modern Germany in 1913
Nr. 008 - KARL ZEISS
From "L'Allemagne au Travail" by Victor CAMBON Ingénieur des Arts et Manufactures (1911/1913)
In this excerpt we discover the origin of the prestigious optics firm of Jena. Besides its very high technical skill, one will be surprised by its human management, amazing in consideration of a still feudal society and country. The Dr. Abbe's labor management seems to have been more human than the one set in USA by his contemporary Frederick W. Taylor, .
Modest beginnings of a powerful industry. - The big telescopes. - Of lilliputian machines . - One year to polish a lens. - The Karl Zeiss foundation and doctor Abbe statutes. - The Karl Zeiss firm belongs to itself ! - Scientist, philosopher and philanthropist.
1846, got settled to Iena a young and poor mechanic who got, thanks to his cleverness,
to make small repairs to phisics instruments of the university; business little
lucrative, it seems, since, in 1848, year of revolution, one sees him working
to transform into rifles, old flint lock muskets, of the national guard of Weimar-Saxony.
The returning to quietness, the mechanic got back to the academic devices and founded besides, a small shop to manufacture optics instruments. Such was the starting point of Karl Zeiss.
A factory which covers a whole district, that either employs more then two thousand workers, men and women, three hundred eighty clercs or technicians, and, above of them, forty doctors, mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, engineers; of devices and products that make premium all over the world, with a so intense demand that even at the present industrial crisis (1909/1910), the firm is forced to ask its personnel of overtime. Such is the point of arrival.
Nothing more instructive than to visit the establishment Karl Zeiss, to follow its history and to study its astonishing constitution.
Let's enter in it: nowhere could one be better welcomed. Saying what is manufactured there is as superfluous as to tell what one forges at Krupp's works. But Zeiss telescopes, longues-vues, measuring instruments and microscopes never threatened anyone's life.
It builds instruments enlarging a million times, the microbes friends or enemy of the humanity (some microscopes even enlarge 1600 diameters, that is close to 3 millions times) and it also builds the fine astronomical lens that put the earth to 1 kilometer from its satellite.
The assembly hall of these telescopes is a complete and isolated observatory, of which the roofing, in plates of metal sheets, is removable by rolling on wheels. There wered assembled and tested the biggest known optics devices. The firm not only undertakes manufacturing astronomical observation devices, but also the complete installation of domes which shelter them.
It enters in the setting of optics instruments all sorts of metals or alloys: brass, copper, bronze, tin, zinc, lead, aluminum,. All is made in the factory. From the doorstep of the foundry, one is hit by arrangements adopted to remove to this work what it can have of deleterious, notably with the help of mobile hoods, ingeniously articulated.
Rough cast parts are freed by saw, then fettled by emery wheel. I notice once besides in these shops, the progressive replacement of files by the millstones.
Does one enters then in a succession of shops where function hundreds small machine-tools; it is Lilliput after Brobdingnac (to see Gulliver).
A whole main building is dedicated to the woodwork of the instruments cases and boxes. Sawdust collecting by exhaustion is there absolute. We go to the shops of embossing, then of threading and calibration metallic pieces; there is the most precise existing tools; they work to the hundredth of millimeter! Each of these instruments is a mechanical masterpiece.
Here is a machine to thread screw on steel stems of diameter of a hairpin; another sizes automatically gears of some millimeters of diameter, according to a epicyclo´dal section that one recognizes mathematically exact to the magnifying glass. Elsewhere, there are eight multi-functional lathes; they seize, a log of brass, sever it in small discs and, of every small disc, manufacture a complete ocular of field glasses, included thread. The operation lasts thirty seconds; there is only to watch them acting.
Where do these machines come from? Some from America, most from Berliner manufacturers, and a number of the Zeiss shops themselves. Germans don't make only junk. (l'Angleterre was on one'sguard against the German cheap goods by imposing the "made in Germany" stamp which soon became a high quality reference).
