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Brief History of ZEISS

In 1846, Carl Zeiss  opened a workshop for precision mechanics and optics in Jena, which prospered for quite a long time in its early years. Following the application of the scientific achievements of co-founder Ernst Abbe, Zeiss became recognized worldwide for its advanced technologies, and grew rapidly as a leader in the international optical industry. This success lasted for a century.

After World War II, the forced division of Germany split the ZEISS company into two companies: one in West Germany, and the other in East Germany. After the political changes in East Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the two companies merged and were consolidated in 1990. The ZEISS company after the merger and consolidation has become greater than it ever was in previous times. Today, the company looks to the future with optimism and hope.

Please refer to the relevant ZEISS global webpage for the following information (in English):

Scientific Milestones
Carl Zeiss Archives

General View

Initial Stage

In 1846, Carl Zeiss opened a workshop for precision mechanics and optics in Jena, Germany.

In 1847, the company began to produce microscopes.

In 1866, the physicist and mathematician Ernst Abbe joined the company.

The Beginning of Modern Optics Design

In 1872, the microscopy imaging theory proposed by Abbe brought about revolutionary developments, laying the foundation for all human high-performance optics.

In 1875, Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss became the co-owners of the company. The company implemented a health insurance plan for its employees.

In 1884, the glass chemist Friedrich Otto Schott, Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss founded the "Jena Glass Work Co-operative", ensuring they would produce and use optical glass of the highest quality.

The Carl Zeiss Foundation in Jena

In 1888, Carl Zeiss died.

In 1889, for the long-term independence and continuous operation of the company, Ernst Abbe founded the Carl Zeiss Foundation.

In 1891, Ernst Abbe authorized the Carl Zeiss Foundation to be the sole owner of the ZEISS Factory.

In 1896, Ernst Abbe enacted regulations for the Foundation. Through the management of the company by the Foundation, he ensured the means of the company's profits being put into research and development to guarantee the long-term goal of focusing on science and technologies. The regulations also guaranteed minimum wages, bonus revenue and paid annual leave by law.

In 1900, ZEISS became a leading optics company of the day with their science and technologies. Since its first overseas branch was founded in London in 1901, the company has operated its business all over the world.

The ZEISS company was also one of the few German companies in the world to have established an 8-hour work day at that time.

Expanding Product Line

In 1890, beginning with the refractometer and spectrometer invented by Abbe previously, the company's optics measurement department was established. The department developed various instruments with a higher level of prevision, which were widely used in the food and medical industries. Since 1920, the instruments have also been widely used in the metallurgy and metal-processing industries. This department also produced diastimeters and instruments for photogrammetry.

The photo-optics department was also established in 1890. In the first year of its establishment, the department introduced its first photo-optical lens to the market.

In 1894, the department merged with the "Tele" department. From then on, its binoculars business developed quite rapidly.

In the 1890s, the reflecting telescope of the Heidelberg Observatory and the instruments in the Innsbruck Observatory earned ZEISS a great reputation in astronomy. The research and development of these products also followed the company's heritage of their sense of social responsibility and company honor.

In 1897, ZEISS developed the first stereo microscope in human history that could truly provide 3-dimensional stereo images.

In 1902, the Tessar camera lens - "Eagle Eye" was introduced. More subsequent products with this famous camera lens were introduced later.

From 1908-1912, inspired by the Swedish doctor Allvar Gullstrand, ZEISS shifted its interest to glasses and ophthalmic measuring instrument development. Since 1908, its measuring instruments have further expanded the scope of the production of the Jena Company. The production equipment and factory kept expanding.

In 1914, World War I interrupted the research and development of the civil instruments of ZEISS. Only the astronomy department could construct the largest reflecting telescope at that time for the Potsdam-Babelsberg Observatory.

After World War I, due to the defeat of Germany and the restrictions on military production put in place by the Treaty of Versailles, ZEISS shifted its attention to precision measurements, and the precision measurement department was quickly established.

In the 1930s, the development of phase contrast technology and the use of polarized light created new areas of microscope applications. The specially developed cameras made the collection and recording of microscopic images easy.

In 1923, ZEISS constructed the first planetarium for Deutsches Museum of Munich, which attracted a lot of public attention; new orders from all over the world surged. By the late 1930s, ZEISS had constructed 21 planetariums around the world, in places like Chicago, Milan, Philadelphia and Tokyo.

In 1923, as their most powerful instruments, the astronomical telescope in the Heidelberg Observatory and the telescope provided to Innsbruck Observatory later earned a significant reputation for ZEISS in the astronocial field. The research and development of these products also followed the company's heritage of their sense of social responsibility and ZEISS's company honor.

