SCHOTT (1884–2009) - From a glass laboratory to a technology company. An exciting company history

Date: 2 February 2009
SCHOTT, the technology group based in Mainz, Germany, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The glass chemist Otto Schott (1851-1935) founded the company in Jena together with Ernst Abbe and Carl and Roderich Zeiss as “Schott & Associates Glass Technology Laboratory” in 1884.

Today, SCHOTT is an international technology company whose core purpose is to improve how people live and work. Otto Schott is considered by many to be the pioneer of modern glass science and technology.

At an international optics exhibition in London in 1876, the physicist Ernst Abbe stated unequivocally: Further development of the microscope would be subject to strict limitations unless it were possible to cast completely new types of glass with significantly improved optical properties. At that time, Abbe taught at the University of Jena and at the same time was a silent partner of the optical workshop of Carl Zeiss that produced microscopes and other optical instruments. Some years later, the young glass chemist Otto Schott from the town of Witten in Westphalia, Germany, rose to the challenge posed by Abbe. In 1879, he began conducting systematic melting experiments and initiated contact with Ernst Abbe. This resulted in an extremely fruitful collaboration, which branched off into the founding of the “Schott & Associates Glass Technology Laboratory” in Jena in 1884. Otto Schott developed the new glass types that his “associates” Abbe and Zeiss so urgently needed in their optical workshop, and that is how he made a crucial contribution to the worldwide success of the Carl Zeiss company and the German optical industry.

Borosilicate glass was yet another monumental invention of Otto Schott. Resistant to acids and bases, and capable of standing up to heat and severe temperature changes, the new glass was ideally suited for a wide variety of technological applications. At first, SCHOTT used it to produce thermometer glass, laboratory glassware and lamp cylinders. Later, flat glass products and tubes as a primary product for pharmaceutical packaging were added, as were ampoules and syringes, and household glass marketed under the popular brand name “Jenaer Glas”.

The rapidly growing demand for gas lamp cylinders brought SCHOTT its first major business success. Mass production of the lamp cylinders transformed the glass technology laboratory into an industrial company within just a few years. By 1900, its exports already accounted for 50% of sales, and soon there would hardly be a branch of the natural sciences, medicine or industry that did not make use of optical and specialized glass technology products from Jena.

In 1891, the SCHOTT business took on a special legal form of incorporation. At that time, Ernst Abbe made the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung (Carl Zeiss Foundation) – which he had founded two years earlier – the sole owner of the Zeiss business and part owner of the SCHOTT business. When Otto Schott also transferred his shares in the glassworks to the foundation in 1919, the glassworks were in sole possession of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. The foundation’s statute of 1896 guaranteed employees certain social rights that were extraordinary for those times. This formed the basis for the corporate culture at SCHOTT, which was and continues to be characterized by a broad consensus between company management and its employees.

The Jena-based glassworks had been managed by Erich Schott, son of the company founder, since 1927. The end of World War II marked a decisive turning point for the business. To preserve its know-how for the west, American troops took the company’s management and select specialists with them to West Germany in June 1945. This “Odyssey of 41 glassmakers” initially made its way through places in Southern Germany, and finally settled in Mainz in 1952. After the original glass factory in Jena was expropriated, the “41 glassmakers” under the leadership of Erich Schott built a new modern main plant in Mainz, and the foundation-owned enterprise resumed business operations there.

Just as Germany was divided, so was SCHOTT. The now state-owned enterprise in Jena was integrated into the planned socialist economy of the GDR, and became one of the most important specialized glass suppliers in Eastern Europe. In the West, SCHOTT expanded from Mainz to become an international corporate group with production and sales sites in Europe, America and Asia. SCHOTT conquered world markets as one of the leading specialized glass manufacturers with new products, such as glass components for televisions, fiber optics for transmitting light and images, “Zerodur” glass ceramic mirror blanks for space telescopes, “SCHOTT Ceran” brand glass ceramic cooktops and special glass tubes for solar thermal power plants based on parabolic trough technology, as well as innovations in traditional products.

SCHOTT took advantage of Germany’s reunification as an opportunity to reunify the two businesses in West and East, and the old original company in Jena was restructured and integrated into the SCHOTT Group as a modern production site.

Triggered by growing globalization in the world economy, SCHOTT has completed the largest modernization process in its company history in recent years. This included changing the foundation-owned company into a legally independent, non-public stock corporation (2004), transforming a group of mid-size companies into a strategically managed corporation, expanding its worldwide presence with new production and sales sites in all key markets, and focusing on strong core businesses and promising future business fields. The company’s activities in the area of solar power are of special importance. When it comes to receivers for solar power plants based on parabolic trough technology, SCHOTT Solar considers itself to be both the technological and market leader. And in the field of photovoltaics, the company ranks among the very few integrated manufacturers of multicrystalline wafers, cells and modules and is also active in the field of thin-film technology.

SCHOTT is an international technology group that sees its core purpose as the lasting improvement of living and working conditions. To this end, the company has been developing special materials, components and systems for 125 years. The main areas of focus are the household appliances industry, pharmaceuticals, solar energy, electronics, optics and the automotive industry. The SCHOTT Group is present in close proximity to its customers with production and sales companies in all its major markets. The Group’s approximately 17,300 employees generated worldwide sales of approximately 2.2 billion Euros in the fiscal year 2007/2008. The company’s technological and economic expertise is closely linked with its social and ecological responsibility. The SCHOTT AG is an affiliate of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung (Foundation).

600450 SCHOTT (1884–2009) - From a glass laboratory to a technology company. An exciting company history
Date: 2 February 2009

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