What would happen if the popularity of his ignition systems started to wane? “How will I employ my staff then?” was the question that Bosch asked himself almost 100 years ago.
From a niche to a linchpin
You should never allow yourself to get too comfortable. Robert Bosch knew that, too, and never rested on his laurels despite the automotive supplier having sold millions of ignition systems for cars by the 1920s. Bosch was also acutely aware of the responsibility he had for his workforce.
Any company with a presence in Hong Kong had their finger on the pulse of what was going on in China. Following the death of Mao Zedong, the powerful founder of the People’s Republic of China, his successor Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1982. He was a moderate politician and backed the economic liberalization of China.
Mayflies and strings to the bow
The solution was to add “more strings to the bow”, as he later put it. From 1910, Bosch explored new products related to cars, lights, starters and windshield wipers and, after the crash in car sales in 1925/26, moved into completely different products that Bosch still markets today, such as household appliances and power tools. In the midst of all that change, a niche product rose to new levels — the diesel engine became successful in cars and Bosch started developing the necessary injection technology in 1922. By November 1927, it was finally ready for series manufacture and the first 1,000 units rolled off the production line.
The company is reinvented
“This product will help reinvent the company,” said Robert Bosch’s daughter Margarete when the company’s new division was launched at the start of the 1930s. Today, it has become the biggest division at Bosch — Diesel Systems.
The use of electronic components in cars was a bold move, but there was scope for things to go wrong. For instance, when the U.S. Chrysler Corporation installed the Bendix Corporation’s Electrojector, an electronically controlled gasoline-injection system, in its Chrysler 300 sedans, the system turned out to be so unreliable in everyday use that all the sedans had to be refitted with conventional carburetors. Despite its almost nine-year head-start over Bosch, Bendix’s system failed. This experience was invaluable for Bosch. Using each other’s patents, the two companies were able to develop their injection-technology expertise. However, Bendix subsequently stopped work on its own solution.
I am the head of Historical Communications at Robert Bosch GmbH, and I work on preserving and communicating our company’s long and multifaceted history. Before joining Bosch in 2007, I was employed for over ten years in various museums in an academic capacity. I also worked freelance in the same field. As a historian and specialist in cultural studies, I want to show that history is far from dusty and lifeless, but rather relevant and exciting.