Founded in 1917, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics was at first more of a collection point for funds to support work in the field of physics, based in the private apartment of its director, Albert Einstein, in Schöneberg. It was not until 1937 that it was given a large building in Dahlem, partly financed by the Rockefeller Foundation. The new research center was named after the man who had been President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society since 1930, becoming the first "Max Planck Institute."
After Albert Einstein had emigrated, a Dutchman, Peter Debye, headed the institute until 1940. He himself worked mainly on nuclear physics, while his deputy Max von Laue (Nobel Prize for Physics in 1914, Honorary Citizen of the FU in 1958) investigated the diffraction of x-rays. The central piece of equipment was a high voltage generator, developed into a particle accelerator for nuclear experiments in the so-called "Lightning Tower". This apparatus played an important role when the institute was placed under direct military control for a time and was involved, under Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn, in the (inconclusive) development of a German atom bomb.
Today, the "Lightning Tower" houses the historical archives of the Max Planck Society, while the main building contains part of Freie Universität's University Archive, amongst other things.