is most likely the invention of a journalist that was later mistakenly identified as a quote by Freud.


Visited the United States Only Once

In 1909, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall invited Sigmund Freud to talk about psychoanalysis at Clark University. While he initially declined the offer, Freud was eventually persuaded by Hall's persistence.

Freud traveled to America with his colleagues Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi. After meeting up with A.A. Brill and Ernest Jones, the group spent several days sightseeing in New York before traveling to Clark University where Freud delivered a series of five lectures on the history and rise of psychoanalysis.

"As I stepped onto the platform," Freud described, "it seemed like the realization of some incredible daydream: Psychoanalysis was no longer a product of delusion—it had become a valuable part of reality."


Left Vienna Because of Nazis

When the Nazis invaded Austria, many of Freud's books were burned along with those by other famous thinkers.

"What progress we are making," Freud told a friend. "In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me; nowadays they are content with burning my books."

Freud and his daughter Anna were both interrogated by the Gestapo before his friend Marie Bonaparte was able to secure their passage to England. Bonaparte also tried to rescue Freud's four younger sisters​ but was unable to do so. All four women later died in Nazi concentration camps.


Had More Than 30 Surgeries

Freud had been a heavy cigar smoker all his life. In 1939, after his cancer had been deemed inoperable, Freud asked his doctor to help him commit suicide. The doctor administered three separate doses of morphine and Freud died on September 23, 1939.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Sigmund Freud and the Holocaust.

  2. Grubin D. Young Dr. FreudPublic Broadcasting Service.

  3. Cocaine: How ‘miracle drug’ nearly destroyed Sigmund Freud, William Halsted. Public Broadcasting Service.

  4. Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Vienna Psychoanalytic Society records, 1922-1994.

  5. Lothane HZ. Freud and Minna: Facts and fictions. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 2016;64(6):1237-1254. doi:10.1177/0003065116680568

  6. Anna Freud (1896-1982). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.

  7. Quote Investigator. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  8. Benjamin LT. Psychoanalysis, American style. Monitor on Psychology. 2009;40(8):24.

  9. Freud S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud(Strachey J, Freud A, eds.) 24 vols. London: 1953-1964.

Additional Reading
  • Wallace I. Dr. Freud Visits America. The People's Almanac. 1975.