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Robert Bosch’s eye for innovation

Technology “helps us make the best of our lives”

Robert Bosch sits at a table and demonstrates a small model of an injection pump. A man leans forward and watches.

Robert Bosch was a man of many interests, including nature, agriculture, health, education, and social policy. His biggest passion, though, was technology. Above all, he was drawn to any kind of new technological innovation. As a young precision mechanic, he moved from Ulm in southern Germany to New York in 1884 so that he could follow the progress of technology. He approached the world with a curious and open mind his entire life.

Bosch was often among the first to try out new inventions without prejudice, recognize their potential, and help bring them to the mass market. For example, he was an avid early user of both the telephone and the safety bicycle — the first bike to be made with today’s practical design. At his workshop, Bosch and his mechanics developed important products for the major innovations of the time, such as reliable ignition systems for cars, motorcycles, and aircraft.

Years later, even as a successful entrepreneur, Bosch still sought to pick up on and advance the latest innovations. He maintained an interest in new ideas and products well into old age, receiving detailed briefings on technological aspects from former colleagues. Most of all, he stayed true to one of his core beliefs: “Advances in the development of technology, to the fullest extent of the word, serve to provide the greatest services to mankind. Technology, which is designed and has the capability to help the whole of mankind make the best of their lives and find happiness in life.”

Robert Bosch is standing in the basket of a hot air balloon with four other gentlemen.
Venturing skywards: During a visit to Paris in 1890, Robert Bosch took the opportunity to go up in a hot-air balloon. With aviation still in its infancy at the time, a ride in a balloon was the only way to get a bird’s-eye view of the world.
Robert Bosch with a safety bicycle, taken in a photo studio
Bicycle pioneer: In the late 19th century, bicycles were primarily designed for racing and sports. The high-wheelers of the time were totally unsuitable for everyday use. When low-wheeled “safety bicycles” came along, Robert Bosch ordered one in England and was among the first people to ride around Stuttgart on two wheels. (1890)
Robert Bosch is sitting at his desk, with a telephone next to him on the wall.
Connected by telephone: In 1906, the telephone (on the wall next to the window) was one of the standard items of equipment in the manager’s office at the Stuttgart factory. Robert Bosch had already set up his first telephone line in 1889 – an innovation that was equally unusual and pioneering for a small courtyard-entrance workshop.
Robert Bosch and aviator Hans Grade stand with a group of spectators in front of an airplane
Ready for takeoff: When Hans Grade, one of Germany’s first aviators, brought his “Grade monoplane” to Stuttgart for a demonstration flight in 1911, Robert Bosch was among the guests who inspected the aircraft, which featured Bosch magneto ignition. (Bosch, seen here with a beard and a long coat, stands opposite Grade. The picture was taken at the Cannstatter Wasen park)
Robert Bosch’s driver’s license with photo and signature.
“... is authorized to drive a motor vehicle...”: In the early days of the automobile, anyone who felt capable of driving could get behind the wheel. As the number of vehicles on the road increased, it became necessary to set traffic laws and ultimately make drivers pass a test. Robert Bosch took his exam on September 27, 1906.
Robert Bosch, a woman and a man standing at the side of the road next to a racing car occupied by four racing drivers.
Bosch ignition systems — a success story: Motor racing drew large crowds and was a good way of advertising the new magneto ignition devices. In 1910, Robert Bosch (seen here standing in a white coat) used the Prince Henry Tour to promote his products – and took the opportunity to talk to the daredevil drivers.
Robert Bosch sits at the wheel of a large, open-top car with five passengers.
Avid motorist: “Once you have traveled by motor vehicle,” Robert Bosch wrote to a friend in 1906, “you will soon find horses incredibly boring.” He loved driving cars, as can be seen here during an excursion to the Black Forest with Bosch representatives in 1913.
Robert Bosch on skis on a snow-covered slope.
Pioneer on the slopes: Skiing gained popularity in the late 1890s, having spread from Norway to central Europe. Robert Bosch was one of the first to take up the pastime in Germany. In 1889, he told an English business partner that he was hoping for “good snow” and “longed to go skiing again.” He continued the hobby into old age and is pictured here in the Swabian Jura in 1930.
Robert Bosch and three other men in an exhibition hall next to an exhibit.
Keeping pace with the times: Robert Bosch frequently visited major trade fairs and exhibitions so that he could see the latest innovations for himself. In 1933, he attended the International Motor Show in Berlin. His company naturally had its own booth at the event, and he also looked at competitors’ products with great interest.
Robert Bosch inspects a workpiece made by an apprentice. The young apprentice and two other men look on.
Passing on values: Because he didn’t always have positive experiences during his own apprenticeship, Robert Bosch cared deeply about the quality of occupational training. He wanted to give young people sound knowledge, manual skills, and the drive to constantly improve things. On a visit to the Frankfurt sales house, he took over the task of inspecting an apprentice’s work. (1936)
Robert Bosch and two other gentlemen examine a manufacturing machine.
Keep innovating: Plant manager Paul Grundler explains to Robert Bosch how a new piece of manufacturing equipment works during a tour of the plant in Stuttgart-Feuerbach in 1941. Bosch kept track of the continuous evolution of production processes in order to improve his products at every turn.
Robert Bosch in the driver's cab of a truck, sitting at the wheel, Max Rall leans toward him.
A curious and open mind: The professional association of the automotive industry presented Robert Bosch with a truck for his 80th birthday. He didn’t miss the opportunity to climb inside straight away. His former apprentice Max Rall, who had since become a member of the board of management, was happy to show him the ropes. (1941)

Author: Bettina Simon

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