The Robert Bosch Stiftung bears the name of one of the most successful German entrepreneurs of the 20th century. With his understanding of entrepreneurship, philanthropic activities, and political engagement, Robert Bosch made an impact even in his time. He also recognized early on that a constantly evolving world requires new solutions and methods to keep pace. Learn more about the innovator Robert Bosch and how he set an example of responsible citizenship that continues to shape the work of the Robert Bosch Stiftung today.
Robert Bosch was a liberal democrat who, as a citizen and philanthropist, took up the social challenges of his time. His engagement was multifaceted. He was among the first in Germany to introduce the eight-hour workday for employees. He promoted educational opportunities for the general public. And he was politically engaged in support of Franco-German reconciliation and against anti-Semitism.
Robert Bosch – “father” of the company
Robert Bosch – the motivator
Robert Bosch - the sponsor
The eleventh of twelve children, Robert Bosch was born on September 23, 1861, in Albeck near Ulm in the Swabian Alps. As a company founder, Bosch was not just a businessman, he also wanted to contribute to the community as a citizen and benefactor. Robert Bosch died on March 12, 1942, and was buried in Stuttgart's Waldfriedhof cemetery.
After his apprenticeship as a precision mechanic, Robert Bosch worked for various companies, both in Germany and abroad. The Bosch Group, which is long since a global player, got its start on November 15, 1886, when Robert Bosch opened his "Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering" in Stuttgart.
One year later, Bosch built the first low-voltage magneto ignition device for internal combustion engines. This device set in motion the meteoric rise of his company. As the world became motorized, the business grew rapidly. Power tools and ignitions were at the core of the company from the start. But Robert Bosch was also quick to respond to the evolution of diesel engines, which did not require a magneto ignition device. In 1927, the diesel injection pump went into series production at Bosch.
Even before the turn of the century, Bosch was expanding business abroad, first to the UK in 1898 and then to other European countries. By 1913, the company had subsidiaries in the US, Asia, Africa, and Australia, and 88 percent of its sales were outside of Germany.
From the beginning, Bosch was particularly concerned with the training and development of his employees. Deeply aware of his social responsibility, the entrepreneur was one of the first in Germany to introduce an eight-hour workday as early as 1906. Further exemplary social benefits for employees followed.
In 1937, Robert Bosch converted the stock corporation into a limited liability company (GmbH). This aimed to prevent outside influence on the company and to preserve its independence.
"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)
The liberal democrat
Robert Bosch always concerned himself with the health and well-being of his employees. This was not only in keeping with his humanist worldview, but also with his conviction that employee satisfaction and well-being are good for a company's performance.
From early on, Bosch used the company's growing profits to foster social responsibility.
He donated most of the profits earned in the armaments business during the First World War to charitable causes. At the end of the war, he chose to play an active role in building Germany's first democracy. He supported the "German League for the League of Nations" and became a founding member of the "League for the Renewal of the Reich," which aimed to stabilize the republic on the basis of the Weimar constitution.
At the center of his European political commitment was Franco-German reconciliation, which he promoted in many ways, both financially and though personal initiatives.
Bosch saw reconciliation with France as the key to lasting peace in Europe.
Robert Bosch was critical of the National Socialist regime. He supported the resistance against Hitler and helped those of the Jewish faith who were persecuted by hiring them or donating money so they could emigrate. Carl Goerdeler, who had been given a consulting contract by Bosch since 1937, established contact with the German resistance through him and the "Bosch Circle." After the start of World War II, Goerdeler became an influential member of the resistance and was set to become chancellor had the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944, succeeded. As everywhere in the country, however, employees at Bosch who were called up to serve in the war were replaced by forced laborers from occupied territories.
"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)
The committed citizen and benefactor
In 1910, Robert Bosch's donation of one million marks to the Technical University of Stuttgart marked the beginning of "his utterly incomparable patronage,” as Theodor Heuss, who later became the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, wrote in his 1946 biography "Robert Bosch – Life and Achievements.”
As with the business activities of his company, Robert Bosch's foundations, donations, and other public activities were intended to help improve the living conditions of his time and to shape society and the state. His support aimed to enable students and others to use their skills to respond to current challenges. Regarding the state, his aim was to kindle the initiative of others, not to step into their shoes.
He himself wanted neither honor nor fame for his philanthropic actions. The focus for Robert Bosch was on practical support, motivated by his sense of civic duty to "make a growing fortune beneficial for public welfare in the broadest sense."
The most important foundations and endowments
Robert Bosch in the pharmacy of the hospital, on the right the pharmacist Mr. Meng.
Will and mandate
Robert Bosch died in Stuttgart on March 12, 1942, at the age of 80. He had previously made far-sighted arrangements for the continuation of his entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities.
"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.
"My intention is not only to alleviate all kinds of hardship, but above all to work toward raising the moral, health, and intellectual powers of the people," was how Bosch described his mandate to the trust administration company Vermögensverwaltung Bosch GmbH (VVB). Robert Bosch had founded this company as part of his will in 1921. The executors sought a lasting solution for the entrepreneurial, familial, and charitable concerns to which Robert Bosch had committed them in his will. Vermögensverwaltung Bosch acquired the company shares belonging to the estate and at the same time waived the associated voting rights, which were transferred to the newly founded Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG (Robert Bosch Industrial Equities) that held a 0.01 percent stake in Robert Bosch GmbH.
In 1969, Vermögensverwaltung Bosch changed its name to Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH. The heirs acted in the spirit of the founder, using the vast majority of the proceeds for their own charitable foundations, such as the Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology (IKP), founded by Robert Bosch's daughter, or the Irmgard Bosch Education Center, founded by his daughter-in-law. In his guidelines, Robert Bosch had given examples of how his charitable intentions could be realized: "Health, education, support for the gifted, reconciliation of peoples, and the like..."
The statutes of the Robert Bosch Stiftung follow these ideas and continue to list public healthcare and the improvement of public education as core tasks. Other goals of the foundation are international understanding, public welfare, education and upbringing, art and culture, humanities, and social and natural sciences in research and teaching.