Joseph Wirth was born in Freiburg, Germany, on 6th September, 1879. He studied natural sciences and economics (1899-1906) before becoming a mathematics teacher at Freiburg High School.
Wirth joined the Catholic Centre Party and was elected to the Reichstag in 1914. During the First World War he served on the Western Front and the Eastern Front but in 1917 he developed pneumonia and was forced to return to Germany.
A member of the left-wing of the Catholic Centre Party Wirth joined with Matthias Erzberger in calling for peace negotiations. At the end of the war Wirth declared he was a republican and urged the abdication of Wilhelm II. During the German Revolution Wirth became minister of finance of the republication government of Baden.
In 1920 Hermann Mueller appointed Wirth as his minister of finance. The following year in May 1921 he became chancellor. In an attempt to obtain a lasting peace he joined with Walther Rathenau to negotiate the Treaty of Rapallo with the Soviet Union.
Wirth was unhappy with the level of reparations that Germany was being forced to pay and he resigned over this issue in November, 1922. He now worked closely with Hans Luther to keep right-wing nationalists out of power. In 1925 he left the Catholic Centre Party in protest against its close ties with the Nationalist Party (DNVP).
On 13th April, 1929, Wirth accepted the invitation of Hermann Mueller to join his Social Democratic Party government. The following year he became minister of the interior in the cabinet headed by Heinrich Bruening.
Wirth's liberal views made him unpopular with right-wing nationalists and when Adolf Hitler took power in January, 1933, he was forced into exile. Wirth lived in France until the Second World War when he moved to Switzerland.
After the war Wirth returned to West Germany. He once again became involved in politics and helped form the Christian Social Labour Party. Over the next few years he opposed West Germany's rearmament and the country's membership of NATO.
Joseph Wirth, who won the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954, died in Freiburg, Germany, on 3rd January, 1956.