Carl Zeiss was founded in Jena in 1846. Shortly thereafter, a large number of the company's products were sold abroad. Distribution was originally the responsibility of business associates and representatives. In 1893, the first representative outside Germany opened in London. The first production site outside Jena opened in Vienna in 1906.

The two World Wars resulted in massive set backs to the company's internationalization endeavors: The representatives had to be refounded in practically all countries. Beginning around 1950, there were even two competing subsidiaries in many countries: The branches of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen and VEB Carl Zeiss Jena competed head-to-head.

It was not until the reunification that this situation was resolved. Since the 1990s, rapidly growing subsidiaries have been opening up their own sales subsidiaries in other countries. Manufacturing subsidiaries outside Germany have become more and more important in the new millennium. Today, some product ranges are produced entirely outside Germany.

ZEISS company history

Explore the company history from 1846 to today.

History of ZEISS in Göttingen

How it all started

First mentioned in 953, Göttingen was elevated to town status around 1150. Georg August University – named after its founder King George II from Great Britain – opened in the city in 1734. Göttingen is where Rudolf Winkel began his independent precision mechanical work in 1857 for the company Breithaupt in Kassel and for the University of Göttingen in rented rooms.

1857 also marks the beginnings of Carl Zeiss in Göttingen, which is inextricable linked with the history of the Winkel family.

The workshop prospered, requiring expansion of the factory shortly thereafter.

By the end of the 19th century, the workshop had moved to the Düstere Eichenweg and Winkel’s oldest son Carl took over the mechanical workshop. In 1907, he implemented serial production and enlarged the production program considerably. By 1911, Carl Zeiss had become the largest shareholder and the company was transformed into a GmbH.

In 1957, a century after the first products left Winkel’s workshop, R. Winkel GmbH became a foundation company.

The company develops and distributes upright and inverse microscopes, stereomicroscopes and systems for industry, science and research. The most important target groups are automotive, steel and metal producing companies, as well as the chemistry, microelectronic and solar industries and the associated research institutes.

930 - 1856


Göttingen is first mentioned as “Gutingi” in a document of Emperor
Otto I.

"Göttingen-Blick von Westen"; Holzschnitt, 1585; Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Stadtarchiv Göttingen

Around 1150

Receiving the town charter.

Mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Stadtarchiv Göttingen


Opening of the Georg August University

1857 - 1900


In rented rooms (on Goethe-Allee), Rudolf Winkel begins his work in precision mechanics for the company Breithaupt of Kassel and for the University of Göttingen.


The first larger Winkel microscopes are appraised by Professor Listing.


Winkel’s workshop moves to Düsterer Eichenweg 9 on the corner of Baurat-Gerber-Strasse.


The workshop expands. Eldest son Carl becomes the new director.

1901 - today


The factory on Königsallee is newly erected. Mass production and a larger product range follow.


Carl Zeiss becomes the largest shareholder. The company becomes a GmbH (limited liability company), and the factory building is once again expanded. Winkel is the first company to introduce the 8-hour workday. Number of employees* 130


Factory II (optics production) is erected on Carl-Zeiss-Strasse.


R. Winkel GmbH is incorporated into the Carl Zeiss Foundation.

History of ZEISS in Jena

How it all started

Jena was first mentioned in 1182 and was elevated to town status around 1230. It played a central role in the enlightenment and romanticism ages.

Due to its well known university, in particular, Jena was a center of attraction for many popular academics like Goethe, Schiller and Hegel.

The opening of the optical workshop at Neugasse 7 in Jena by Carl Zeiss in 1846 marked the beginning of one of the most important optical and precision mechanical firms in the world.

Rapid growth necessitated expansion. The years to follow saw the workshop move several times, as well as new factory buildings, especially on the premises of the main factory in 1880 and the south factory in 1923.

New buildings were erected at the main plant as of 1880 and at the south plant as of 1923.

Although Jena flourished in the first half of the twentieth century, large areas of the town were destroyed when the main factory was bombed in 1945.

However, the bombing in 1945 destroyed large portions of the city. The division of Germany also resulted in the division of Carl Zeiss into Carl Zeiss Oberkochen (West Germany) and VEB Carl Zeiss Jena (East Germany). German reunification had also a big impact on the fortunes of the latter concern: it became a subsidiary of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen and moved into Building 6/70, which provides almost 100,000 m² space.

Today, Jena is the headquarters of Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH, Carl Zeiss Meditec AG, Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH and parts of research and development.

1182 - 1805


Jena first mentioned

Around 1230

Town charter received; many people make their living from wine growing.

Courtesy of: University of Jena


University founded. Long known as "Salana", it was renamed Friedrich Schiller University in 1934.

Starting in 1789

University of Jena's golden age: Schiller, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel lecture here on occasion. Thanks to August Wilhelm Schlegel, his wife Caroline, Friedrich Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, Clemens Brentano, and Friedrich von Hardenburg (Novalis), Jena becomes a center of Romanticism.

1806 - 1914


Napoleon defeats the Prussian army in the battles of Jena und Auerstedt.

Carl Zeiss optics workshop at Neugasse 7, Jena.


Carl Zeiss opens an "Optical Workshop" at Neugasse 7.

Carl Zeiss at Wagnergasse 32.


The workshop moves to Wagnergasse 32.


