Robert Bosch: Entrepreneur, Citizen, and Philanthropist

The Entrepreneur

"I was always plagued by fears that someone would check my products and prove that I had made something of inferior quality. That is why I have always sought to only release work that has passed all objective tests, in other words, that is crème-de-la-crème."
Robert Bosch, 1918, Principles

Robert Bosch opened his "workshop for precision mechanics and electrical engineering" in Stuttgart on November 15, 1886. In the early years, he mainly built and sold electrical equipment like telephone systems and remote electrical water-level indicators. At first, this small-scale business was rather a hit-and-miss affair. In 1887 Bosch made a decisive improvement to an unpatented magneto produced by the Deutz engineering works, an innovation that brought him his first financial success. The device was used to generate an electric spark that ignited a mixture of gases in a (stationary) combustion engine. In 1887 Bosch became the first person to integrate a magneto into a motor vehicle engine, thereby solving one of the greatest technical problems of the nascent automobile industry.

By the turn of the century Bosch had expanded his operations abroad, initially to Britain in 1898 and later to other European countries. The high-voltage magneto developed by his employee Gottlob Honold in 1902 proved the final breakthrough for the humble magneto. The company opened offices in the United States in 1906, and its first US factory four years later. By 1913 the company had offices in America, Asia, Africa, and Australia and was generating 88 percent of its turnover outside Germany. After the First World War, Bosch's auto-related innovations followed one another in quick succession, including the diesel injection system he developed in 1927. In response to the global depression of the late 1920s, Robert Bosch also initiated a comprehensive program for modernizing his company and diversifying its activities. In the space of just a few years he managed to turn the company from a producer of hand-crafted auto parts into a globally operating electrical engineering corporation.

From the very beginning, Bosch was particularly keen for his staff to receive vocational training. Aware of his social responsibilities as an entrepreneur, he was one of the first employers in Germany to introduce the eight-hour working day in 1906. Other exemplary welfare measures for his workers were to follow. Robert Bosch was loath to benefit financially from the armament contracts he had received during the First World War, so he donated several million marks to charity.

Under the Nazis the company was forced to take on armaments contracts again, and it even used forced labor during the Second World War. In 1937, Robert Bosch changed his firm from a stock corporation into a limited liability company to prevent external manipulation of his company and vouchsafe its independence.

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