One opens me a carefully closed door. Objects are arranged on shelves; each bears a label, an inscription, a number; there are twenty-five thousands of them. This museum is the models collection of the firm. If a fire consumed this side of the factory, it would annihilate the labor of one half-century of the most beautiful intelligences of the country.
Up to here we were in the metals. Here we are now in the real element of the firm: the glass. All people who are in the industry heard speaking of the Jena glass; they know for instance, that a boiler's tube of water level, that one asks in Jena glass, costs 20% more than in plain glass.
To explain what is Jena glass, a short history of the Karl Zeiss factory is necessary. It is necessary to know that in 1866, Zeiss, who was not a scientist, attached to him a professor of the Jena university, the doctor Abbe. He had found a man of genius. Abbe either completed, rather, reversed the known theories on the optics and made of his calculations the starting point of a system of new manufacturing of microscopes. Zeiss had the rare merit, without understanding anything to his associate's transcendent works, to let him doing it.
Abbe, through his researches and the setting to practice their results, was constantly stopped by the imperfection of glass that the trade provided him.
As well as Leverrier fixed place and measurements of a planet without having seen it, Abbe constructed hypothetical microscopes to which it only missed the raw material to achieve them; and vainly asked to manufacturers from all over the world glasses complying with his specifications.
Once, in short, he found in the person Otto Schott von Witten a doctor of the university of Leipzig, a man who accepted to tempt this manufacture; it was in 1881. Glassware was starting up in 1884; it manufactured, since the beginning, numerous varieties of glasses of baryte, of borax, of phosphoric acid, of zinc, etc., of which qualities of fusibility, of conductivity, of refractivity, of refringency, etc., vary so speaking endlessly. One can compare them to these new alloys of steels and rare metals that changed since some years conditions of mechanics.
The Jena glass is not therefore a uniform special glass; it is a collection of several hundreds of glass varieties, whose secrets hardly cleared walls of the Schott glassworks and the Zeiss factory, that are besides, two coupled but distinct businesses.
In the store where one shows me them, they are in plates, of various sizes; orderly with their numbers, in about hundred racks.
One will grasp to which perfection the Zeiss work reached in blending, trimming and, in short; polishing glasses, prisms and lens, when one will know that one arrives, in their execution, to a precision of a ten-thousandth of millimeter. To be able to appreciate measurements of this order, it was necessary to create a whole set of measing instruments based on the luminous phenomena; of which an additional branch in the factory, the one of infinitesimal measuring devices.
The work of the calibration and the polishing of optics glasses requires much more from the labor than to the mechanical devices: the thickest lensees have 1 meter of diameter (it needs then one year to polish them) and the smallest 1 mm. One calculated that 1 kilogram of these last ones would cost at least 12 millions francs; but those that make them, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would have died before the kilogram would be reached because it would contain more than 300 000 of them.
After workshops, offices: in the drawing office, sixty drawers are occupied all year round; as well as in the Krause factory (the locos factory), They work on racks, and this observation demonstrates that this process is the best because nothing is made in the Zeiss factory without being weighed pros and cons. Such was, by common consent, the characteristic of the intelligence of the doctor Abbe and the tradition he transmitted to his successors.
When, after the visit, one thinks about this stupendous drift of science, of experience, of models of devices, of knacks, of manufacturing secrets, one understands that there is in the world only one Karl Zeiss factory.
But one is not at the end of his astonishments. If one asks to whom all this belongs? To M. Karl Zeiss? he died in 1888. To his heirs? one indemnified them. To the doctor Abbe? not further. To shareholders, to backers? not at all. The Society or, rather the Karl Zeiss Foundation belongs itself to itself. The religion that one professes here is a kind of industrial pantheism which has for decalogue the statutes written and imposed by the only man who had power to do it : doctor Abbe.
I would try to explain, in some words, this extraordinary situation. To every line, one will find obscurities or objections to make. One must admit well that Abbot answers them and that his complicated but logical genius foresaw everything.