The workshop moves again, this time to its own premises on Johannisplatz.


Residence of Carl Zeiss and the first factory building on what would later become the premises of the Main Plant.

1915 - 1945


First building constructed on the South Plant premises.


Large parts of Jena are destroyed in air raids, including the Main Plant.

1946 - 1989


Acquisition of the Imperial Railway repair center, which eventually became the North Plant. Today it is known as the Saalepark Industrial Area.


In June 1969, the historical residential and business area around Eichplatz – which had survived World War II – is torn down to make room to construct what is now called the JenTower. Erected as a research center for Carl Zeiss, the building was transferred to the university prior to completion and today is owned by a private investor.


The factory in Göschwitz begins operations. Today this is the Göschwitz Industrial Area.


Dedication ceremony for Building 6/70, which provides nearly 100,000 m² of space and thus constitutes one of the largest industrial buildings in Europe.

1990 - today


Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH becomes a subsidiary of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen and moves into renovated Building 6/70 (today Building 70).


The buildings at Göschwitzer Strasse 51-52 are transferred to Carl Zeiss Meditec AG.



Dedication ceremony for the new research center in Building 70.

History of ZEISS in Oberkochen

How it all started

The history of ZEISS in Oberkochen began at the end of World War II. In 1945, American troops deported 77 senior employees of Carl Zeiss Jena and brought them to Heidenheim. In 1946, the Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH was a subsidiary of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. The new company set up shop in empty factory buildings in Oberkochen. The name was changed several times: In 1947, the company operated as “Zeiss-Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH” and as “Carl Zeiss” beginning in 1951.

In the years that followed, the company expanded and with it the small community of Oberkochen. Besides the factory, housing developments for the employees were also erected. An administration building and a planetarium with a 20 m dome, along with other factory buildings, were added to the townscape in the 1950s and 1960s. The second phase of expansion occurred in the 1980s and included the construction of a building for industrial metrology. In 2006, the new plant of Carl Zeiss SMT AG, the world's most advanced development and production center for lithography optics, was officially inaugurated. In 2012, the construction of new facilities for Carl Zeiss Meditec AG got underway.

1335 - 1944


First mention of Oberkochen in Ellwangen Ledger.

1945 - 1950

Karikatur "Zum 10jährigen Gedenken der Ankunft aus der "Ostzone".


Senior employees of Carl Zeiss are deported by American Occupation Forces to Heidenheim.

Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH


Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH is founded as a subsidiary of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. An empty factory building provided accommodation facilities in Oberkochen. The factory was expanded in the 1950s.

Zeiss-Opton Logo.


Renamed to Zeiss-Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH.



Headquarters of the Carl Zeiss Foundation moved to Heidenheim by the Baden-Württemberg government.

1951 - 1962

Das Logo von Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen, 1953-1971.


Renamed Carl Zeiss.

Thierstein in Oberkochen


272 apartments were inaugurated in the Zeiss housing development area "Am Thierstein" in Oberkochen.

1963 - 1980


Construction of an administration building.

Planetariumskuppel im Entstehen.


Construction of a planetarium dome 20 m in diameter.


Development area receives town status.

1981 - today


Construction of an assembly building for Industrial metrology (Building XXXII).


Factory expanded further.


Official inauguration of the plant of Carl Zeiss SMT AG, the world’s most advanced development and production center for lithography optics.


Construction of the facilities for Carl Zeiss Meditec AG begun.

History of ZEISS in Wetzlar

How it all started

For more than 150 years, Wetzlar has had a reputation as a center of optics and precision mechanics. This goes back to Moritz Hensoldt and Carl Kellner, pioneers in the field of modern optics. The roots of today’s Carl Zeiss Sports Optics GmbH in Wetzlar date back to the company of Moritz Hensoldt, which was founded in the middle of the 19th century. It was acquired by the Carl Zeiss foundation in 1928 and produces and sells optical and optronic devices as well as binoculars, riflescopes and spotting scopes.

832 - 864


First mention in the Lorsch Codex.


Wetzlar becomes an imperial city.


Wetzlar becomes the seat of the Imperial High Court, the highest court of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany; a century of economic growth ensues.

1865 - 1907

Mit freundlicher Genehmigung: www.musotin.com (Dr. Timo Mappes)


The company Engelbert & Hensoldt relocates to Wetzlar. It was founded in Sonneberg, Thuringia, in 1852, moving to Braunfels in 1861.


Besides working for Engelbert & Hensoldt, Moritz Hensoldt runs his own company.


Thanks to positive business developments, the existing space quickly becomes insufficient: Hensoldt acquires a workshop on Sophienstrasse and erects a factory one year later.


The company becomes a general partnership (OHG), operating under the name M. Hensoldt & Söhne.


Construction of new buildings on Sophienstrasse.

1908 - 1945


Due to the growing product range, the buildings on Sophienstrasse are too small: Construction of a factory on Gloëlstrasse begins, which is ready to be occupied one year later.


The OHG is converted to an AG (stock company).

Arbeitslosenschlange, 1932 (mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Ballhause-Archiv).


During the worldwide depression, the company plunges into a crisis. The Carl Zeiss Foundation becomes the majority shareholder.

1946 - 1989


All field glasses of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen are manufactured in Wetzlar.

1990 - today


Renamed Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.