Skip to main contentSkip to page footer

Ernst Abbe

Scientist, Entrepreneur and Social Reformer

The name Ernst Abbe (1840-1905) is closely associated with the city of Jena. He was born in 1840 to a working-class family in Eisenach. His high talent was recognized early and both parents and teachers provided him with a very good education. Abbe studied mathematics, physics, astronomy and philosophy in Jena and Göttingen. At the age of about 30, he was appointed associate professor in Jena. The collaboration between Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss in Jena had already begun in 1867. Working on the improvement of microscopes in the Zeiss workshop, with the aim of taking them out of the realm of mere empiricism, the so-called "Pröbelns", Ernst Abbe was faced with a life's work: He finally developed the "new microscopy" - an overall scientific and technical achievement based on calculations, which became the prerequisite for the coming research into micro-organisms.

With his "Theory of Imaging in the Microscope," Ernst Abbe founded scientific optics. Carl Zeiss made Abbe a partner in his company. One year after Zeiss' death, Ernst Abbe became the sole head of the company and even then laid the foundation for the company's success. Ernst Abbe established the Carl Zeiss Foundation, which he made the sole owner of Zeiss-Werke and co-owner of SCHOTT-Werke in 1891. This allowed the company to have a unique constitution: among other things, it provided its workforce with paid vacation, profit sharing, pension rights and the eight-hour day. Ernst Abbe's socio-political reforms were far ahead of his time. "Eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours of being human" - This motto, originated in the 19th century in Great Britain, is also attributed to Abbe. His attitude to life and his dealings with others were based, without distinctions of "rank and person," on integrity, self-discipline and modesty. Ernst Abbe's life's work includes a combination of his scientific knowledge with entrepreneurial possibilities and a high social-ethical standard. He made this available not only to the Carl Zeiss company, but also to the university and not least to the city of Jena - which can still be experienced today. Ernst Abbe died in Jena on January 14, 1905.

(Text: Sigrid Neef; Quellen: Carl Zeiss AG, Wikipedia, Theodor Heuss: Abbe, Ernst Carl. In: Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). Band1)