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Corporate history

Cars and beyond

1926–1945

10 mins read

Bosch negotiated the rapids of economic crisis and National Socialist diktats with innovative strength and endurance till the second world war posed renewed immense challenges.

Drawing of a fridge, Bosch logo in the foreground

Diesel-injection pump — the second linchpin

Many years in the making, in 1927 an innovation came to fruition that would last right up to this day — the diesel-injection pump. This was the reaction of Bosch to the further development of diesel engines, which in contrast to gasoline engines required no magneto ignition. Initially used only in trucks, the first diesel-injection pump for cars went to market in 1936.

A diesel-injection pump for trucks (1933)
A diesel-injection pump for trucks (1933)
The Feuerbach plant remains the home of diesel technology production to the current day. The picture shows an associate drilling a pump housing, 1935.
The Feuerbach plant remains the home of diesel technology production to the current day. The picture shows an associate drilling a pump housing, 1935.

More strings to the bow — new lines of business

A major crisis in the German automotive industry led the automotive supplier Bosch to rethink its product portfolio from 1926 on. This inspired a combination of strategies that had proved successful in the past — the improvement of products and developing them to series production stage, as with power tools and thermotechnology, in tandem with entirely new endeavors, such as radio and television technology.

The Bosch fridge, launched in 1933, was meant to be affordable enough for more households to buy.
The Bosch fridge, launched in 1933, was meant to be affordable enough for more households to buy.
Music on the road was no longer an elusive dream when Bosch and Blaupunkt engineers brought Europe’s first car radio to the series production stage in 1932.
Music on the road was no longer an elusive dream when Bosch and Blaupunkt engineers brought Europe’s first car radio to the series production stage in 1932.
Bosch founded the current division in 1932 with the acquisition of the thermotechnology section of Hugo Junkers.
Bosch founded the current division in 1932 with the acquisition of the thermotechnology section of Hugo Junkers.

Power tools

A Bosch hammer drill in use (1936)

Hair-trimming machines and hammer drills

The Bosch engineer Hermann Steinhart encountered a device in his test workshop in 1927 that immediately fascinated him. The “Forfex” had an integrated motor in its handle. This opened up numerous new possibilities. Steinhart’s department initially brought the Forfex to the series production stage before developing the concept over the following years to create the first hammer drills. The team used the production facilities in the Bosch plants as a test facility.

Photo: A Bosch hammer drill in use (1936)

Allied excellence — production with a strong partner

Almost ten years after the end of the war, foreign sales had only climbed back up to 34 percent of the total. High transportation costs and customs barriers led Bosch to try out alternatives. In France, the United Kingdom, and Italy, the search commenced for partners for local production, and in Australia and Japan partner companies manufactured products under Bosch license. By 1932, foreign sales had risen to 55 percent.

In 1931, Bosch founded a joint venture with the local automotive supplier C.A. Vandervell as a manufacturing base in London to serve the U.K. market.
In 1931, Bosch founded a joint venture with the local automotive supplier C.A. Vandervell as a manufacturing base in London to serve the U.K. market.
The manager of Robert Bosch Supply and Service Pty Ltd. in Melbourne, August Hoette, also started manufacturing spark plugs in Australia under Bosch license.
The manager of Robert Bosch Supply and Service Pty Ltd. in Melbourne, August Hoette, also started manufacturing spark plugs in Australia under Bosch license.

FESE

FESE home television receiver (1938)

Pioneering technology

Together with the Scottish pioneer of television, John Logie Baird, and the companies Zeiss Ikon and Loewe, Bosch founded Fernseh AG (FESE) in 1929. Years of research finally reaped initial major successes. FESE supplied the first electronic recording devices for the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 and, in that same year, presented the first “home television receivers.” During the war, FESE was commanded for military purposes to help develop a bomb with a built-in camera that could be controlled remotely via a television image. The end of the war halted the project during the test phase.

Photo: FESE home television receiver (1938)

Drawing of a worker at a machine.

Gasoline injection for aircraft engines and television technology

When the National Socialists assumed power, this also presented Bosch with major challenges. The regime ordered research and development of gasoline-injection technology for aircraft engines and initiated the construction of new plants. Television technology in particular became the focus of military interest. The company’s foreign sales reached a low of nine percent in 1939.

Even if the National Socialists pursued a policy of economic autarky, Bosch continued to sell its products worldwide, such as in Tianjin, China, pictured here (1938).
Even if the National Socialists pursued a policy of economic autarky, Bosch continued to sell its products worldwide, such as in Tianjin, China, pictured here (1938).
A Bosch gasoline-injection pump on an aircraft engine (1941)
A Bosch gasoline-injection pump on an aircraft engine (1941)

Armaments and forced labor

With the start of the second world war, Bosch switched its operations to military production again. The military was so heavily motorized by that point that the company’s automotive activities were allowed to continue. As was the case throughout German industry, the associates called up for military action were replaced by forced laborers from the occupied territories, some of whom were forced to live and work in inhumane conditions.

The processing of raw materials for production commenced in the Feuerbach metal plant in 1909. This picture shows associates casting light metal in 1942.
The processing of raw materials for production commenced in the Feuerbach metal plant in 1909. This picture shows associates casting light metal in 1942.
Female workers manufacturing ignition coils in the Stuttgart plant (1944)
Female workers manufacturing ignition coils in the Stuttgart plant (1944)

Resistance and protecting the Jews

On the other hand, the Bosch company management actively supported resistance to the National Socialist regime. At its core was Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who had been appointed as an advisor to the company. Persecuted Jews were also employed to save them from being deported to concentration camps, or were supported financially to assist their emigration.

In 1970, the Israeli ambassador Idan Avner (center) honored the Bosch manager Hans Walz (left) with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” on behalf of the Yad Vashem Israeli memorial for his efforts to aid persecuted Jews during the Nazi era.
In 1970, the Israeli ambassador Idan Avner (center) honored the Bosch manager Hans Walz (left) with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” on behalf of the Yad Vashem Israeli memorial for his efforts to aid persecuted Jews during the Nazi era.

The end

During the war, the Allies repeatedly bombed Bosch production facilities. Robert Bosch would not live to witness how parts of his factories were razed to the ground, as he died in 1942. He had left clear instructions to his successors on how to run the factory named after him.

Large parts of the Feuerbach metal plant were destroyed during a 1944 air raid. Production was moved out step-by-step into rural areas.
Large parts of the Feuerbach metal plant were destroyed during a 1944 air raid. Production was moved out step-by-step into rural areas.
The disastrous bombing attack in September 1944 toppled the symbolic Bosch factory tower.
The disastrous bombing attack in September 1944 toppled the symbolic Bosch factory tower.

Robert Bosch: The man, the employer, the visionary