Fotoaufnahme von Carl Zeiss im Portrait
Who is Carl Zeiss? From craftsman to entrepreneur
Who is Carl Zeiss? From craftsman to entrepreneur
Fotoaufnahme von Carl Zeiss im Portrait
Who is Carl Zeiss? From craftsman to entrepreneur

Carl Zeiss

A Biography (1816 - 1888)

Carl Zeiss was born in Weimar on 11 September 1816. He built microscopes in Jena from 1846 onwards. Together with Ernst Abbe, he succeeded in placing the construction of microscopes on a scientific foundation. This was the basis of today's global player ZEISS.

Find out more about company founder Carl Zeiss and his life.

  • Short Biography

    Carl Friedrich Zeiss was born on 11 September 1816 in Weimar as the fifth of altogether 12 children. Here, he attended the local high school up to the penultimate class, where he passed a special graduation exam enabling him to study natural sciences at a university. The young Carl Zeiss showed a keen interest in technology.

    On Easter 1834, he began an apprenticeship with the court mechanician and private lecturer at the University of Jena, Dr. Friedrich Körner (1778 – 1847). From the second year of his apprenticeship onwards, he was allowed to attend one lecture in the natural sciences and mathematics per semester at the university. When he finished his apprenticeship with Körner in 1838, he received excellent references and a leaving certificate for all the lectures he had attended at the university. Subsequently, Zeiss spent seven years (1838 – 1845) traveling around Austria and Germany with stops in Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Vienna and Berlin. In Vienna he went to lectures about popular mechanics and passed his final exam with distinction.

    From November 1845, Zeiss was once again registered as a student at the University in Jena and took part in lectures on mathematics and chemistry. On 17 November 1846 he opened his own business. Initially, he constructed, built and repaired all possible chemical and physical instruments by himself and, at the same time, sold telescopes, microscopes, drawing apparatus, scales thermometers and other devices that he purchased from dealers. In 1847 Zeiss began to produce simple microscopes. Business got off to a good start, allowing Zeiss to employ his first assistants in the spring of 1847 and move into larger premises on 1 July 1847. In August 1847 he hired August Löber as his first apprentice who was subsequently to become his most important employee was later given a participating share in the firm’s profits.

    On 29 May 1849, Carl Zeiss married the 11 years younger Bertha Schatter, who died during the birth of their first son, Roderich Zeiss, on 23 February 1850. Roderich Zeiss survived and later joined his father’s business. Zeiss married for the second time on 17 May1853, this time Ottilie Trinkler. Three further children were born in his second marriage. His son Karl Otto (1854 – 1925) and the two daughters Hedwig (1856 – 1935) and Sidonie (1861 – 1920). Carl Zeiss lived very modestly and invested the money he earned in the business. He devoted his free time to gardening (he was particularly fond of roses) and to books.

    Zeiss focused his production activities on microscopes. In his workshop, he attached central importance to quality and precision. He shattered any microscopes his staff made that did not meet his high requirements with his own hands on the anvil. In 1861 Carl Zeiss received several awards, such as first prize at the second Thuringian trade exhibition and a silver medallion for his "excellent microscope with accessory equipment". In 1863, Zeiss was appointed to the position of court mechanic at Jena University.

    1866 saw the start of his collaboration with Ernst Abbe with the goal of placing the production of object lenses on a solid mathematical foundation. From 1872, only objective lenses produced in line with Abbe’s calculations were sold. The success of these lenses led to the growth of the enterprise. On 14 October 1876, the 3,000th microscope was completed. In the same year Roderich Zeiss joined the business and became a partner in 1879. In 1880 Carl Zeiss was awarded a doctorate (Dr. phil.h.c ) from the faculty of philosophy at Jena University.

    To this very day, the entrepreneur Carl Zeiss, together with Ernst Abbe, are seen as pioneers of social insurance: The Zeiss medical insurance program was founded in 1875 to guarantee employees free medical treatment and free medication in the event of illness. Zeiss’ collaboration with Otto Schott, who developed and later produced new types of optical glass in Jena, commenced in 1882.

    In December 1885, Zeiss suffered his first stroke, from which he recovered. Starting on his 70th birthday in 1886, however, his condition constantly deteriorated and, after further strokes in the last three months of 1888, he passed away in Jena on 3 December 1888.

