Robert Bosch

Long before his name began gracing kitchen appliances, Bosch made improvements to the magneto that had far-reaching improvements in the automobile industry.

Robert BoschRobert Bosch was a German engineer known for his contributions to electrical engineering. His adaptation of magnetos to vehicle engines was a seminal contribution to the automobile industry. He also founded Robert Bosch Gmbh Corporation, a leading engineering firm and global producer of electrical equipment and precision machines.

Robert August Bosch was born in Württemberg, Germany, on September 23, 1861 to wealthy farmers — the eleventh of 12 children. His father was a Freemason who ensured Bosch had an education.

After attending secondary school, Bosch completed a three-year apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. He then started attending lectures at a technical university.

At the age of 18, Bosch traveled overseas to complete his training as an engineer. Between 1879 and 1886, he worked as a mechanic for the Siemens Brothers in Great Britain and then at Thomas Edison's laboratory in the United States.

Bosch returned to Germany to open a workshop for precision mechanics and electrical engineering at the age of 25. He specialized in telephone and telegraph installation and repair, as well as light engineering. (This workshop would eventually become Robert Bosch GmbH Corporation.)

Bosch made significant improvements to the magneto, an electrical generator that relies on a permanent magnet to send out alternating pulses. He was the first to adapt the magneto to vehicle engines. Magnetos transformed the automobile industry because they could generate current to spark the air-gas mixture in internal combustion engines. Unlike steam engines, which had to rely on an external combustion source, Bosch’s innovations to the magneto made it possible to generate a spark inside the engine cylinders. Today, magnetos are used to power a variety of different engines, such as those found in lawnmowers, chainsaws, helicopters, and cars.

Although Bosch suffered devastating economic losses during World War I, it didn’t crush his generous spirit. He donated the modern equivalent of $61.5 million to peacemaking causes, as well as technical education and local hospitals. Bosch also supported the resistance against the Nazi regime by helping rescue Jewish associates and other targets of government persecution. Bosch was an outspoken proponent of social reform and was one of the first employers to introduce an eight-hour work day. He also advocated for industrial arbitration and free trade.

Bosch died at the age of 80 in Stuttgart, Germany, on March 9, 1942.

— By Alexandria Curtwright