At the time of its founding in 1810, there was pressure to make the new university both practical and industrial. Von Humboldt wanted it to be a center for the pursuit of truth in learning. In the end he won out. The University was set up under his principles. In 1828 it was formally renamed the Frederick-William University. The university was named in honor of the reigning monarch, Frederick William III of Prussia. The university offered the traditional
faculties of law, medicine, theology and philosophy. Emperor William made several establishments at the University. One of these was the professorship of "American History". It is now called the "Theodore Roosevelt professorship". It required the position be filled by an American professor who must lecture in German. In an interview with then president
Butler of Columbia University, a second professorship in Berlin was established with a lectures in English taught by a German professor.
From 1933 to 1945, under Nazism, the university lost many of its Jewish scholars and students. Some were killed. On May 10, 1933 many university books were burned. Before World War II Humboldt was still the major university in Berlin. After the war the university was greatly weakened. It reopened in January 1946. It was in the Soviet sector of Berlin. Many students and faculty wanted to continue their education free of communist government control. With the help of the US Army and donations from the United States government, the Free University of Berlin was established in 1948 in West Berlin.
In 1949 the university was given it's present name, Humboldt-University of Berlin (German: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), to honor the brothers Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt. The university underwent a number of changes by the government of East Berlin in the 1950s. But it regained its importance as a major center of learning.