Carl Zeiss and Ernst Abbe

Carl Zeiss is one of the oldest existing optical manufacturers in the world.
In 1889 the business was incorporated as the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung.

The company was founded on the 17th of November 1846 when thirty year old Carl Zeiss opened a workshop in Jena. His business fluorished, and within twenty years had made 1,000 microscopes. Zeiss insisted on high standards – he wanted his name to be synonymous with the very highest quality and performance – and it was not unknown for him personally to take a hammer to those instruments that failed the test.

At that time, prior to the ground-breaking research work carried out by Ernst Abbe in the late 1860s and early 1870s, microscope objectives were made empirically, for no-one understood the basis of image formation in the microscope and its dependence upon diffraction. The empirical method was time-consuming, expensive, and success was not wholly guaranteed. Some competitors even said that their microscopes were “not like those made in Jena”!

In 1866, Zeiss asked Ernst Abbe, then 26 years old, to join him and place microscope manufacture on a rational footing. Abbe was a highly-gifted and energetic personality and brought many innovations to microscopy, amongst which was the development of optical glass. Now competitors would claim that their microscopes “followed the scientific principles established in Jena”. In 1889 the business was incorporated as the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung, for the benefit of the workforce, which continues today.

Stiftung links:
  1. Zeiss history
  2. Zeiss innovations
  3. Zeiss Foundation
  4. Zeiss timeline
  5. Stiftung encyclopedia entry
  6. Company histories
  1. Box information from Chapter 7 of Understanding Light Microscopy     Go to the book here
  2. Paetrow, S & Wimmer, W (2016) Carl Zeiss: a biography 1816-1888  Böhlau Verlag GmbH ISBN 978-3-412-50423-6
  3. Gerth, K & Wimmer, W (2005) Ernst Abbe 1840-1905: scientist, entrepreneur, social reformer Verlag Dr Bussert & Stadeler ISBN 3-932906-57-8
  4. Buenstorf, G & Murmann, JP (2005) Ernst Abbe’s scientific management: theoretical insights from a nineteenth-century dynamic capabilities approach Industrial & Corporate Change 14/4: 543-578
  5. Günther, N (1951) transl. DI Bower (2016) Ernst Abbe: creator of the Zeiss Foundation ISBN 978-0-9934062-1-8