Robert Bosch (right) in Rotterdam, 1884
History

“... to see the world” - Robert Bosch’s first trip to the U.S. in 1884

23-year old Robert Bosch travels to the U.S.

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At the age of 18, Robert Bosch completed his training as a precision mechanic. However, he was “not at all fond” of his time as a pupil and apprentice, with outdated methods and disinterested master instructors unable to satisfy his thirst for knowledge and curiosity. As a result, he embarked on a series of travels as a journeyman in 1879 following the end of his apprenticeship. He worked at a variety of companies and attended the Stuttgart Polytechnic as a non-registered student for one semester to enhance and expand his knowledge of modern technology.

Robert Bosch — founder of Robert Bosch GmbH, 1881
Robert Bosch — founder of Robert Bosch GmbH, 1881

At the same time, his quest for growth took him from his hometown of Ulm to Germany’s biggest cities and onward to the United States and the United Kingdom, where he worked for the pioneers in electrical engineering – a field that had captured his interest.

“Diary, kept on a voyage from Rotterdam to New York from May 24 to June 5, 1884” – entry on the endpaper.

Entry on the endpaper of Robert Bosch’s diary, 1884
Entry on the endpaper of Robert Bosch’s diary, 1884

On May 24, 1884, Robert Bosch set off for America. In Rotterdam, he boarded the steamship P. Caland. The 23-year-old kept a diary on the voyage to New York, which took a little over two weeks. In it, he wrote his observations on his fellow passengers, described the weather, and recorded his thoughts and expectations regarding his upcoming stay in the land of opportunity. The 36-page journal, in which he jotted down his entries in pencil, was just large enough to last the journey and ends with his description of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York, USA, 1884
Brooklyn Bridge, New York, USA, 1884

Despite its short length, the diary’s insights make it an important source of information and bring key characteristics of its author to light, illustrating young Robert Bosch’s courage, curiosity, keen power of observation, and iron will to use his time in America for his personal and professional development.

Robert Bosch remained in the U.S. until May 1885, working for employers such as Edison Machine Works. Subsequently, he traveled to England to learn about appliance engineering at Siemens Brothers. After seven “travel years,” he settled down in Stuttgart and founded his Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering on November 15, 1886.

First workshop of Robert Bosch, 1886
First workshop of Robert Bosch, 1886

The main reason for Robert Bosch's return to Germany and his decision to live in Stuttgart was his secret engagement in the spring of 1885 to Anna Kayser, who was born in the Stuttgart-area town of Obertürkheim. That year, he sent her his diary.

“I enjoyed your diary. I would so much like to see the sea, but I believe I would be afraid to take a journey by ship. As little fear as I otherwise have, I would be a coward and would not enjoy weathering a storm as you did. By the way, food and eating must play a main role when it comes to activities on the ship, as I gather from your entries.”

Letter from Anna Kayser to Robert Bosch, May 27, 1885.

Nobody knows for sure whether he kept the journal for Anna Kayser. But she took good care of it, leaving it well preserved today.

Robert Bosch’s diary has been in the safekeeping of the company archives ever since the Bosch family loaned it to the Historical Communications department.

Title page of diary of Robert Bosch

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Reading from parts of the diary of Robert Bosch

Learn more about Robert Bosch

Kathrin Fastnacht

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.

Picture of Kathrin Fastnacht

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