Ebbinghaus was born in Barmen, Germany. At 17 he entered the University of Bonn. His first and foremost interest was psychology. His studies were interrupted in 1870 due to the Franco-Prussian War. He enlisted in the Prussian army. He resumed his studies and received a Ph.D. in 1873. In 1885, he published his ground-breaking On Memory in which he described experiments he conducted on himself to describe the process of forgetting.
His contributions are multiple. His famous work on memory initiated experimental psychology. He pioneered precise experimental techniques used in the research on learning. In addition to his research and lecturing, he established two psychology laboratories in Germany, and founded a major psychology journal.