Carl Zeiss

The Carl Zeiss Jena factory around 1910.
Figure 1: The Carl Zeiss Jena factory around 1910.
The history of Carl Zeiss goes back to 1846 when Carl Friedrich Zeiss (b. 11 September 1816 in Weimar - d. 3 December 1888 in Jena) opened his first workshop at Neugasse 7, Jena.

Carl Zeiss was an apprentice of Dr. Friedrich Körner, a manufacturer of microscopes and scientific instruments. On 10 May 1846 Carl Zeiss submitted an application to the Weimar authority to open a mechanical workshop, which was finally done on 17 November 1846 at Neugasse 7, Jena. Initially it produced simple microscopes, measuring instruments, and other precise optical and mechanical instruments.

In September 1847 Zeiss moved to Wagnergasse 32 and hired his first apprentice. By 1864, in the meanwhile employing 200 persons, the workshop moved to a larger facility at Johannisplatz 10.

The main changes in logo over the years.
Figure 2: The main changes in logo over the years.
In order to improve on the quality of his optics Zeiss employed the 26 years young lecturer of physics and mathematics at the University of Jena, Ernst Abbe (b. 23 January 1840 - d. 14 January 1905 in Jena), as a free-lance research worker in 1866. Abbe would later become Zeiss' business partner and so would become Zeiss' son Roderich in 1881.

Another improvement in the glass production at the Zeiss workshop was the cooperation with Otto Schott (b. 17 December 1851 Witten - d. 27 August 1935). Schott took a scientific approach in glass making and developed several new glass types as Borosilicate Crown (BK). Together with father and son Zeiss and Abbe he would found Schott & Genossen Glaswerke in 1884.

The Carl Zeiss Th1 optical theodolite.
Figure 3: The Carl Zeiss Th1 optical theodolite.
By the turn of the century Carl Zeiss employed 1,070 persons and four years later the first Zeiss logo was introduced (see figure 2).

In 1908 Heinrich Wild was employed by Carl Zeiss as manager of their new department, Geo Carl Zeiss, to produce geodetic instruments, something they had not done before.

Wild patented several improvements in the following years, the most important of which was a theodolite based on a completely new principle. Instead of using the usual metal circles and reading microscopes, this theodolite - the Carl Zeiss Th1 - had glass circles and an opticle reading mechanism (see figure 3).

Before the end of WWII there were two Zeiss workshops; one in Jena (in what would become known as East Germany after WWII) and one in Oberkochen (in what would become known as West Germany after WWII). It was the former where the first optical theodolite, Heinrich Wild's Zeiss ThI, was manufactured.

After World War II, the East German authorities established the state-owned Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena, while the main Zeiss company - Carl Zeiss AG - had relocated to West Germany and restarted in Oberkochen as Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH in 1946. It became Zeiss-Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH in 1947.

The war caused the factories to separate and due to their separation tensions between them rose to a climax in the 1970s. As a result of this both firms went to court for the exclusive rights on the firm name. The West German Oberkochen factory won the battle and a new logo was introduced (see figure 2).

After the 1990 German reunification, VEB Zeiss Jena became Zeiss Jena GmbH. The company then sold its microscopy division and other optical divisions to Carl Zeiss AG. This partial reunification of the Jena and Oberkochen factories resulted again in a new logo (see figure 2). The Jena factory had 70,000 employees in 1989, but was at the verge of existence. The reunification meant that only 10% of them would be incorporated into the Zeiss Oberkochen plant.

The remainder of Zeiss Jena GmbH continued as Jenoptik Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH, specializing in the areas of photonics, optoelectronics, and mechatronics. The name was shortened to Jenoptik GmbH and 1996 was changed into Jenoptik AG. The Jenoptik trademark is owned by Jenoptik AG. Jenoptik is regarded as one of the few companies descended from an East German state-owned enterprise to be successful in the post-Reunification era.

In 1995 Wild Heerbrugg, which in the meanwhile had become Leica, and Zeiss came together again. Leica and Zeiss joined forces with Zeiss to found the joint venture LEO Electron Microscopy Ltd.

Instrument(s) in the collection


All information in this article came from the following on-line sources:
- Carl Zeiss - A History Of A Most Respected Name In Optics
- H.Wild at Carl Zeiss Jena
- WikiPedia Jenoptik page

Figure references
- figure 1: WikiPedia Carl Zeiss AG page.
- figure 2: assembled from Carl Zeiss - A History Of A Most Respected Name In Optics.
- figure 3: private collection.

If you have any questions and/or remarks please let me know.

Surveyor's crosses Geodetic Sextants Theodolites Total Stations Levels Standards Tools Firms
Ahrend Askania Carl Zeiss Jena Chesterman Doyle & Son Jenoptik Jena Kern Aarau Keuffel & Esser Lerebours SAT-SAGEM Secrétan à Paris Société des Lunetiers Tibaut Desimpelaere Wild Heerbrugg