Wilhelm Solf

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Wilhelm Solf
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R73059, Wilhelm Solf.jpg
Secretary for Foreign Affairs
In office
3 October 1918 – 13 December 1918
Monarch Wilhelm II (until 9 Nov. 1918)
Chancellor Max von Baden
Friedrich Ebert
Preceded by Paul von Hintze
Succeeded by Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau
Secretary for the Colonies
In office
Monarch Wilhelm II
Preceded by Friedrich von Lindequist
Succeeded by Philipp Scheidemann
Governor of German Samoa
In office
1 March 1900 – 1911
Monarch Wilhelm II
Preceded by new office
Succeeded by Erich Schultz-Ewerth
Personal details
Born (1862-10-05)October 5, 1862
Berlin, Prussia
(now in Germany)
Died February 6, 1936(1936-02-06) (aged 73)

Wilhelm Heinrich Solf (5 October 1862 – 6 February 1936) was a German scholar, diplomat, jurist and statesman.

Early life[edit]

Wilhelm Solf was born into a wealthy and liberal family in Berlin. He attended secondary schools in Anklam in western Pomerania and in Mannheim. He took up the study of Oriental languages, in particular Sanskrit at universities in Berlin, Göttingen and Halle, earning a doctorate in philology in the winter of 1885. Under the supervision of the well-known Indologist Richard Pischel, he wrote an elementary grammar of Sanskrit.

He then found a position at the library of the University of Kiel. While residing there he was drafted into the Imperial Navy to serve his military obligation. However, he was deemed medically unfit for military service and discharged.

Early diplomatic career[edit]

Solf joined the German Foreign Office (Consular Service) on 12 December 1888 and was assigned to the Imperial German Consulate General in Calcutta on 1 January 1889. However, he resigned from the consular service after three years to study law at the University of Jena where he obtained his doctorate in law (Doktor juris) in September 1896. His advanced degrees qualified Solf for higher positions in the diplomatic service. He joined the Colonial Department of the Foreign Office (Kolonialabteilung des Auswärtigen Amtes) and in 1898 was assigned as district judge in Dar es Salaam in German East Africa for a short period. In 1899 he was posted to the Samoan Islands, where he served as council chairman in the provisional government of the municipality of Apia, Samoa.[1]

Governor of Samoa[edit]

Solf in German Samoa, 1910

The division of the Samoan Islands as a result of the Tripartite Convention of 1899 assigned the western islands to Germany (independent Samoa today) and Eastern Samoa to the United States (American Samoa today).[2] Wilhelm Solf, at age 38, became the first Governor of German Samoa on 1 March 1900. "Solf was a man of quite unusual talent, clear-thinking, sensitive to the nuances of Samoan attitudes and opinion."[3] He was known as a liberal, painstaking and competent administrator.[4] Solf included Samoan traditions in his government programs, but never hesitated to step in assertively, including banishment from Samoa in severe cases, when his position as the Kaiser's deputy was challenged. Under Solf's direction, plantation agriculture was further encouraged; in his judgment it provided the soundest basis for the colony's economic development.[5] In turn, tax revenues were enhanced, making the establishment of a public school system, the construction and staffing of a hospital (including the training of Samoan nurses) major successes. Road and harbor facilities construction was accelerated. In all, the Samoan colony was on its way to self-sufficiency and actually reached that achievement just before Solf was called to Berlin and was succeeded by Erich Schultz as Governor of German Samoa.

Later career[edit]

After his return from Samoa, Solf became Secretary (Staatssekretär) of the German Colonial Office (Reichskolonialamt) to 1918, travelling extensively to the German protectorates in West and East Africa in 1912 and 1913. In the spring of 1914, Solf designed the coats of arms for the various German colonies, a project which found enthusiastic favour with Wilhelm II, but his efforts were foiled by the outbreak of World War I a few months later, and the arms were never officially used.[6] The outbreak of World War I caused Germany's colonial possessions to be invaded by Britain (including Dominions), Belgium, France and Japan.[7]

Solf lobbied for a negotiated peace settlement in 1917 and 1918. He was opposed to the implementation of unrestricted submarine warfare, a policy which eventually contributed to the entry of the United States into the war in 1917.

With the defeat of Germany imminent and the likelihood of revolution growing he was appointed what turned out to be the last of the Imperial Foreign Ministers in October 1918. In this capacity he undertook negotiations for the armistice that took effect on 11 November 1918.

He resigned his post as Foreign Minister on 13 December 1918 with the onset of the German revolution. Between then and 1920 he was Vice President of the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft. From 1920 to 1928 he served as the German chargé d'affaires[8] and then ambassador to Japan; his tenure proved to be fruitful, as he was instrumental in restoring good relations between the two wartime enemies, culminating in the signing of the German-Japanese treaty of 1927. On Solf's return to Germany and retirement from government service he became the Chairman of the Board of the Deutsches Ausland-Institut based in Stuttgart.

Solf's political position was centrist; he joined the German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei). However, with its dissolution in 1933 he had planned with others to form a new moderate party. With the National Socialist (Nazi) reality of that time it was unsuccessful, if not impossible. He supported the election of retired Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg as German President.

Wilhelm Solf was married to the former Johanna Dotti, who later formed the anti-Nazi Frau Solf Tea Party get-togethers with their Samoan-born daughter So'oa'emalelagi, also known as Lagi. Solf was the author of Weltpolitik und Kolonialpolitik (Foreign policy and colonial policy, 1918) and of Kolonialpolitik, Mein politisches Vermächtniss (Colonial policy, my political legacy, 1919).[8]


  1. ^ Gray, Amerika Samoa, p. 101
  2. ^ Ryden, The Foreign Policy of the United States in Relation to Samoa, p. 574; Great Britain vacated all claims to Samoa and accepted as quid pro quo termination of German rights in Tonga and certain areas in the Solomon Islands and in West Africa
  3. ^ Davidson, Samoa mo Samoa, p. 76
  4. ^ McKay, Samoana, p. 18
  5. ^ Davidson, p. 77
  6. ^ Karaschewski, Jörg. The Emperor's new arms (in German). Der Spiegel, 26 February 2009. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  7. ^ the Treaty of Versailles assigned the German protectorates to the victorious powers as League of Nations mandates and after World War II as United Nations Trust Territories (but not to Japan)
  8. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Solf, Wilhelm". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York. 


  • Davidson, J. W. Samoa mo Samoa [Samoa for the Samoans], The Emergence of the Independent State of Western Samoa. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 1967.
  • Gray, J.A.C. Amerika Samoa, A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute. 1960.
  • McKay, C.G.R. Samoana, A Personal Story of the Samoan Islands. Wellington and Auckland: A.H. & A.W. Reed. 1968.
  • Ryden, George Herbert. The Foreign Policy of the United States in Relation to Samoa. New York: Octagon Books, 1975. (Reprint by special arrangement with Yale University Press. Originally published at New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928)
Government offices
New title Governor of German Samoa
Succeeded by
Erich Schultz-Ewerth
Political offices
Preceded by
Friedrich von Lindequist
Secretary for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Philipp Scheidemann
Preceded by
Paul von Hintze
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau
Diplomatic posts
New title German Ambassador to Japan
Succeeded by
Arthur von Schoen