With the founding of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung, Ernst Abbe pursued two overarching goals, which still determine the funding purpose in § 1 of the Foundation Statute to this day. On the one hand, he was concerned with the long-term securing of the foundation companies and the well-being of his employees, which in his opinion could only be guaranteed by depersonalization of the owners. On the other hand, he was particularly interested in promoting science with the proceeds from the companies.


Carl Zeiss founds a precision mechanical and optical workshop in Jena and in 1847 begins manufacturing simple microscopes.


Beginning of collaboration between Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss.


Abbe sine condition

Abbe formulates the “Abbe sine condition” named after him and thus lays the foundation for the scientific microscope manufacture. Subsequently, all Zeiss microscopes are manufactured based on the calculations of Abbe.



Ernst Abbe becomes a partner in Zeiss. 


Founding of the glass technology laboratory Schott & Genossen by Ernst Abbe, Otto Schott, Carl Zeiss and his son Roderich Zeiss.


Ministerial Fund for Scientific Purposes

Ernst Abbe establishes the "Ministerial Fund for Scientific Purposes", which provides anonymous financial support to the University of Jena every year. Ernst Abbe’s original plan to transfer its shares in the companies Carl Zeiss and Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Genossen to the University of Jena fails due to legal reasons.



Death of Carl Zeiss on 3 December, Ernst Abbe becomes sole manager of the Zeiss factory.


Foundation of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung

19 May: Ernst Abbe founded the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung

With the name "Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung", Abbe honours the merits of the man who laid the first ground for the foundation companies and paved the way for the combination of science and technology (§ 2 Foundation Statutes).

With the confirmation of the certificate of incorporation by the Department of Culture of the Grand Duke in Weimar, the foundation is granted the rights of a private legal entity. 

The foundation deed of trust from 1889 only contains 17 paragraphs, but it clearly outlines the founder's purpose of promoting science. 


Transfer of company shares: Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung becomes (co-)owner of Zeiss and Schott

Ernst Abbe transfers his shares to the two companies and those of Roderich Zeiss to the foundation.
30 June: Registration of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung as the owner of Zeiss and parts of Schott in the Commercial Register.



Statut of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung enters into force (also as corporate constitution)

On 1 October, the revised statute of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung came into full force and effect. At the same time, it thus becomes the corporate constitution of the foundation companies for more than a century. 

His regulations on health, pension and survivors’ insurance, working hours, salary, and leave as well as his appointment of an independent workers’ committee for issuing advisory opinions to the Executive Board are exemplary for his time. The statute anticipates developments that are established as norms more than half a century later in the form of a modern labour law. For example, the regulation on worker representation only became obsolete after the Works Constitution Act was enforced in 1952. 

In addition to these foundation goals, expected to be fulfilled by each of the foundation companies, the statute provides for various funding areas outside of the foundations, including the promotion of science/research (through the University of Jena), the promotion of general interests of the precision technology industry and measures benefiting the labour force in the Jena area. However, the main focus remains on the promotion of science.


In an amendment to the statute of the foundation dated 24 February, Ernst Abbe sets out the detailed type and procedure of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung's grants to the University of Jena and their use.


The grants from the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung to the University of Jena exceed those of the state.


Death of the founder

Ernst Abbe passes away on 14 January.


Foundation becomes sole owner of SCHOTT

Otto Schott transfers his shares to the foundation, which also makes the foundation the sole owner of Jenaer Glaswerk.


After accession to power by the National Socialists, Julius Dietz, a staunch NSDAP supporter, is appointed as the new foundation commissioner. The foundation statute is “politically” adapted without consideration of the founder's will. Among other things, the requirement enshrined in the statute of tolerance for heritage, denomination and party status of employees (§ 56) is abolished. Fierce arguments arise between Julius Dietz and the regional administration on one side and the management of the companies and individual brave citizens such as Abbe’s daughter Grete Unrein on the other. They culminate in a lawsuit against the Thuringian Minister of the Interior, Fritz Wächtler, because of the forced changes to the statute. 


