Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Carl Zeiss (Germany)

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May 1966. Agents are Degenhardt and Co.

of Germany, maker of specialist optical instruments, surveying tools, etc

Carl Zeiss was an optician commonly known for the company he founded, Carl Zeiss AG. Zeiss made contributions to lens manufacturing that have aided the modern production of lenses.

1816 Carl Zeiss was born on 11 September.

Raised in Weimar, Germany, Zeiss began his life in pre-imperial Germany where he went to a grammar school, and undertook apprenticeship under Dr. Friedrich Körner, mechanic and supplier to the court.

He later attended lectures in mathematics, experimental physics, anthropology, mineralogy and optics at Jena University.

1840s He became a notable lens maker, in the city of Jena, where he opened a workshop to create high quality lenses with a very large aperture range that allowed for very clear images. Initially, his lenses were only used in the production of microscopes, but when cameras were invented, his company began manufacturing high quality lenses for cameras.

1846 Company established in Jena, Germany.

1847 with very few tools, Carl Zeiss started making microscopes full-time and hired his second and third apprentices. His first innovation was making simpler microscopes that only used one lens and were therefore only intended for dissecting work. He sold around 23 of them in his first year of production.

He then began making compound microscopes.

1857 He first created and marketed the Stand I.

1861 Zeiss was awarded a gold medal at the Thuringian Industrial Exhibition for his designs. They were considered to be among the best scientific instruments in Germany. By this point he had about 20 people working under him with his business still growing.

1866 The Zeiss workshop sold the 1,000th microscope.

1872 Zeiss joined up with physicist Ernst Abbe. Their combined efforts lead to the discovery of the Abbe sine condition. In theory, the Abbe sine condition could greatly improve how well lenses could be made, but no type of glass was strong enough to withstand a full test. Abbe then met Otto Schott, a 30 year old glass chemist who had just received his doctorate.

1886 They collaborated to produce a new type of glass that could fully use the Abbe sine condition which enabled a new class of microscope: the apochromatic (often abbreviated 'apo'). Zeiss used water immersion to form a compensating eyepiece which produced images with little or no color distortion.

1888 Carl Zeiss died of natural causes on 3 December. His son had entered the business with him but retired soon after Carl Zeiss's death.

1889 The German business was incorporated as the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung; it gained an international reputation for the manufacture of optical instruments of all kinds.

By 1901 was represented in London by Carl Zeiss (London) Ltd

Between WWI and WWII was represented in London by Carl Zeiss (London)


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