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BOOKS

01.11.2019

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After graduating from high school, Ernst Leitz III (1906–1979) first completed a three-and-a-half-year internship in Precision Engineering at the Ernst Leitz factory. Then, starting in the summer semester of 1926, he studied Physics at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (today the Humboldt University) in Berlin. He had to interrupt his studies, after just four semesters, because his father called him back to Wetzlar during the difficult phase following the introduction of the Leica into the market, amid the drawn-out world economic crisis. In 1930, together with Ernst Leitz II and Henri Dumur, the 24-year-old became one of the three managing directors of the newly established Ernst Leitz GmbH Wetzlar. He was responsible for the technology department. After his father withdrew from his position in 1953, Ernst Leitz III became head of the company. 20 years later, he joined the Board of Directors.

During the Ernst Leitz III era, a number of decisions were made and events took place that had great significance for the development of the company and its products. In aid of the production of the Leica, the Leitz factory built the first optical precision instrument to control the tools used for production. This caught the interest of other manufacturers, and in 1931, led to the establishment of a new business department for Optical Precision Instruments. There the development of two-coordinate measurement technology was carried out for over four decades, until it was replaced by three-coordinate measurement technology. Other chapters of the book are dedicated to the establishment of a branch in Ontario, Canada, and the foundation of a glass laboratory in Wetzlar in 1954. The opening of a branch in Vila Nova de Famalicão, Portugal, in 1974, also belonged to the Ernst Leitz III era.

Within the photography department, the first thing to mention must be the introduction of the M-Leica. As of 1954, the Leica with a rangefinder began to replace the screw-Leica, and remains to this day one of the most important cameras in the manufacturer’s programme. There was also the long and complex development of the first aspherical lenses: starting in 1966 and over a period of nine years, only 1700 units of the Noctilux 1:1.2/50 were produced. It was hardly a commercial success. However, following a manufacturing breakthrough in the early nineties, Leica was able to draw on know-how gained in the past, with the result that ever since, aspherical lenses have become an essential part of any number of lens designs.

The book does not only focus on questions of technology and company policies, but also on the Leitz factory during the Second World War and the post-war era. The use of forced labour is discussed at length. The picture painted of Ernst Leitz III is that of an enterprising personality of the 20th century, who was active in local and state politics, and who reaffirmed the Leitz family’s generational predilection for rowing, as Chairman of the Wetzlar Rowing Society 1880 e.V., from 1947 to 1973.

(Bernd Luxa)

Ernst Leitz III – Die Leica stets im Blick. Asphärentechnologie und Glasforschung – die Basis für legendäre Objektive;(Ernst Leitz III – An eye always on the Leica. Aspheric technology and glass research – the basis for legendary lenses). 272 pages, 22.2 x 28.7 cm, around 200 coeval black and white images. German. Heel Verlag
In 1960, Ernst Leitz GmbH entered the 8mm cine film market with the Double 8 movie camera, Leicina 8
The Leitz GmbH was a forerunner of the computerisation of German industry: a Zuse Z5 computer was acquired in 1953. It was guided by perforated tape made of 35mm raw cine film
The 1973 Leica CL: developed in collaboration with Minolta and equipped with an M bayonet – here with a Summicron-C 1:2/40
Ernst Leitz III in the 1970s

About the publisher

About the publisher
Knut Kühn-Leitz, nephew of Ernst Leitz III, was born in Frankfurt on the Main in 1936. He studied Business Administration in Munich and Fontainebleau, and later received his Doctorate in Political Science from Philipps University, Marburg. He joined Ernst Leitz GmbH as Assistant to the Director in 1966. In 1971, he became Managing Director.

In 1972, on behalf of the Leitz shareholder group, Kühn-Leitz was responsible for the contractual agreement covering the collaboration between Ernst Leitz GmbH and Wild Heerbrugg AG, Switzerland, in the field of microscopy. Two years later, during a difficult economic period, Wild took over the majority of the Leitz family’s shareholdings in Ernst Leitz GmbH. Kühn-Leitz remained in charge of company planning, and when Wild took over all the shares of the Leitz family group in 1986, he moved from company management to the Board of Directors.

Knut Kühn-Leitz is currently Chairman of the Board of the Ernst Leitz Foundation in Wetzlar.
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