Youngest doctorate
Karl Witte
13 years 283 days year(s):day(s)
Germany (Giessen)

The youngest person to be awarded a PhD is the German child prodigy Johann Heinrich Friedrich Karl Witte (born 10 July 1800; better known simply as Karl Witte), who received his doctorate from the University of Giessen, Germany, on 10 April 1814 at the age of 13 years 283 days. Karl Witte’s doctorate was issued during a period when the educational standards of the modern PhD were still taking shape, and it is not clear whether his was awarded for original research (as is standard practice today) or for the breadth of his scholarly knowledge (as was the case in the 18th century and before). In his father’s 1819 book The Education of Karl Witte, Karl Witte is described as being primarily interested in mathematics at the time, but the book does not mention any specific field.

Karl Witte’s early education was directed by his overbearing father, Karl Heinrich Gottfried Witte, who wrote a strange and rambling book of more than 1,000 pages detailing his intensive home schooling philosophy in 1819. The book was poorly received and sank without a trace, but there is no denying his methods yielded impressive results. Karl Witte completed another doctorate, this time in law, before he was 17, and was a professor of jurisprudence at the University of Berlin by the age of 23. He went on to have an illustrious career as a law professor and also as a literary scholar, writing several influential books on the work of Dante Alighieri.