School of Information Management & Systems
Previously School of Library & Information Studies

Michael Buckland, Professor.

Emanuel Goldberg, Television & Zeiss Ikon

(From:   Buckland, Michael. "Zeiss Ikon and Television: Fernseh AG" Zeiss Historica 17, no. 2 (Autumn 1995): 17-19.)

The name "Zeiss Ikon" is associated with photography. It is less well-known that in its heyday Zeiss Ikon was actively involved for ten years, from 1929 to 1939, in the formative stages of the development of television.

On 21st June 1929, a new television company called Fernseh AG was established in Berlin. It was a founded jointly by four firms: Robert Bosch AG, of Stuttgart; Loewe Radio GmbH, of Berlin; Baird Television Ltd, of London; and Zeiss Ikon AG, of Dresden. The British television pioneer John Logie Baird was frustrated by the British Broadcasting Corporation's lack of interest and support for television and was attracted by the positive and supportive interest shown by the German Reichspost.

Why was Zeiss Ikon involved? Zeiss Ikon AG had been created by the "fusion" of four firms in 1926 under the leadership of Emanuel Goldberg. Most, but not all, of its shares were owned by Carl Zeiss Jena. Zeiss Ikon AG was, in effect, the photographic division of the Zeiss conglomerate. It was internationally famous for its cameras and movie projectors, but it always had other non-photographic products, notably auto accessories, security locks, and street light reflectors.

In part, Zeiss Ikon's venture into television seems to have been a preventative move. Zeiss Ikon was a world leader in cinematography, especially with the magnificent movie theater projectors built by the Ernemann company, one of the four firms of the "fusion", and the compact, spring-driven Kinamo cameras designed by Emanuel Goldberg at ICA, another of the four firms. Indeed, Zeiss Ikon had a near monopoly, outside the USA, of large movie theater projectors. But Zeiss Ikon found itself seriously hindered in the transition to sound movies because it lacked access to a crucial patent. Goldberg's son, Herbert, has suggested that Goldberg believed that an early, collaborative initiative in television technology would place German industry in general and Zeiss Ikon in particular in a good strategic position in television with its enormous commercial potential. Zeiss Ikon was unavoidably concerned with electronics anyway because of the photoelectric cells needed for sound cinematography and for camera exposure meters. A significant problem with early photoelectric cells was that they were not sensitive enough. Great ingenuity was devoted to overcoming this limitation as well as to improving the cells.

We speculate that the role and enthusiasm of the highly inventive Goldberg was decisive in the move to extend Zeiss Ikon's existing involvement with imaging and with electronics into electronic imaging. Goldberg had a broad interest in graphics. In addition to his expertise in optics and photography, he was an acknowledged expert on printing techniques. He had published significant technical contributions on engraving and color printing before Zeiss recruited him away from a professorship of reprographics at Leipzig in 1917.

Goldberg was very interested in electronics and continued his research and inventing in spite of his administrative responsibilities as head of Zeiss Ikon. In his home workshop he experimented with new radio techniques, including the superheterodyne. He received a television-related patent, US Patent 1,973,203,for A method of making Nipkow disks or plates for television. Television systems, then as now, were based on copying and reproducing an image by examining and reproducing the lightness of one small spot of the image at a time. In practice this is done by scanning the image in a series of horizontal rows, one after the other. Done fast enough, and with enough rows, an image appears and the dot and the rows cease to be noticeable. Early television technology was partly mechanical and achieved this scanning by using a rotating disk (Nipkow disk) with small holes such that, one at a time, they defined the small dot to be scanned or projected. Goldberg's patent was for mounting small lenses on the disk that would gather more light for the photocell than mere holes could transmit. See Figure 1.

With his Ph.D summa cum laude in physical chemistry, Goldberg had the scientific background to appreciate the possibilities of television. Could it have been that Goldberg foresaw that electronic imaging might develop to the point that it could rival or eclipse photography? Did he wish to re-position Zeiss Ikon so that it could participate in and profit from such a development? Such views might not have been appreciated by other Zeiss managers, but would fully explain Goldberg's enthusiasm for Zeiss Ikon's participation in Fernseh AG.

