The Life of Robert Bosch


Robert Bosch was born on September 23, 1861, in Albeck near Ulm, in southern Germany, the eleventh of twelve children. His parents belonged to the upper class of farmers in the region. His father, a freemason, was unusually well-educated for someone of his social status, and placed special importance on a good education for his children. From 1869 to 1876, Robert Bosch attended the Realschule (secondary-technical school) in Ulm, and then completed a three-year apprenticeship as a precision mechanic.


Between 1879 and 1886, Bosch worked for a range of companies in Germany, the U.S.A. (at Thomas Edison), and the U.K. (at Siemens Brothers), where he was mostly involved in manufacturing electrical equipment. Bosch learned about bookkeeping from his older brother Karl, who owned a gas and water installation company in Cologne. During the winter semester of 1883/84, he also attended lectures at Stuttgart Polytechnic in order to overcome his fear of technical terminology.



On November 15, 1886, Robert Bosch opened the "Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering" in Stuttgart. He opted for Stuttgart due to the city's economic prospects and due to the fact that his fiancée lived in nearby Obertürkheim. At the outset, Robert Bosch focused on constructing and installing all types of electrical equipment, including telephone installations and remote electrical water-level indicators. The operating capital of 10,000 marks that Robert Bosch had collected from his own savings and an inheritance from his father was soon used up. Only a bank loan, for which his relatives stood surety, kept the company afloat. Robert Bosch invested most of the company's modest earnings in new machines.


In 1887, at the request of a customer, Bosch manufactured his first magneto ignition device, which was based on a product made by Deutz, an engine manufacturer in Cologne. Bosch made key improvements to the design of the magneto and achieved his first economic success with this product. The purpose of magneto ignition was to generate the electric spark needed to cause the air-fuel mixture in a stationary internal-combustion engine to explode.


In 1897, Bosch was the first to adapt a magneto ignition device to a vehicle engine. In developing a reliable ignition system, he solved one of the greatest technical problems faced by the automotive industry in its formative years. The innovation also represented the first chapter in the success story of Bosch as an automotive supplier. In 1901, Bosch was already in a position to open his own factory, employing 45 associates.


Installation, maintenance, and repair work on electrical equipment and systems secured the companies sales. In this respect, Bosch benefited from the electrification of Stuttgart brought about by the industrial age. One product in particular quickly became a hero product of the young company – the magneto ignition device.


Bosch began expanding his business into other European countries in 1898 – initially in the U.K. and then, in other European countries including France, Austria, and Hungary. Bosch opened his first sales office in the U.S. in 1906 and his first factory there in 1912. By 1913, the company was selling its products on every continent, and generated some 88% of its sales outside Germany. The outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 was an unmitigated disaster for Bosch. The vast majority of the companies key foreign markets vanished and most of Germany's wartime enemies seized not only the companies tangible assets, but also its industrial property rights, patents, and brands.


After the First World War, Bosch launched a whole range of innovations for automotive technology onto the market – the electric horn in 1921, the windshield wiper in 1926, and diesel injection and the pneumatic power brake system in 1927. Under pressure from the economic crisis of the mid-1920s, which hit the automotive industry particularly hard in 1926, Robert Bosch instigated a comprehensive process of modernisation and diversification in order to raise productivity and reduce dependency on the automotive industry. In only a few years, he succeeded in turning his company from a small automotive supplier into a modern and multinational electrical engineering group.



In 1937, Bosch restructured the company as a private limited company. He had established his will and testament, in which he wished that the earnings of the company should be allocated to charitable causes. At the same time, his will sketched the outlines of the corporate constitution which was formulated by his successors in 1964 and is still valid today.



Bosch died on the 12th of March, 1942 (aged 80).


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