Employees and documents of the Jena foundation companies move to the West

American troops occupy Jena and the factories Zeiss and Schott. As they leave in June 1945, they take 122 key employees (scientists, engineers, the entire executive branch) and important documents with them to the West. Initially, the employees are detained in Heidenheim an der Brenz, and the documents are sent to the USA for evaluation. 
15 November: Restoration of the statute that was valid before 1933.


The Zeiss employees, who were transferred to the West, start building an optical factory in Oberkochen under the name Opton. 

Schott employees build a new factory in Mainz in 1951/52. 

In Jena, Zeiss and Schott are dismantled by the Russian military power to a negligible residual stock of 6%. Material and personnel are transported to the USSR. 


Jena foundation companies are expropriated

The Jena foundation companies are expropriated and converted to state-owned enterprises. 
Opton is applying to the Baden-Württemberg government to relocate the registered office of the foundation to Heidenheim. 


The Foundation's new registered office will be Heidenheim an der Brenz

This is granted in 1949 by the Ministry of Justice. At the same time, the local Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung continues to exist in Jena. 


The Oberkochen company Opton renames itself to Carl Zeiss. Thus, from 1951 on, the organisation is split into the state-owned companies Carl Zeiss and Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Gen in Jena as well as the foundation company Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen and Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Gen in Mainz. Carl Zeiss Jena supports the development in the West by providing documents as well as experts. In return, Oberkochen and Mainz update Jena with new developments.


Decision by the DDR government that in the future foreign trade may no longer be handled directly by Carl Zeiss Jena, but only through the German East/West Trade Organisation (DIA). Collaboration between Zeiss East and West is thus no longer possible. Shortly thereafter, 15 Jena Zeiss employees, who supported cooperation with the West, were arrested on suspicion of “sabotage and espionage”. 


The Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung in Jena, the state-owned company Carl Zeiss Jena and the Carl Zeiss company in Oberkochen sue each other to stop the other party from using the trademarks and the word “Zeiss” in the company name. 


Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs Baden-Württemberg takes over foundation administration

The executive boards of the companies Zeiss Oberkochen and Schott Mainz, who were the provisional foundation administrators during the transitional period, reactivate the foundation administration designated in the statute, which is now administered by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs of the state of Baden-Württemberg. The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs appoints a foundation commissioner according to the statutes. 


In the so-called “London Agreement” there is a consensus on the worldwide use of trademarks. The negotiated compromise stipulates that everyone in their respective political hemisphere is allowed to use the name Carl Zeiss or Jenaer Glaswerk.


Biebelrieder Declaration lays ground for reunification of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung

After the fall of the wall, the two foundations and their foundation companies in East and West Germany are reunited. In the Declaration of Biebelried, signed in May 1990, the boards of the participating companies declare that they desire a merger of all companies into a single Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung. 


A Letter of Intent between the state governments of Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia, the East German trust agency “Treuhand” and the participating companies stipulates the merger of the two foundations based in Heidenheim an der Brenz and Jena into one foundation and the takeover of the optical and glass core business of state-owned company Carl Zeiss Jena by Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen and Jena Schott in Mainz.


State Treaty between Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia defining the legal status of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung. 
Founding of the Ernst Abbe Foundation in Thuringia, to which the non-industrial assets of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung Jena are transferred.


The statute is amended in accordance with the Letter of Intent of 1991. 

A five-member board of trustees is appointed as the foundation's administration. It consists of the ministers responsible for the scientific universities in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia, the chairman of the board of the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, the chairman of the board of the Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft and the president of the Max Planck Society. However, the broadening of competencies in foundation administration cannot solve the structural problems of the existing foundation organisation that have been apparent for some time. 

The foundation bodies are discovering that only a fundamental adaptation of their status to the current social, economic and legal changes can solve the foundation's structural problems.


