In the years immediately after the death of Carl Zeiss in 1888, Ernst Abbe (his partner and the head of the scientific development portion of the firm) purchased the balance of the firm from his heirs and placed the ownership of the firm inside a legal entity known as a foundation. The name of this entity became the Carl Zeiss Foundation (Stiftung) and he ceded the total ownership of the firm to this foundation.
Abbe immediately took steps to diversify the product line of the firm. Carl Zeiss had been against this diversification and had limited the company to the production of microscopes and accessories. In his later years, he was very conscious of limiting the risk associated with the business to protect the inheritance of his children.
Abbe used his knowledge of the new Schott glasses and passed the responsibility for the new products to technical staff that he had been developing for the past 5-10 years. His major scientific interest remained in the area of prism binoculars. He gave the responsibility for measuring devices to Carl Pulfrich, photographic lenses to Paul Rudolph, the day to day operation of the firm to Siegfried Czapski and continued to develop new scientists to head other newer departments.
He found Max Pauly who had experience with large telescope construction as a side business while working full time as a manager of a sugar production plant. Within a few years, they were constructing telescopes and accessories for general commercial use and, surprisingly, large scale observatory telescopes. These were manufactured and erected in the Zeissworks in Jena for quality control purposes and deconstructed and then moved to the customer’s site to be final constructed.
The early part of the 20th Century saw tremendous innovation with regard to the development of binoculars, telescopes and military optics. This particular design became a commercial success after its military use in World War I. It featured a 60 mm objective and three eyepieces magnifying 12x, 24x and 42x. The telegraph ordering word was Starmor for the monocular and bi added as a suffix for the binocular. This obviously need a tripod or table pod and was sold with a choice of either.
There were two other similar designs. The Asem/Asembi with an 80 mm objective and eyepieces offering 12x, 20x & 40. The Asengular was available only as a binocular observation telescope with 100 mm objective and 15x, 30x and 50x eyepieces . The prices for the binocular version of these three with tripod were: Starmorbi – 630, Asembi – $1050 and Asengular – $ 1848. These prices were duty paid in New York in January, 1935. An example of this binocular was placed at a viewing location in Yosemite national park in California.
This illustration shows three different configurations of the same Zeiss telescope available in 1934. The upper left illustration was used in various catalogs dating back to 1914 and featured the famous Matterhorn in the background . You can see that the instrument required a strong mounting system and dwarfed the user.
The telescope had an objective of 130 mm and a triple revolving eyepiece with 35x, 58x and 116x magnification. While designed as a terrestrial model, it could be used for astronomical observation. The model in the second picture was fitted with yet another Zeiss innovation. This was a coin automation device which permitted viewing for a certain period of time. Zeiss even supplied the coins.
The monocular Asaliter sold for $1470 in 1935 with an oak case and a mounting column and lens hood. With the coin automation, the price increased to $1855 while the double telescope (Asal) was listed at $2772.
These are obviously very rare today but they have been found in areas where observation is very popular. For example, Collectors have found them in areas that have beautiful coastlines such as the states of Washington, Oregon and California. However, they are no longer sitting in public locations for general use. Other samples were seized for military use in Europe and were either destroyed or lost.
The smaller telescopes available to the general public were possible because of the research and development of larger scale projects that Zeiss was contracted to accomplish for various museums, observatories and universities.
The size of some of these projects is visible in the picture to the left. The workers are dwarfed by the reflector being constructed for the Observatory of the Observatory at Berlin-Bablesberg in 1915. The numbers and varieties in design of such telescopes are astounding. There are collectors who schedule their vacations to visit many of them across Europe and the Orient. Notice the other relatively large telescopes to the right in the picture and the smaller ones to the bottom left.
The catalogs for these instruments are extremely rare and highly sought after. The staff for the manufacture of these instruments conformed to custom specifications and would travel to far away locations (by boat or train) to unpack the components and install to Zeiss’ quality standards.
Abbe had served as the head of the University of Jena’s observatory and when Zeiss began to manufacture such instruments, he made arrangements to donate a new large instrument to the University.
In the years before World War I, Zeiss was approached by the German National Museum in Munich to propose a design for a planetarium. As a result, Zeiss constructed two planetariums. One was a physical representation of the planets around the sun. However, they were challenged to do something unique. World War delayed a proposal but during the years immediately after the war, Zeiss’s head of R&D proposed a unique projector.
Walther Bauersfeld created the modern planetarium. It was designed to reflect the sky above Munich. It was created in the Jena plant and was shown to the museum directors before dismantling and installation. It created such a sensation that Zeiss was giving demonstrations to military, ocean navigational companies and countless others. What had been an adventure to create a special instrument for a single museum became a great product and source of revenue for a company that was working hard to survive the great depression.
Every major city in the world wanted one and so Bauersfeld reconstructed the first design to be able to represent the skies at any point on the globe.