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Hesse (hĕs, hēsˈē, hĕsˈə), Ger. Hessen, state (1994 pop. 5,800,000), 8,150 sq mi (24,604 sq km), central Germany. Wiesbaden is the capital. It is bounded by Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in the south, Rhineland-Palatinate in the west, North Rhine–Westphalia and Lower Saxony in the north, and Thuringia in the east. It was formed in 1945 through the consolidation of Hesse-Nassau, a former Prussian province, and most of Hesse-Darmstadt, a former grand duchy.

Land and Economy

Nearly all of Hesse is a hilly, agricultural land, heavily forested in parts. It has the Odenwald hills and the Taunus range and is drained by the Rhine, Main, Lahn, Eder, and Fulda rivers. Grain, potatoes, and fruit are grown, and cattle are raised there. Along the beautiful Rhine valley some of the finest German wines are produced. Industry is centered in the Frankfurt area and at Kassel, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt. The chief manufactures include textiles, chemicals, machinery, and metal goods, as well as electrical products and scientific instruments. In recent years eastern European immigrants have sparked a number of small industries, including glass, toy, and musical-instrument manufactures. Wiesbaden, Bad Homburg, and Bad Nauheim are among numerous health resorts of Hesse. Frankfurt, Marburg, Giessen, and Darmstadt have noted universities.


Hesse has no unified history. Enfeoffed first to the dukes of Franconia, later to the counts of Thuringia, Hesse emerged in 1247 as a landgraviate immediately subject to the emperor under a branch of the house of Brabant. Landgrave Philip the Magnanimous (see Philip of Hesse), a leading figure in the German Reformation, was responsible for reuniting a territory that had been torn by border disputes with neighboring areas. At his death (1567) Philip's lands were divided among his four sons, with Kassel, Marburg, Rheinfels, and Darmstadt their respective capitals. Upon the demise shortly afterward of the Rheinfels (1583) and Marburg (1648) lines, the whole territory was held by the two remaining lines—Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt. The Congress of Vienna (1814–15) awarded Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt substantial territorial gains. Electoral Hesse, the free city of Frankfurt, and Nassau, having all three sided with Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), were annexed by Prussia and were merged (1868) in the province of Hesse-Nassau, of which Kassel became the capital. The former state of Waldeck was incorporated into Hesse-Nassau in 1929. The grand duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt also had sided against Prussia. It ceded Hesse-Homburg (which it had just acquired through the extinction of that line). In 1871, Hesse-Darmstadt joined the newly founded German Empire, and it continued under its own dynasty until the German revolution of 1918. The Battenberg (Mountbatten) family is a morganatic branch of the house of Hesse. In World War II nearly all the major cities of Hesse suffered severe damage.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a Land in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Area, 21,100 sq km. Population, 5.4 million (1969). Capital, Wiesbaden.

In the west are the eastern spurs of the Rhenish Slate Mountains, reaching an elevation of 800 m in the central part, and in the east, the Reinhardswald, the Habichtswald, the Knöll, the Vogelsberg, and part of the Rhön, with Hesse’s highest mountain, the Wasserkuppe (950 m). In the south lie the western part of the Odenwald and the plains of the Main-Rhine valleys. The rivers are part either of the Rhine basin (the Main, Lahn, and Nidda) or of the Weser basin (the Fulda, Werra, and Eder). The climate is moderate, transitional between marine and continental. The average temperature in January is between 0° and 2° C, and in July, 18°-20° C. Precipitation ranges between 600 and 800 mm yearly. The forests are broad-leaved (oak, hornbeam, beech, and linden).

Nearly half of those gainfully employed work in industry. Lignite is mined in the Kassel and Wetterau regions; the output is 3.5 to 4 million tons a year. Hesse produces 4.5 percent of the total electric power produced in the FRG (10 billion kilowatt-hours in 1969). The state is linked by gas pipelines with the Ruhr and by a petroleum pipeline with the Cologne region and Rotterdam. Hesse produces more than a third of the FRG’s potash (mainly in the Werra River valley). Ferrous metallurgy and a foundry industry have developed, mainly in the Lahn-Dill valley, based on local iron ore deposits (for example, at Wetzlar). There is large-scale chemical industry, including pharmaceutical products, at Frankfurt am Main, Hochst, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt. General machinery, especially machine tools, is manufactured at Frankfurt, Kassel, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt; motor vehicles at Rüsselsheim and Kassel; and electrical engineering products at Frankfurt and Hanau. (A plant for electronic computers is being constructed at Heppenheim.) Other industries include leather (Offenbach), rubber, fur (Frankfurt), precision instruments and optics (Wetzlar and Kassel), glass, jewelry (Hanau), and book publishing (Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, and Darmstadt). Hesse’s main industrial center is in the Main-Rhine district, of which Frankfurt is the most important city.

Agricultural lands comprise about 47 percent of the territory of Hesse. Of this, 60 percent is plowed land, about 25 percent hayfields, 10 percent pasture, and 4 percent truck gardens, orchards, and vineyards. As much as 70 percent of the plowed land is in cereal crops—mainly rye, oats, and fodder barley in the north and the mountainous regions and wheat and brewer’s barley in the south. Root crops take up 17 percent—primarily potatoes in the north and sugar beets in the south. Fodder grasses account for 8-9 percent. Fruit growing is important in the Rheingau, Bergstrasse, and Wetterau districts, Rheingau being one of the most important grape-growing regions of the FRG. In 1968 Hesse had 12.5 percent of the sheep, about 9 percent of the horses, 7.5 percent of the hogs, and 6.5 percent of the cattle in the FRG.

The Rhine and lower Main are navigable. Frankfurt am Main is the main transportation center. Tourism is important to Hesse’s economy, and its mineral-springs resorts at Wiesbaden, Schlangenbad, Bad Homburg, and elsewhere are well known.


Hesse’s name came from the Hessians, a Germanic tribe that inhabited this region during the early Middle Ages. In the late eighth and early ninth century, Hesse was ruled by counts, who after 1137 paid fealty to the landgraves of Thuringia. In the 13th century the Hessian counts became independent feudal lords and after 1292 were landgraves and imperial princes; Hesse became one of the territorial principalities of Germany. In 1277, Kassel became the capital. After numerous divisions of its territory in the 14th and 15th centuries, Hesse was united under Philip the Magnanimous, who ruled from 1509 to 1567. In 1525, Hesse was swept by a peasant war, which the landgrave savagely suppressed. In 1526 the Reformation was introduced in Hesse. After 1567, Hesse was divided into two principalities: Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt. Hesse-Kassel, whose ruler was an elector from 1803 to 1866, was annexed by Prussia in 1866 and became part of the province of Hesse-Nassau. From 1806 to 1918, Hesse-Darmstadt was ruled by a grand duke. The state was known as the Grand Duchy of Hesse from 1866 to 1918. After 1918 it became the republic (Land) of Hesse. After the defeat of fascist Germany, Hesse came partly under the American zone of occupation and partly under the French. Since 1949 it has been part of the FRG, most of it incorporated into the Land of Hesse, but a small part going to the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Hermann . 1877--1962, German novelist, short-story writer, and poet. His novels include Der Steppenwolf (1927) and Das Glasperlenspiel (1943): Nobel prize for literature 1946


a state of central Germany, formed in 1945 from the former Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau and part of the former state of Hesse; part of West Germany until 1990. Capital: Wiesbaden. Pop.: 6 089 000 (2003 est.). Area: 21 111 sq. km (8151 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005