Beginning of the discussion on the revised version of the foundation statute. There is consensus that the major changes in tax, labour and corporate law and the now significantly different business activities of the foundation companies require fundamental reform. However, the bodies of the foundation and the various employee representatives have very different ideas as to what extent the statute can and should be adapted. This leads to legal disputes. As a result, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court confirms the fundamental possibility of adapting the statute to changing conditions, under consideration of the conditions set forth by the statute.


Fundamental foundation reform

Through the spin-off of Carl Zeiss and Schott from the foundation with the establishment of independent joint stock companies, whose sole shareholder is the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung, the existing cross-guarantee system between the two foundation companies is dissolved. The Foundation is transforming from a direct corporate foundation to a shareholder foundation. 

With the spin-off of the foundation companies entering into force through a corresponding entry in the commercial register, the foundation statute adapted to the changed general conditions becomes effective on 1 July 2004. 

The Foundation Administration, the Shareholder Council and the Management Advisory Board fulfil different functions as bodies of the Foundation.

The previous regulations of the statute regarding the structure of the companies and the legal status of employees are compared with the current provisions of corporate, stock and labour law and harmonised to the extent necessary. As before, relevant and important regulations for the legal status of the employees are upheld in the amended statute (§§ 15-23) and now extended to the employees of the domestic operations of the affiliated companies of the foundation companies. 


Resumption of scientific funding activities

The first dividend payments by the foundation companies to the foundation make it possible to start a programme for the funding of doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers and junior professorships at universities in the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia (The young talent promotional programme was terminated in 2017).


Expansion of the funding activities through a programme to strengthen research structures at the universities of the three home states listed above (the research structures programme was terminated in 2017). 


The funding activities of the foundation are once again expanded by a programme for the funding of endowed professorships. Today, the Foundation is one of the largest sponsors of endowed professorships in Germany.


Together with the German Scholars Organization (GSO) the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung expanded its funding portfolio with a scientist repatriation programme to include an international component (in 2021, the programme was expanded and continued as the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung Fund).


The Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The anniversary is celebrated with a festive event in Jena on the 19th of May, the founding day, in the presence of the guest of honour, German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel. Furthermore, a top-level symposium is held on the 17th of July in Stuttgart on the topic “The Foundation as a Business Model of the Future: Opportunities and Risks”.


The Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung is honoured as the “Science Foundation of the Year 2015”. The award was presented for the second time by the German University Foundation and the Dr. Jürgen Rembold Foundation. 

The reasons for the award ceremony stipulate: Founded in 1889 by physicist Ernst Abbe, the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung is the oldest private science-promoting foundation in Germany. It builds bridges between business and science, drives change, and enables universities to develop new innovative research fields. It is proving to be a particularly important source of inspiration in the promotion of young talent, courageously investing in the future. With the help of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung, universities can attract top young talent and the best international researchers. 

With the award, the German University Foundation and the Dr. Jürgen Rembold Foundation recognise the outstanding achievements of science-promoting foundations.


Thanks to the successful activities of the foundation companies, significantly higher dividends will be available for science funding from 2017. As a result, new large-scale project funding will be announced, especially in the funding programmes Breakthroughs and Transfer.


Realignment of funding activities

Based on a comprehensive review of the funding activities from 2007 to 2020, the funding activities have been realigned since January 2021. 

The goals of the new funding strategy include concentrating on focus topics and promoting interdisciplinary funding projects.

Examples of the funding activities of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung between 1889 and 1930

Funding is mostly allocated to social and cultural institutions of Jena and the University of Jena. In addition to an extensive construction programme, professorships and lecturer positions are financed and grants or contributions in kind to institutes or projects are made. The most important funding plans of this period were:

  • Construction of the Volkshaus (1903)
  • New construction of the main university building, half funded by the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung (1908)
  • Construction of the Volksbad (community pool) (1909)
  • Construction of one of the first pure children's hospitals in Germany (1917)
  • Construction of the Abbeaneum, a striking Bauhaus-style building that contained the Optical Institute and the Institute of Applied Mathematics and is now used as a teaching and research facility for the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (1930).