The company had become the largest manufacturer of microscopes in the world, thanks to new production methods introduced by his father; but after Ernst Leitz II assumed control, he took the business in a new direction. He had become part shareholder in 1906, and the company’s sole shareholder in 1920, following his father’s death. The entrepreneurial decision in favour of the Leica represented a risk, during economically difficult times. Despite the challenges, 35mm photography was to become established very quickly, not least thanks to the photojournalists who served the rapidly growing market for illustrated magazines in the twenties. They soon realised the advantages offered by the small, handy and easy-to-use camera. By 1925, over 900 units of the Leica A model had been produced, and turnover doubled every year. The camera models, and photo-technical accessories that followed, increasingly became the mainstay of the company.
Ernst Leitz II was an entrepreneur who did more than contribute to German business history. His political and social commitments were also noteworthy. It was not only the long-term security of the company and all its workplaces, during turbulent economic and political times, that was important to him; as a Democrat, he also stood firmly by his convictions. He became a member of the German Democratic Party in 1918. During the National Socialist (Nazi) dictatorship, he provoked the regime by supporting persecuted Jews. Targeted rescue operations led to his daughter’s arrest by the Gestapo, and the company was threatened with expropriation. Even so, Leitz continued to pursue his humanistic efforts.
When Ernst Leitz II handed over the running of the company to his three sons, in 1949, it was economically stable, despite the consequences of the war. In 1951, as a special honour, he was presented with the 500,000th Leica. When he passed away on June 15, 1956, aged 85, 850,000 Leica cameras had already found their way out into the world. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, the Federal President at the time, Theodor Heuss, characterised Ernst Leitz II as follows: he was “a man, unperturbed in himself, sober and daring, defined by his own individuality.” March 1, 2021, marks the 150th anniversary of his birth. (Ulrich Rüter)
Knut Kühn-Leitz (editor), Ernst Leitz II
“Ich entscheide hiermit: Es wird riskiert.” …und die Leica revolutionierte die Fotografie (Ernst Leitz II “I hereby decide: it will be risked”… and the Leica revolutionised history)
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