Even as a young boy, Robert Bosch always had a thirst for knowledge. However, he was never keen on how this knowledge was taught. “I also lacked the necessary patience and ambition,” he would later write in his memoirs. Back then, nothing suggested that Robert Bosch would become a prosperous industrialist with a long-held dream of improving education.
After the first world war, Robert Bosch came to see the value of education. For Robert Bosch, it was more than just the accumulation of knowledge. Education also meant developing the ability “to make the right political decisions and to recognize false doctrines as such.” Led by this principle, Robert Bosch, now a successful entrepreneur, placed education at the center of his endowment activities.
For years, Bosch supported research and teaching activities at the Stuttgart Polytechnic with generous material donations and ideological guidance, opening his company to provide training for young people who had a flair for technology. In 1910, Bosch made his first substantial endowment of one million German marks, equivalent to about 8 percent of the company’s sales. Bosch was a trailblazer in this area, as the man behind one of only three foundations in Württemberg with budgets upwards of one million marks. In 1923, Robert Bosch became the first chairman of the “Vereinigung von Freunden der Universität Stuttgart” (Society of Friends of the University of Stuttgart). The relationship between the university and Robert Bosch GmbH only deteriorated during the Third Reich. Bosch refused to follow the Führerprinzip(leadership principle) of the National Socialist state and stepped down as society chairman in 1935. By that time, Robert Bosch was already all too aware of the false doctrine of National Socialism and had abandoned all hope of steering the ideology in the right direction.
Stuttgart Polytechnic was not the only institute of learning Robert Bosch supported, either. In 1913, a sense of connection with the town of his birth, Albeck, led Robert Bosch to finance one-third of the costs of a new school building to help improve prospects for young people in the area. A hefty sum was also donated to the Esslingen School of Engineering in 1918, as Bosch showed great interest in the cultivation of highly skilled graduates and wanted to help expand the school after the first world war. The project was so important to him that Bosch became a member of the board of trustees and helped decide how the funds would be used.
Learning never stops
Bosch also placed particular emphasis on adult education, as he believed learning was a tool for overcoming social tensions. In Stuttgart, these convictions led him to the “Verein zur Förderung der Volksbildung” (Society to Support Public Education), the precursor to what is now the Stuttgart adult education center. It was formed on May 1, 1918. Bosch announced that he would support the society through annual donations and provide office premises rent-free.
The society had a wide range of different departments: local history, music, theater, a library, fine art, print media and publishing house, and, most importantly, the adult education center. A number of vocational and foreign language courses were taught at the center, but also subjects such as health, politics, history, and economics. The courses were aimed at laying the foundations for “intellectual unity” among the people “across all classes and backgrounds,” as co-founder Theodor Bäuerle once wrote.
Supporting gifted students
Robert Bosch was also a keen proponent of improving access to education for gifted young people from low-income or non-academic backgrounds. In 1916, in the middle of the first world war, Bosch donated two million reichmarks to the recently founded “Verein zur Förderung der Begabten” (Society for the Promotion of the Gifted), which would later provide training loans and personal supervision for scholarship holders. Two years later, the Stuttgart School of Applied Art received an 80,000-mark donation to help provide accommodation allowances and buy teaching materials, pay for study trips, and purchase and realize student designs.
In 1921, Robert Bosch set up “Robert Hilfe” to help the children of Bosch associates killed in action get a better education. “Robert Hilfe” was expanded in 1932 to provide aid to gifted children of less well-off associates. That same year — following the death of Karl E. Markel, a German-English chemist, entrepreneur, and patron — Robert Bosch took over responsibility for financing the Markel-Stiftung trust, which also sponsored gifted young people. Last but by no means least, “Bosch-Jugendhilfe” was set up in 1938 and continues to support gifted young associates and children of associates to this day.
All of Robert Bosch’s endowment activities in the world of education shared the same aim: cultivating people capable of thinking for themselves and making responsible decisions. Bosch saw these activities as the only way of realizing the key principles in his life — strengthening democracy in every aspect and promoting pacifism, tolerance, international understanding, and resistance to inhumane and dictatorial systems.
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.