Carl Zeiss (1816-88), founded his company making optical glass in Jena in 1846. He was born at Weimar, studied at Jena then travelled to Vienna, Berlin and Stuttgart. His company revolutionised the manufacture of optical glass, and made its 3000th microscope in 1876. Zeiss’s partner from 1876 was Ernst Karl Abbe (1840-1905), the physicist who laid the foundations of modern optics. He was born at Eisenach, studied at Jena and Göttingen, and lectured at Jena University from 1863. He became research director at Zeiss in 1866, and subsequently partner. He was an enlightened employer, who favoured an eight-hour day for his employees, introduced a profit sharing scheme and set up the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung.
The optical museum at Jena was opened by Carl-Zeiss AG 1922, in a reinforced concrete building by Dycherhoff & Wichmann of Nuremburg. The collection was stored in an underground production facility during the Second World War, but returned to No 12 Carl-Zeiss-Platz in 1976-77. In 1988 the museum acquired the Zeiss workshop from the nearby Volkshaus, and it was physically removed to the museum premises in 2002. A new trust for the museum was established in 2016.
The collection is perhaps the most comprehensive of its kind in Europe, covering the history of optical instruments over eight centuries, the manufacture of glass and of lenses, microscopy, telescopes, photography, cameras, imaging systems, camera obscura, peep shows, projectors and opthalmalogical instruments. Displays illustrate the lives and achievements of Carl Zeiss and Ernst Abbe and there is a planetarium on the upper floor.
Currently closed for renovation until second half of 2026.