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Zeiss celebrating 200th birthday of founding father Carl

07 Sep 2016

Activities include the Carl Zeiss Day and opening of new German Optical Museum in Jena.

Carl Zeiss, the manufacturer of hi-spec optical and medical systems, is celebrating the 200th birthday of its founder, of the same name, who was born on September 11th, 1816. Around the anniversary there will be various activities.

A biography of the visionary engineer was published in May, and from this month, September, there is an exhibition on his works staged in the city of Jena, where he founded the business. The highlight of the celebrations is Carl Zeiss Day in the city of Jena on September 11th.

Zeiss was born in the nearby town of Weimar in 1816. He opened a small workshop for precision mechanics and optics in Jena in 1846 (after Weimar had refused his application), laying the foundations for today’s global technology player. "Without these achievements and the intellectual legacy of its founding father, Zeiss would not be the company it is today," said Dr. Michael Kaschke, President and CEO of Carl Zeiss AG.

On 17 November 1846 with an initial capital of 100 Thalers, Zeiss opened his first workshop in Neugasse 7. In Ernst Abbe, the celebrated optics professor, he had found a partner with whom he developed the construction of microscopes, based on scientific principles, thus revolutionizing their manufacture.

The new German Optical Museum in Jena

The modern company is sponsoring the founding of a new German Optical Museum in Jena, intended to be “a fitting and lasting honor of Carl Zeiss's achievements, which will endure well beyond his 200th birthday.” The founders of the museum include: the Ernst Abbe Foundation, the Carl Zeiss Foundation, the city of Jena, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and the company Zeiss itself.

Dr. Kaschke said, "In this year, it's important to us to begin this significant initiative and important undertaking. I am sure that this museum is not only an appropriate, but also a forward-looking way to honor our company founder, here in Jena where it all began."

The city's existing Optical Museum, run by the Ernst Abbe Foundation in Jena, is being completely redesigned and will be re-established as the German Optical Museum. In addition to putting on display the scientific history of optics and of optical instrument construction, the new space will also be somewhere the public and experts can meet via diverse educational programs.

On Carl Zeiss Day itself, institutions throughout the city located on the "Carl Zeiss Route" will offer a range of attractions. These sites will host activities including a planetarium, the Schott Villa, the redesigned grave of Carl Zeiss at the Johannis Cemetery, and the Friedrich-Schiller-University. Further to this event, on 27 and 28 October 2016, a public symposium on the subject of economy and science will be presented at the Friedrich-Schiller-University, Jena.

Pioneering optics business

In 1834, Carl Zeiss began an apprenticeship with Dr. Friedrich Körner, the Court Mechanic and a private lecturer at the University of Jena. Zeiss completed his apprenticeship in 1838, receiving a glowing letter of reference from Körner. Subsequently Zeiss spent seven years as a journeyman, with stops in the cities of Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Vienna and Berlin. While in Vienna he attended lectures at the university, including one on popular mechanics. On 17 November 1846, he opened the small workshop in Jena.

Zeiss began by designing, building and repairing instruments. He also sold telescopes, microscopes and other instruments. In 1847, he began producing simple microscopes, and from 1857 he also built compound microscopes. In 1860, Zeiss was appointed university mechanic. 1866 saw the beginning of his collaboration with Ernst Abbe, and the two men worked together on producing microscope lenses based on a solid mathematical foundation.

After 1872, only objective lenses produced in line with Abbe’s calculations were sold. The success of these lenses led to the company's growth. Zeiss’ collaboration with Otto Schott, who developed and later produced new types of optical glass in Jena, commenced in 1879. Zeiss died in Jena on 3 December 1888.

With his instruments, Carl Zeiss paved the way for scientific progress, particularly in biology and medicine, that still benefits many people today: one example is Robert Koch, one of the men credited with discovering bacteriology. “Carl Zeiss’s ability to interact with the scientific community was the key to the success of his enterprise – and this tenet still rings true today,” added Kaschke.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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