Robert Bosch (1861–1942)

Robert Bosch is best-known in the history of technology for his role in the development of the spark plug, and in business history as the founder of what has become a global electronics group.

He was born near Ulm, where he attended school, and where he served an apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. On completing his apprenticeship he spent short spells working for other German companies and for Thomas Edison in the United States and for Sir William Siemens in England.

In 1886 he opened a ‘workshop for precision mechanics and electrical engineering’ in Stuttgart. He was concerned with the development of ignition systems for internal combustion engines, and in 1897 produced a magneto ignition device that could be used on a vehicle. In 1902 one of his engineers invented the commercially viable high voltage spark plug that made possible the continued development of the motorcar, and proved the basis of his company’s prosperity. Bosch produced a diesel fuel injector system in 1927, and the company has continued to innovate in automotive technology in the decades since the Second World War.

Bosch was always anxious to spread his company’s operations beyond the frontiers of Germany and opened an agency in London in 1897. During the 1920s he determined to diversify its operations and began to manufacture power tools, the first of which were hair clippers, in 1928, and household appliances from 1933. Well before the time of his death Robert Bosch GmbH had become a multi-national electrical engineering group.

He had a reputation as a benevolent employer, having adopted the 8-hour working day as early as 1906, and as a philanthropist, founding the hospital in Stuttgart that bears his name in 1936. Before the advent of the Third Reich, which he steadfastly opposed, he strongly advocated a union of European countries free of customs barriers.