Dr. Heinz Küppenbender


young kuepDr. Küppenbender joined Carl Zeiss as a member of the scientific staff immediately after studying machine construction at the Aachen Institute of Technology in 1927. He had been the First Scientific Assistant to Professor Bonin who had been a school friend of Professor Bauersfeld, a member of the Zeiss board of management. He worked in many different Carl Zeiss departments within a very short time span to familiarize himself with the firm and the field of optics and by hands on work in the assembling of rangefinders and the manufacture of microscopes and observatories. He received his doctorate in Engineering in 1929 from the Stuttgart Institute of Technology with a dissertation on the principles and their realization in the construction of rotary disk shutters. This new technology revolutionized aerial photography and enabled Zeiss to merge its technology with the leading company of that time, Aerotopograph GmbH. He worked in Jena with regard to his dissertation for his first two years with the firm and his work was so brilliant that he was quickly moved to the new operation, Zeiss Ikon in Dresden in 1929 as the chief designer. He worked under the management of Emanuel Goldberg and was assigned the leadership of the camera design departments.

His first assignment was to trim out the redundant cameras of the predecessor companies and produce the first Zeiss Ikon catalog. He was responsible for the acquisition of new design staff, the direction of designs and personally devised many of the technical elements of these designs.

He put together a department that stood well on its own because in 1932, Goldberg was removed from his position by the Nazi party and Küppenbender was chosen to head the board of management for Zeiss Ikon. He successfully fostered the growth of many lines of cameras into many directions and other business products.

In 1941, he was called on to be a member of the board of management for the parent company, Carl Zeiss and a deputy representative of the Carl Zeiss Stiftung, due to the death of August Kotthaus in an auto accident. He continued the tradition of Dr. Kotthaus and kept the company stable under the constant onslaught of the Nazi’s who were looking for any opportunity to nationalize the firm but who knew that they needed to keep the supply of Zeiss products so critical to their plans and as a result backed off when resisted and did not make any truly overt moves for control.

His main responsibilities were in the areas of production and due to this he served a great number of government committees as a part of his job. During the war, he was very quietly acting as the opposition for the Nazi party in Thuringia although he had to become a member of the Nazi Party to keep better control of the firm. He did much to shield and protect his Jewish and other oppressed employees. Unfortunately, Wandersleb, Schrade, Boegehold and others had problems maintaining their work status due to Nazi intervention. Even Otto Eppenstein who was Protestant was kept out of the plant due to his Jewish surname. Küppenbender is credited with saving as many as 3,000 people from deportation to work camps.

In 1945, he was the key person taken to Heidenheim by the American Army. The technical wizardry of Küppenbender and his scientists and technicians brought the crippled Zeiss and Schott firms back to the industrial prominence that it had gained under the hands of Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss. He piloted Carl Zeiss parent firm until his retirement in 1972 after 45 years of service when he was 71 years old. He has been quoted many times that the happiest years of his career were spent at Zeiss Ikon. It was his sad duty to close the firm as one of his final managerial acts when its continued financial losses were too great to continue.

Illustration no. 1: One of the drawings of a Contax patent application

Contax patentThis is a drawing of the Contax camera. The early patents credited not only Heinz Küppenbender but also Emanuel Goldberg, Martin Nowicki and Arthur Mende. Goldberg was the Managing Director of the Zeiss Ikon firm, Nowicki was the head of the design departments and Mende was the project leader among the designers.

The interesting feature is t hat it is clearly the form of a Contax I but it shows a built-in light meter some time before Zeiss Ikon broke this ground within a camera with the Contaflex Twin Lens camera and later with the Contax III and Super Ikonta BX.

The Contax was a break through camera with many new innovations and made the reputation of the company. As a result, Zeiss Ikon developed a wide product line and was able to sell many less expensive cameras across the buying public and had a tremendous market share.

Illustration No. 2: This is a drawing of the vertical traveling metal focal plane shutter for the Contax family of cameras.

Contax shutterThe Contax shutter, cocking mechanism and film advance are, as you can see here, quite complex. The mechanism worked flawlessly except for the tension exerted on the ribbons that carried the shutter. The materials of the 1930s are not as reliable as those of today. The brass elements of the shutter would be replaced by lighter materials and could be carried by metallic arms as shutters of today.

For the time, it was a tremendous advancement full of many moving parts which made it more watch like than any other camera of the era.

Illustration No. 3: A picture of Küppenbender in his retirement years

old kuepKüppenbender helped grew Zeiss Ikon into the role of the major player in the photographic industry. The, he moved on to manage the parent firm of Carl Zeiss throughout the troubled war years and bring the firm into West Germany and back from the brink of extinction.

However, Zeiss Ikon failed to bring a profit to the firm after 1954 and in 1972 after years of subsidy from the parent, Zeiss Ikon’s photographic production was closed in 1972.

Leave a Reply