Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The history of Carl Zeiss AG begins in Jena before World War II, then the world's largest location of camera production. Zeiss Ikon represented a significant part of the production along with dozens of other brands and factories.
The destruction of the war caused many companies to divide into smaller subcompanies and others to merge together. Nevertheless, there was an enormous amount of respect for the innovation and engineering that came out of Dresden—before the war, Dresden had been responsible for the world's first SLR camera (the Kine Exakta) and the first miniature camera with good picture quality.
At the end of the war, Zeiss Jena was occupied by the US army. When they moved to West Germany shortly after the war, they forced many people in Zeiss management to relocate to West Germany as well, while the remainder of Zeiss Jena was occupied by the Eastern German Republic as Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena. The Western business was restarted in Oberkochen (in southwestern Germany) as Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH in 1946, which became Zeiss-Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH in 1947, but was soon renamed to Carl Zeiss. Western German Zeiss products were labelled Opton when sold into the Eastern block, whilst Eastern German Zeiss products where labelled "Zeiss Jena" when sold to Western countries.
In 1973, the Western Carl Zeiss AG entered a licensing agreement with the Japanese camera company Yashica to produce a series of high-quality 35mm film cameras and lenses bearing the Contax and Zeiss brand names. This collaboration continued under Yashica's successor, Kyocera, until the latter ceased all camera production in 2005. Zeiss later produced lenses for the space industry, and more recently, has again entered into production of high-quality 35mm camera lenses.
Following German reunification, VEB Zeiss Jena became Zeiss Jena GmbH, which became JENOPTIC Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH in 1990. In 1991 the company name was shortened to JENOPTIC GmbH. The companies of the Zeiss Gruppe in and around Dresden have branched into new technologies: screens and products for the automotive industry, for example. Zeiss nonetheless still continues to be a camera manufacturer, and still produces the Pentacon, Praktica, and special-use lenses (e.g., Exakta).
Today, there are arguably three companies with primarily Zeiss Ikon heritage: Zeiss Germany, the Finnish/Swedish Ikon (which bought the western German Zeiss Ikon AG), and the independent eastern Zeiss Ikon.