Robert Bosch

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.

Robert Bosch Porträt
Robert Bosch GmbH, Historische Kommunikation

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.

The entrepreneur

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.

Robert Bosch and employees
Photo: Bosch

"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.

Robert Bosch being cheered
Photo: Robert Bosch GmbH, Historische Kommunikation

"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 Robert Bosch Hospital
Photo: Robert Bosch GmbH, Historische Kommunikation

Robert Bosch in the pharmacy of the hospital, on the right the pharmacist Mr. Meng.

The most important foundations and endowments

Robert Bosch donates 1 million marks to Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences.

Robert Bosch donates 100,000 marks to the city of Stuttgart for World War I relief. Bosch sets up "Kriegshilfe von Handel und Industrie", a trade and industry-led war aid project with a fund of 300,000 marks and establishes a war hospital in Bosch factory buildings.

Robert Bosch founds "Homöopathisches Krankenhaus GmbH", a homeopathic hospital, with a donation of 400,000 marks. The "Schwäbische Siedlungsverein e.V.", a housing association, is awarded 1 million marks to create sanitary social housing.

Robert Bosch donates around 20 million marks for charitable purposes, including 13 million marks for the construction of the Neckar Canal. The interest from the Stiftung Neckarkanal, the foundation established for the project, is donated to the city of Stuttgart to alleviate social deprivation. An association for the advancement of gifted children receives 2 million marks, and the "Verein Homöopathisches Krankenhaus", a homeopathic hospital association, receives 2.4 million marks for the construction of a hospital.

The "Haus der Freundschaft" (House of Friendship) in Istanbul, Turkey, is built with the help of a donation from Robert Bosch. The "Hochschule für Politik", an educational project for a university of political science inspired by Friedrich Naumann, receives financial support.

Robert Bosch donates 300,000 marks to the "Deutsche Liga für den Völkerbund" (German Federation for the League of Nations) founded by Matthias Erzberger. Bosch contributes 50 percent of the funding to establish the "Verein zur Förderung der Volksbildung" (Association for the Advancement of Adult Education), which will later become the German adult education movement. Esslingen Mechanical Engineering College receives 250,000 marks for an extension, and the Arts and Crafts School is granted 80,000 marks for the award of scholarships.

From 1920 onwards, Robert Bosch introduces a range of social benefits for Bosch employees and their families.

Robert Bosch donates 200,000 marks to the "Zentralleitung für Wohltätigkeit" (Central Administration for Charitable Work) for emergency aid in Württemberg.

After the death of Karl E. Markel, Bosch grants an endowment to the foundation established in his name for the advancement of gifted children.

The "Robert Bosch Krankenhaus Stiftung", a hospital foundation, receives 5.5 million marks to build a homeopathic hospital in Stuttgart. The same year marks the start of support for Jewish charities through the "Walz-Hilfe" organization. Financial aid is also given to the "Deutsche Freiheits-, Widerstands- und Erneuerungsbewegung" (German Movement for Freedom, Resistance and Renewal). Bosch establishes the "Sonderkonto Forschungs- und Studienhilfe", a special fund providing financial support for research and education.

Between 1938 and 1940, Hans Walz donates substantial sums to Karl Adler of the "Jüdische Mittelstelle", an organization in Stuttgart that helps Jews emigrate from fascist Germany. The Bosch factories provide refuge to victims of racist and political persecution by the National Socialists.

On April 28, Robert Bosch officially opens the Robert-Bosch-Krankenhaus in Stuttgart.

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.

Charter Robert Bosch Stiftung
Photo: Robert Bosch GmbH

"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.