After Karl Zeiss' death (1888), his son hardly remained one year with doctor Abbe, who indemnified him and remained single master of the whole business -partially except for the glasswork - But he didn't linger to give up this huge property the the enterprise itself, without making intervene in this donation nor the word nor the thing that one legally denotes under the name of capital. He baptized the given up object of the name Karl Zeiss Foundation and listed compulsory rightful owners. It is the township of Jena, the university, collaborators and workers of the firm, without any especially specified person. It is, so that an association of production whose statutes strictly foresee the goal to pursue: in first line, that science and industry would be intimately bound in the manufacture and, to the commercial point of view, that one aims less at the profits increase as at the constant increase of the manufacture. The Karl Zeiss firm is condemned by his founder to enlarge indefinitely as long as it will achieve profits.
Next to these possessors - or depositories - of the Karl Zeiss Foundation, Abbe wanted that some determined personalities would be in charge of running it; because he is to notice that enterprises of the Foundation are not governed by the trustees, but solely by the statutes. The administration of the Foundation must only look after one thing, the observance of these statutes. Directors of the enterprise are to the number of two to four.
All the personnel - less directors - receives an involvement to profits under the designation of supplement to treatment or salary. The rate depends on the achieved profits, of which the mode of calculation is rigorously foreseen and specified
The exclusion of directors of this sharing is not one of the least extraordinary terms of the act of the doctor Abbe; the motive is the following: the mangement establishes the budget and the balance; it can weigh therefore on them and can make increase profits of which it benefits to the detriment of wages or needs of the enterprise; it is not necessary that it would have this temptation. As corrective, Abbe foresaw important bounties to all person employee in the frim that, by an activity or a special ingenuity, would procure it a profit.
To the merely workers'point of view, the Karl Zeiss Foundation was the reason of passionate discussion, while spontaneously fixing to eight hours daily working . This determination was the consequence of a convicing demonstration made by Abbe in his own workshops, and not. necessarily applicable to others, because it is otherwise a tiresome work to calibrate pieces to the hundredth of millimeter than, for example, to push a dump truck along of a yard.
Whatever it is, it was recognized that the sum of work executed in eight hours, by an average, of several hundred of workers to pieces and during one year, was superior to the one produced in nine hours, previous length of the working day.
But the doctor Abbe pushed his experimentation farther, and, with an irrefutable scientific rigor, he searched and circumscribed between narrow limits the maximum output of the worker, according to such or such work, to such or such feeding, to such or such hygienic conditions; and, on this last point, he arrived to this noteworthy conclusion, that a vast workshop, well heated in winter, well ventilated with pure air, without hard dusts, is as profitable the boss's cash-box as to the worker's health.
In spite of this situation that confines to the ideal toyed by the socialism, it needed some of little that workers got in strike in 1904, because the distribution of 1903 had been less high than the previous. The psychology of crowds is blind and irrational, and one of the most delicate theorems that imposed itself to Abbe at the end of his career was to demonstrate to his personel that an involvement to profits is something else that an unchangeable salary.
If doctor Abbe had waited for his supreme hour to bequeath, under form of will, the Karl Zeiss Foundation and its statutes, it is to believe that difficulties would have surpassed the means to realization it: but it is since the year 1900 that he presided himself to bring into operation his conceptions; so was he his own testamentary executor; and the works succeeded so gorgeously that the number of workers, which was of one thousand in 1900, has more that doubled, that it was necessary to also double the industrial buildings and that orders never reached the present numbers.
The doctor Abb died at the beginning of 1905, to sixty-five years. First-class scientist, as daring man of action, philosopher and clear-sighted psychologist, innovative and generous philanthropist, at he is looked like one of the most eminent personalities of the modern Germany.
His experiences on the human labour, his conferences, his determinations, the statutes of his Foundation, in a word, the exposition of ideas of his whole life, if they are ever gathered, will be one of the most precious monuments of sociology. ............