The initial board of directors of Fernseh AG was composed of Emanuel Goldberg, Oliver George Hutchinson (for Baird), David Ludwig Loewe, and Erich Carl Rassbach (for Bosch). Eberhard Falkenstein who did legal work for Zeiss Ikon was also involved and the company was located in Zeiss Ikon's Goerz factory in Zehlendorf, Berlin. It was an uneven combination: two large firms with strong financial resources (Bosch and Zeiss Ikon) and two small firms with specialized technical knowledge (Baird and Loewe). In 1932 Erich Rassbach expressed his dissatisfaction with Fernseh AG in a letter to August Kotthaus at Carl Zeiss Jena, perhaps hoping to bring indirect influence on Zeiss Ikon. He complained that no long term work plan was ever made. He found Goldberg's technical talk difficult to understand and Goldberg himself difficult to get hold of. He suggested to Kotthaus that either Bosch or Zeiss Ikon should buy out the other investors. Goldberg, in turn, thought that Rassbach was unimaginative.

Meanwhile, Fernseh AG made considerable technical advances, acquiring many patents, and some commercial progress. In particular, as was appropriate for a firm affiliated with Zeiss Ikon, they developed amazing "intermediate" systems that combined film and television technology both for sending and for receiving.

Early television cameras could not work out of doors, let alone be used for mobile news coverage. Figure 2: Fernseh AG's "intermediate-film" mobile television camera, shows the Fernseh AG solution.

An ordinary movie camera was mounted on a truck and took a conventional photographic film and sound recording of whatever was to be transmitted. The exposed, but unprocessed, film went immediately down a light-tight tube into a development tank (E), on into a fixing tank (F), through a washing tank (W) and a preliminary drying process (Vortrocknung), then past an "indoor" television camera which copied the image (Bildabtastung) and a sensor to copy the sound track (Tonabtastung). The film was then given additional drying (Nachtrocknung) and wound on to a take-up spool. Electronic equipment transmitted the image and sound signals within sixty seconds of the filming.

In another version the movie camera used a continuous loop of film which was exposed, processed, copied, cleaned, re-sensitized, and re-used. As of 1937 the time interval for the film loop cycle from movie camera exposure through development, fixing, television camera copying, clearing, re-sensitizing, and re-exposure was down to 90 seconds. All of this was superseded as electronic technology improved and mechanical components such as Nipkow disks and rotating offset mirrors were replaced by fully electronic devices.

Combining film and electronic technologies derived some validity from the problem that there was then no way to store television images. Fernseh AG publicity pointed out that phonographs and radio coexisted. Undated lecture notes of Goldberg contain the observation that the inability to store electronic images assured the future of film. But when he saw a magnetic tape-recorder in the late 1940s, he correctly predicted that video recordings would be commonplace within forty years and that electronic imaging would displace photographic film.

In an effort to educate and impress the Fernseh AG shareholders, Goldberg is said to have addressed a shareholders' meeting using closed-circuit television. But Goldberg was kidnapped in April 1933 and forced to leave Germany, thereby ending his role in Fernseh AG and Zeiss Ikon. At Zeiss Ikon, television was associated with movie equipment in the Ernemann works and liaison with Fernseh AG was through Hermann Joachim, an authority on movie projectors. The Zeiss Ikon managers decided that television was not central to Zeiss Ikon's interests. They noted that Fernseh AG was not only losing money, but needed a substantial infusion of capital. They preferred Zeiss Ikon to be a supplier of specialized parts, without the responsibilities of ownership. In 1939, Zeiss Ikon sold its interest in Fernseh AG to Robert Bosch AG.

Bosch acquired complete ownership of Fernseh AG which continued after World War II as Fernseh GmbH and, after 1972, as Fernsehanlagen GmbH. In 1986, in a partnership between Bosch and Philips, it became part of Broadcasting Television Systems GmbH, wholely owned by Philips since 1993.

Maybe, if Goldberg's career had not been disrupted, Zeiss Ikon, unlike other photographic firms, might have developed a strong and early position in electronic imaging.

Further reading:

Fernseh AG published a technical journal called Fernseh. The July 1939 issue contains, on pages 109-122, a well-illustrated review of the firm's activities and products during its first ten years, precisely the period of Zeiss Ikon's involvement.

Descriptions of Fernseh AG's "intermediate" technology combining film and television technologies can be found in English and German books of the late 1930s on television technology, notably in Hanns GŁnther Das Grosse Fernsehbuch (Stuttgart: Franckh, 1938).

Archival material on Zeiss Ikon's involvement in Fernseh AG survive in Jena (Carl Zeiss archives, file 22413) and in Dresden (State archives, Ernemann and Zeiss Ikon papers, file 154).

Michael Buckland is collecting material for a biography of Emanuel Goldberg and would welcome any information about Fernseh AG or Emanuel Goldberg, c/o School of Information Management & Systems, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA 94720. Tel: 510-642 3159.

The help received from Herbert Goldberg, Frau Edith Hellmuth, and the Lancour travel fund of Beta Phi Mu are gratefully acknowledged.
Go to Goldberg, History, or Michael Buckland's home page.