The history of the high-tech group of companies started back in 1846 with a trial and error approach to optical production. This method was enhanced by Ernst Abbe, a business partner of the company founder, into a systematic, scientific technique. This marked the beginning of more than 160 years of ongoing innovation at the company's parent site in Jena, Group headquarters in Oberkochen and at many other development and production locations all over the world.
As a young scientist, Abbe dedicated his knowledge to Carl Zeiss. He joined Carl Zeiss as a scientific employee in 1866. Abbe became a professor at the University of Jena in 1870. His theory of microscope imaging made him the founder of scientific optics and gave Carl Zeiss an important technological advantage: while microscopes were previously built on the basis of experience, beginning in 1872 they were founded on scientific calculations and therefore achieved considerably better optical properties.
In turn, this opened the door to pioneering research in biology and medicine, e.g. the work of Robert Koch and Paul Ehrlich.
Relevant original documents can be found in the Carl Zeiss Archive.
Since its founding, the company has been setting milestones in many areas of optical technology:
1890. Promoting future scientists is anchored in the company statutes – a specification of Ernst Abbe who established the Foundation.
1894 Prism binoculars with expanded lens gap generate a more three-dimensional image with improved depth perception.
1911 Large ophthalmoscope for reflection-free observation of the fundus and the Gullstrand slit lamp.
1936 First prototype of a phase contrast microscope based on Zernike‘s original design.
1957 First light-surgical instrument as the predecessor to laser eye surgery.
1985 First fully digitalized scanning electron microscope
2000 First individually calculated progressive lenses.
These are just a few of the numerous innovations brought forth by Carl Zeiss. The complete list of technical milestones can be found here.