The Company History of Carl Zeiss

The workshop for precision mechanics and optics opened by Carl Zeiss in Jena in 1846 already enjoyed a sustained period of prosperity during its early years. On the basis of Ernst Abbe’s scientific achievements, a global player in the field of optics gradually evolved. This period of success continued for a century. The enforced partition of Germany as a result of political circumstances after World War II led to two Carl Zeiss companies.

With the political change in the former East Germany in 1989/90, the two competitors reunited to form a single company in 1990. Reunited, Carl Zeiss became stronger than ever before in its eventful history. Today, the company looks to the future with optimism and anticipation.

How it started

On 17 November 1846, the 30-year old mechanic Carl Zeiss opened a workshop and a small store in Jena’s Neugasse No. 7. In just a few months, Zeiss, who not only had a solid theoretical basis and good practical experience, but was also well acquainted with scientists and mathematicians at the University of Jena, had already found clientele for whom he repaired scientific apparatuses and instruments or produced them according to the customer’s specifications. In addition, he offered spectacles, chemical scales, drawing apparatuses, telescopes, etc.
In 1847, his business success encouraged Zeiss to hire an assistant and an apprentice, and to rent two workrooms in Wagnergasse No. 34. In the summer of 1847, following the advice of his teacher, the botanist Mattias Jacob Schleiden, Zeiss devoted his attention to building a simple microscope. In September 1847, he produced the first loupe microscopes.

At the beginning of the 1850’s, there was an increase in the demand for observation instruments from the Zeiss workshops, which now enjoyed a good reputation among microscopists due to their meticulous workmanship. At the time, the level of interest shown by scientists and medical professionals in compound microscopes was growing because these were the only instruments that provided the higher magnifications they wanted.
The time-consuming trial-and-error method required to build optical systems initially kept Zeiss from building such instruments, particularly as he was convinced that there must be some scientific way of determining the individual elements of the optical systems. However, the competition forced him to build compound microscopes in the traditional way from 1857 onwards.

Early Years

Carl Zeiss is a company with a long tradition that was founded by Carl Zeiss in 1846 in Jena as a precision mechanics and optics workshop.

From 1872, microscopes made in Jena were built on the basis of scientific calculations and therefore displayed considerably improved optical properties. This technological lead, which earned the company global recognition, is attributable to the physicist and mathematician Ernst Abbe, who became a dormant partner in the optical workshop in 1876.

Abbe’s theory of image formation in the microscope and the “sine condition” that bears his name form the basis of all high-performance optics.