A Forced Split-up

In 1945, American troops occupied the Jena factory, expropriating patents, documents and special production equipment, and brought the company's excellent professional technicians to Heidenheim in the West.

In 1946, the occupying Soviet army dismantled all the production equipment in the Jena factory and took its scientists, engineers and professional technicians to the Soviet Union. The industrial assets of the Carl Zeiss Foundation were nationalized by the Soviet Union in 1948.

The Two ZEISS Factories in Germany

In 1949, the government of Baden-Württemberg regulated Heidenheim as the legal place of registry of the Carl Zeiss Foundation.

In the 1950s, not only did the two ZEISS companies resume production of their traditional products, but the scientists and engineers of the two companies paid attention to research and development in new areas. With the introduction of multiple new types of digital microscopes, Jena constructed nuclear track microscopes for the Nuclear Energy Institute near Moscow. The two companies also resumed the production of large astronomical instruments. The astronomy department of Jena constructed planetariums and two-meter-high telescopes for observatories in Tautenburg and Hamburg. Oberkochen produced a 150 millimeter refractometer (Coudé refractometer) and a 650 millimeter refractor in the 1950s.

In 1964, the laser was first introduced into industrial use, and the first industrialized E-beam lithograph was introduced in the mid-1970s.

In 1965, the Carl Zeiss Jena Public Enterprise became a major manufacturer of precision machinery and optical products in East Germany.

In 1971, the London Agreement between the two companies adjusted information, including the use of the name "ZEISS" and the use of trademarks.

In 1989, due to the coup in East Germany, the Carl Zeiss Jena Public Enterprise announced its dissolution.

Though the two ZEISS companies split up due to political reasons, they still developed into leaders in optical technologies in their respective regions, and also became competitors in both the German and global markets. Since the 1960s, increases in the number of achievements in electronic and information technology and the significant progress made in astronomical research and microelectronics have provided a new developmental vision for the optical equipment design industry. Both Jena and Oberkochen committed to the research of the combination of optics, precision mechanics and electronics theories, bringing products with new features to the world.

Crisis and Transformation: Merger After Reunification

In 1990, the political changes that occurred in Germany also marked changes in the relationship between the ZEISS companies in East and West Germany. The two companies announced their intention to merge under the name the Carl Zeiss Foundation, and that they would be registered in Jena and Heidenheim.

In 1991, Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH was founded. For the next few years, ZEISS established two factories in Hungary, participated in joint venture operations in Belarus, and created new distribution offices in Eastern Europe.

In 1995, The Carl Zeiss Foundation became the sole shareholder of Carl Zeiss AG.

In 1996, ZEISS celebrated the 150th anniversary of the company.

In 1998, ZEISS became a famous brand in microscopes, industrial measurements, microchip manufacturing, surgical operation microscopes and the high-performance lenses of ophthalmic equipment.

In 2000, ZEISS centralized its initial 26 sub-areas into four development markets: semi-conductor technologies and microelectronics, life sciences, visual protection and industrial measurements.

In 2000, ZEISS established a new modern European lithograph system factory in Oberkochen, committing to leading the future of the industry with their use of semi-conductor technologies.

Into the New Century

As of Oct. 2001, the semi-conductor technology team began operating as an independent enterprise under the name Carl Zeiss SMT AG, which is one of the few companies in the world providing microchip lithograph technology.

In 2002, Carl Zeiss Meditec AG was established. The company develops and produces diagnostic equipment for ophthalmologic examinations, with a huge market potential.

In 2002, the board of director of ZEISS put forward the slogan "We make it visible" to the public on behalf of the company's global employees, appropriately expressing the strategic direction of the company.

In 2003, ZEISS held its first annual "Innovation Day" in Goettingen, providing a platform for the communication of information and the thoughts of ZEISS scientists and engineers in the form of a symposium.

In 2004, the two Foundation companies, Carl Zeiss AG and Schott AG transformed into independent joint-stock companies. At the same time, the revised foundation regulations came into effect, suggesting that the Carl Zeiss Foundation shall remain the sole shareholder of Carl Zeiss AG.

In 2005, the Zeiss Glasses Company merged with the Sola Company, becoming a major global supplier of lenses for glasses.

In 2006, Carl Zeiss SMT AG established its new research and development center, together with its new factory, which focused on the production, research and development of modern lithograph systems.

In 2007, Carl Zeiss Meditec AG was listed in Tec Dax, becoming the first ZEISS company listed in Tec Dax since 1945.

In 2010, thanks to its various business departments, ZEISS weathered the global economic crisis in 2008-2009 and became stronger than ever. ZEISS recovered its profits at an astonishing rate during 2010, which was also one of the company's most successful years in its history.