  • Facts & Figures

    Youth and education

    • 11 September 1816

      Born in Weimar as the fifth of twelve children of Johanna Antoinette Friederike (1786– 1856), née Schmith, and the art wood turner Johann Gottfried August Zeiss (1785– 1849)

    • 1832

      Graduated from grammar school

    • 1834 -1838

      Apprenticeship under University Mechanic Dr. Friedrich Körner (1778 –1847) in Jena while studying mathematics

    • 1838 -1845

      Journeyman years: travels to Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Vienna (Rollé & Schwilqué, lectures at the Royal Polytechnic Institute) and Berlin

    • 1845 -1846

      Period spent in Jena "to primarily study chemistry and advanced mathematics" and to acquire citizenship of and right of abode in Jena

    Establishment of the mechanical workshop in Jena

    • 17 November 1846

      Opening of a workshop (“atelier for mechanics”) on Jena’s Neugasse

    • 1 July 1847

      Relocation to a larger workshop on Wagnergasse

    • 1847

      The first simple microscope is produced

    • 29 May 1849

      Marries Bertha, n ée Schatter (1827 –1850)

    • 23 February 1850

      Birth of their son Roderich (1850 –1919); Bertha dies in childbirth

    • 17 May 1853

      Marries Ottilie, ne é Trinkler (1819 –1897)

    • 25 February 1854

      Birth of their son Otto (1854 –1925)

    • 27 September 1856

      Birth of daughter Hedwig (1856 –1935)

    • 1857

      Builds the first compound microscope

    • 1 May 1858

      Relocation to a workshop on Johannisplatz

    • 12 July 1858

      Becomes deputy Master of Weights and Measures in Jena

    • 10 September 1860

      Appointed university mechanic

    • 23 July 1861

      First honorary prize and gold medal at the 2 nd General Thuringian Trade Exhibition

    • 1 October 1861

      Birth of daughter Sidonie (1861 –1920)

    • 1863

      Zeiss becomes court mechanic

    • 28 May 1866

      Production of the 1,000 th microscope

    Collaboration with Ernst Abbe

    • 3 July 1866

      Dr. Ernst Abbe is brought in to assist Zeiss as an independent researcher (in 1870 also a professor at the University of Jena)

    • From 1872 onwards

      All ZEISS microscope optics are built in line with Abbe ’s calculations

    • 1 January 1875

      Creation of Carl Zeiss health insurance

    • 15 May 1875

      Ernst Abbe becomes a silent partner

    • 1876

      Son Dr. Roderich Zeiss joins the company

    • 1877

      First microscope lens with homogeneous immersion produced

    • 1878

      Daughter Hedwig marries the grammar school teacher Konrad Sagawe (1858 –1935)

    • 1880

      Carl Zeiss receives honorary doctorate (Dr. phil. h.c.) from the University of Jena

    • 1880

      Construction of a private residence on Littergässchen, today Carl- Zeiss -Strasse, and first factory building on what will later be the site of the main factory

    A growing family

    • 1881

      Son Otto marries Franziska Thierbach (1862 –1885)

    • 1882

      Daughter Sidonie marries the physician Johann Lucas Siebert (1841 –1913)

    • 26 January 1882

      Birth of granddaughter Charlotte (1882 –1945)

    • 20 May 1882

      Birth of grandson Franz (1882 –1882)

    • 1883

      Son Roderich marries Therese Schatter (1864 –1949)

    • 2 July 1883

      Birth of granddaughter Johanna (1883 –1943)

    • 6 July 1883

      Birth of grandson Berthold (1883 –1945)

    • 1 January 1884

      Founding of the Glastechnisches Laboratorium (Glass Laboratory), later to become Jenaer Glaswerks Schott & Gen. (today SCHOTT AG) by Otto Schott, Ernst Abbe, Carl Zeiss and Roderich Zeiss

    • 16 March 1884

      Birth of granddaughter Elisabeth (1884 – 1958)

    Old age and death

    • Dec. 1885

      Carl Zeiss suffers a minor stroke

    • 24 September 1886

      10,000 th Zeiss microscope produced

    • 19 November 1886

      The Grand Duke of Saxe- Weimar- Eisenach names Carl Zeiss the Knight’s Cross, First Class, by Order of the White Falcon

    • 25 November 1888

      Birth of granddaughter Elisabeth (1888 –1958)

    • 3 December 1888

      Carl Zeiss dies in Jena

Under Löber’s supervision, in 1866 the Jena Optical Works attained a high standard of production with its 11 employees. As far as the quality of workmanship was concerned, Zeiss had risen to the upper echelons among European manufacturers. (Photo: Zeiss men’s choir in 1869, ZEISS Archives)

The biologist Matthias Schleiden provided the inspiration for these simple microscopes. He already checked the simple microscopes produced by Körner. Carl Zeiss made a number of enhancements. The wooden bases varied while the stand itself remain unchanged, even if it saw a number of modifications over time. (Photo: dissection microscope with dovetail mount, still without a serial number from 1847/48, from the collection of Timo Mappes; photographed by Manfred Stich, ZEISS Archives)

The long-standing employee August Sonnekalb said the following: 'The 5000th microscope was celebrated at a lavish event. A special train traveled to Kahla and passed through the Suppiche stream, where after breakfast it was time to head to Leuchtenburg castle. Then it was time for lunch. In the evening we returned to Jena, where food and drink was had in the Engel theater’s eatery.' (Photo: microscope stand I from 1882, from the collection of Timo Mappes; photographed by Manfred Stich, ZEISS Archives)