Johann Zimmermann (1820–1901)

The Hungarian entrepreneur and inventor Johann Zimmermann (later awarded the title Ritter von Zimmermann) created a factory to design and build machine-tools at Chemnitz in Saxony in the 1840s. He is seen as the father of Germany’s machine-tool industry, which grew to lead the world.

Zimmermann was brought up at the city of Pápa in Austria-Hungary where his father ran a factory making locks. He trained as a locksmith until he was around 19, when he decided to go west to Vienna and Munich seeking new opportunities. He arrived eventually at Chemnitz in Saxony, which was already an important centre for the cotton industry and the manufacture of textile machinery. In 1841 he took a job at the Hauboldsche textile machine works and within three years was a manager.

In 1844 he took a new role at the Tauscher and Company cylinder factory in Chemnitz, which became called Tauscher and Zimmerman until in 1848 Zimmerman bought out Tauscher to become sole owner. At this time, local engineering companies imported the machine tools they needed for their work at great expense from Britain. Zimmerman decided, at the age of 28, to enter this field himself. He visited Britain to see the industry in person and buy examples of the equipment. Soon afterwards he began making lathes, drills, saws, presses, vices and steam hammers among other tools. Six years later he built a factory on modern principles with a long workshop hall served by a travelling crane. He continued to expand the works with a foundry and a shop for making woodworking machinery.

Zimmerman built himself a remarkable Gothic villa opposite the main railway station in Chemnitz, which still survives. By the early 1870s he employed 1,000 people. His machines were recognised internationally for their quality. Around three quarters were exported to countries including Russia, Austria-Hungary and Britain. In 1871 he floated his machine-tool factory as a joint-stock company and in 1878 he began a long retirement as a wealthy man.