Otto Schott Joins the Company

1879 to 1884

Portrait of Otto Schott circa 1890

Otto Schott circa 1890
(Photo: Carl Bräunlich, ZEISS Archives).

On 27 May 1879, Ernst Abbe received a letter from the young chemist Otto Schott (1851 – 1935), who spoke of a new kind of glass he had created. Until then, ordinary glass had been used to produce lenses. Now, the opportunity presented itself to develop special, optical glass. He sent the samples he produced to Jena, where their suitability for optical purposes was assessed.

In January 1882, a glass technology laboratory was set up in Jena and at the end of 1882, Schott relocated to the city. The funds to purchase a plot of land for Schott in Jena were mustered up by Zeiss, and the laboratory experiments conducted since 1882 had so far been financed by Abbe. It didn’t take long for Schott to achieve some remarkable progress, however. He succeeded not only in controlling the properties of the optical glass, which was initially produced in small batches, but also in manufacturing relatively large samples with no impurities or internal stresses. Zeiss made the first microscope lens using Schott glass in the fall of 1883. The results were extraordinary, offering a tantalizing glimpse of the remarkable improvements in optical instruments that could conceivably be achieved with the new material.

On 23 July 1885, the company Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Genossen was established. Its partners were Carl and Roderich Zeiss, Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott. The new company’s main line of business later became heat-resistant glass materials.

  • The tank is slid into the blast furnace.
    Inserting a tank (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • Men at work using a blast furnace.
    Inserting the raw glass (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • Men in front of a blast furnace.
    Monitoring the melting process (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • Men in front of a blast furnace.
    Monitoring the melting process (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • A man sorting glass shards.
    Adjusting the raw optical glass (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • Men placing the raw glass in molds.
    Placing the raw optical glass in the casting molds (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • Men inspecting glass blocks.
    Checking the optical glass for streaks (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • Two men check the strain of optical glass.
    Checking the strain of optical glass (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
  • The glass is ground in vats and on round tables.
    Grinding the optical plate glass (Photo: SCHOTT Archives).
Ernst Abbe’s calculations on water immersion from 1886

Ernst Abbe’s calculations on water immersion from 1886 (Photo: ZEISS Archives).

Ernst Abbe’s calculations on water immersion from 1886

Ernst Abbe’s calculations on water immersion from 1886 (Photo: ZEISS Archives).

Outlook

Science-based optics

The new apochromatic lenses created an enormous surge in demand. Gifted lensmakers had previously been able to carve out a position in the market with their trial-and-error approach, but increasingly Zeiss’s competitors were having to embrace scientifically based lensmaking as a matter of survival. Orders for Zeiss microscopes were coming in from academic and research institutions all around the globe, and inroads were steadily being made into the realms of physicians, hygiene specialists and material testers. The company was also sporadically starting to produce other optical products such as refractometers for measuring the concentration of solutions. But it was not until the 1890s that the new technological methods were applied to a greater variety of products including binoculars, camera lenses, astronomical devices, spectrometers, and geodetic instruments, opening up new areas of business which would further accelerate the company’s growth.

Stand with micrometer movement and tilt

from 1882 (Mappes’s collection)
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Company size

33 – 170 employees

Microscope development

5,000 microscopes

Documentation

Honorary doctorate

Current events

Second Industrial Revolution