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Robert Bosch starts his apprenticeship

Portrait of 20-years-old company founder Robert Bosch, made in 1881

The young Robert Bosch loved animals and plants. He grew up at his parents’ inn in the Swabian Jura, surrounded by a brewery, livestock farming, and 11 siblings.

Nature or mechanics?

Eight-years-old Robert Bosch, photographed with his four years younger sister in the year 1869
Robert Bosch with his sister Elisabeth, 1869

Spending his formative years in such a rural idyll, a lot of his attention was focused on nature. Perhaps he would have made a good biologist, but the young Robert was also interested in classic craftsmanship. “My father once asked me if I was interested in becoming a precision mechanic, and I said that I was.”

The precision mechanic and optical instrument maker

His father, Servatius Bosch, then sent the 15-year-old Robert to start an apprenticeship with an Ulm-based master mechanic named Maier. However, there were limits to the young apprentice’s enthusiasm, as he later recounted: “The apprenticeship I served was bad enough — not only did my master seldom show his face in the workshop, he did not even encourage learning.” Robert was not even permitted to criticize an old, unusable file on one occasion. If it’s lasted 12 years, said Maier, why would it suddenly stop working?

Learning lessons from the apprenticeship

The 23-years-old mechanic Robert Bosch who later founded a company, in 1884
Young mechanic Robert Bosch, 1884

Bosch soon realized that he would have to do his learning elsewhere, and he did. Whether bookkeeping in his elder brother’s shop, or electrical engineering with industrial pioneer Edison in the U.S., Bosch garnered a rich bank of experience that his apprenticeship could never have given him. His bad experience also had further-reaching consequences. As an industrialist, Bosch established an apprenticeship department that gave young people an opportunity to get the kind of solid training he never had.

Dietrich Kuhlgatz

Since 1998 I have been at Bosch. I am deputy head of the Historical Communications department, working as spokesperson and researcher. I am in charge of product history requests, take care of contacts to technology and transportation museums, and I am in charge of history-related topics in Asia Australia, and Africa.
Before joining Bosch, I studied in history and philosophy at Universities of Konstanz and Hamburg. After graduating, I was editor of a scientific journal and research associate at Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin.

Picture of Dietrich Kuhlgatz

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