Entrepreneur, Citizen, and Philanthropist
The Robert Bosch Stiftung was named after one of the greatest German entrepreneurs of the 20th century. Robert Bosch was also a liberal democrat who, as a citizen and benefactor, took up the social challenges of his era. He was one of the first employers in Germany to introduce the eight-hour day. He supported educational opportunities for citizens and was also politically active in support of Franco-German reconciliation and against anti-Semitism. The example he set as a responsible citizen continues to influence the Foundation’s activities today through his mission and establishment of the Foundation.
Born in Albeck near Ulm on September 23, 1861, as the eleventh of twelve children, Bosch was anything but a "typical" entrepreneur. Robert Bosch began to make his mark in the early years of the 20th century with his ideas on entrepreneurialism and philanthropy and with his political commitment. He wanted to make a contribution to society as a citizen and founder. Robert Bosch died on March 12, 1942, and was buried at Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Stuttgart.
Following his apprenticeship as a precision mechanic, he worked for a number of companies in Germany and abroad. On November 15, 1886, he opened his “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering” in Stuttgart. This marked the beginnings of a global company.
One year later, Bosch built the world’s first magneto ignition device for the internal combustion engine. This device formed the basis of the company’s fast development: business expanded rapidly as a result of growing motorization around the world.
By the turn of the century Bosch had expanded his operations abroad, initially to Britain in 1898 and later to other European countries. By 1913 the company had offices in America, Asia, Africa, and Australia and was generating 88 percent of its turnover outside Germany.
"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)
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.
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.
The liberal democrat
As a humanist who also believed that a healthy workplace would promote his company’s good performance, Robert Bosch was concerned with his associates’ health and well-being from the very beginning.
"Anyone who seeks his way in life with integrity and always remains true to his conscience deserves our respect, whether he be with us or against us." (quoted in: “Sei Mensch und ehre Menschenwürde”, Aufsätze, Reden und Gedanken von Robert Bosch, 1950)
Bosch spent a portion of his company’s growing revenues on social initiatives early on. During the First World War, he donated the lion’s share of profits earned with armament contracts to charitable causes.
After the end of World War I, Robert Bosch decided to play an active part in building Germany’s first democracy: He supported the "Deutsche Liga für den Völkerbund" (German Federation for the League of Nations) and became a founding member of the "Bund der Erneuerung des Reiches" (Federation for the Renewal of the Empire), which aimed to stabilize the republic on the basis of the Weimar Constitution.
His engagement with European politics focused on reconciliation between Germany and France, which he supported in a variety of ways, financially and with strong personal dedication. He believed that Germany’s reconciliation with France would be the key to lasting peace in Europe.
Robert Bosch was critical of National Socialism. He supported the resistance against Hitler and helped Jews by emplying them ot donating money for their emigration. Carl Goerdeler, whom the 20 July 1944 anti-Hitler conspirators intended to become the future German chancellor, was given a consultancy contract in 1937. He maintained contact with the German resistance with the knowledge and support of Robert Bosch and the "Bosch Circle". However, the company also employed forced laborers during the war.
The commited citizen and benefactor
In 1910, Robert Bosch donated one million marks to Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences, thereby embarking on his "outstanding career as a philanthropist", as Theodor Heuss, who later became the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany, wrote in his 1946 biography "Robert Bosch: His Life and Achievements".
Both in directing his company and with regard to his foundation, endowments and other public activities, Robert Bosch always aimed to contribute to improving people’s conditions of life and play a part in shaping society and the state.
Robert Bosch’s aim was to support institutions and organizations he considered suitable to put his ideas into practice. He wanted to motivate others to use their own capabilities to respond to the challenges of the time. Rather than substituting for others, he preferred to inspire them to act themselves, an approach that also informed his attitude to government.
Bosch sought neither honors nor public acclaim for his philanthropic activities. His prime concern was to provide practical support, prompted by a sense of civic duty "to make his growing wealth bear fruit for public welfare in the widest sense".
Robert Bosch in the pharmacy of the hospital, on the right the pharmacist Mr. Meng.
Mission and establishment of the Foundation
Robert Bosch died in Stuttgart on March 12, 1942. He was 80 years old. Prior to his death, he clearly expressed his vision for the long-term development of his business and philanthropic work.
"It is my intention, apart from the alleviation of all kinds of hardship, to promote the moral, physical and intellectual development of the people." This was Robert Bosch’s message to Vermögensverwaltung Bosch GmbH (VVB), the company he had founded in the course of drawing up his will in 1921.
Between 1962 and 1964, the executors found a forward-looking way of reconciling the commercial and charitable objectives of the company founder. Vermögensverwaltung Bosch acquired the shares and simultaneously waived the concomitant right to vote, which was transferred to the newly founded Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, which held an 0.01% interest in Robert Bosch GmbH.
The VVB was renamed Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH in 1969. For their part, the heirs acted in the spirit of the founder, using the vast majority of the inheritance for their own charitable foundations. In his foundation guidelines, Robert Bosch cited examples of how his philanthropic vision should be realized: "Health, education, training, support for gifted children, international reconciliation and the like…"
The statute of the Robert Bosch Stiftung follows these injunctions and states as the foundation’s main purpose public health care. Other purposes include: international understanding, welfare, education, the arts and culture, and research and teaching in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.