Ferdinand von Steinbeis (1807-1893)

Father of Dual Education | Pioneer of Technology Transfer

Ferdinand von Steinbeis is considered the posthumous patron of vocational training in the former German state of Württemberg. It was Steinbeis who founded vocational schools throughout the state, educational establishments such as the weaving schools in Blaubeuren (1852) and Reutlingen (1855).

Steinbeis appealed unrelentingly for two-way – or dual – education. He considered the aim of education was to provide the qualified industrial workers of the future with a solid theoretical grounding in combination with practical, on-the-job skills. As head of the Central Office for Trade and Industry in the middle of the 19th century, Steinbeis was working on concepts that were destined to form the backbone of business-related technology transfer. Long after he walked the corridors of German industry his concepts are still in place today.

Ferdinand von Steinbeis was born into a vicar’s family on 5 May 1807 in Ölbronn, a small community outside Maulbronn east of Karlsruhe. At 14 he embarked on an apprenticeship at a smelting works in Wasseralfingen. Three years later he registered at the University of Tübingen to read Natural Science. As early as the age of 20, Ferdinand Steinbeis received his doctorate after submitting a public paper on glass-making. The same year, he took on his first role as a steelworks clerk at the Royal Württemberg Works in Ludwigstal outside Tuttlingen. In 1831 he was appointed Head of the Royal Steelworks by Prince Karl Egon of Fürstenberg.

Industrial workers of the future depend upon theoretical knowledge combined with practical skills Ferdinand von Steinbeis

In 1842 Steinbeis became Director-General of the ironworks owned by the Stumm family in Neunkirchen. During his time at the company, Steinbeis took it upon himself to train the people working for him.

To prevent talented employees being tempted away by the competition, he invested much time and thought in establishing social support at the ironworks. This included a support fund for workers in need, a disability fund for people unable to work, a works doctor, a works canteen and financial support in buying a home.

In 1848 the "Central Office for Trade and Industry" was founded with the aim of promoting the interests of trade and industry. Steinbeis was appointed Technical Counsel with the title and rank of Councillor. In 1855 he was appointed Director and subsequently he became President.

In 1878 Steinbeis was lambasted by the entire Chamber of Representatives for opposing the introduction of protective import duties. He began to withdraw from his public duties more and more. In July 1880 his retirement request was approved.

Ferdinand von Steinbeis died on 7 February 1893 in Leipzig and was buried in Ulm.

A Timeline

1807: Steinbeis is born in Ölbronn. His father is a church minister, his mother the sister of the poet Justinus Kerner. Steinbeis shows early interest in technology and no real inclination to pursue the (predetermined) career in pastoral ministry.

1821-24: “Metallurgical apprenticeship” in Wasseralfingen and Abtsgmünd

1824-26: A “Colliery Applicant,” Steinbeis is a guest student in Tübingen (chemistry, physics); Steinbeis re-sits his general qualifications and the matriculation examination to attend university.

1826: A “Colliery Cadet,” Steinbeis is paid 200 guilders and is granted permission to complete his studies (in mathematics, physics, chemistry, mechanics, construction, forestry and administrative theory).

1827: Doctor of Philosophy.

1827-31: Plant administrator at the Royal Württemberg Iron and Steel Plant in Ludwigstal.

1831-42: “Head of the Royal Iron and Steel Industry.”

1842-48: Managing director of the Stumm Family Iron Works in Neunkirchen, Saarland.

1845-46: Construction of the first German rail rolling mill.

1848: Steinbeis steps in as technical advisor for the recently established “Central Office for Trade and Industry” in Stuttgart (later President). He campaigns for banking industry reforms, and, under his editorial leadership, the first “Industry Gazette from Württemberg” is published. Steinbeis travels to the Industrial Exhibition in Paris; introduction of the “Collection of Industrial Products” at the Central Office.

1850: Industrial Exhibition in Leipzig.

1851: Introduction of a “Teaching Material Collection” and first steps to collect cast and wood models for the industrial product collection. First Great Exhibition in London.

1852: Establishment of a “Weaving School” in Blaubeuren. Introduction of a “Library for all Areas of Fine Art” in the Central Office.

1853: Establishment of the “Württemberg Trading Company” in Stuttgart.

1854: Establishment of a “Weaving School” in Stuttgart; “Chambers of Trade and Industry” are set up in Heilbronn, Reutlingen, Stuttgart and Ulm at the behest of Steinbeis.

1855: Establishment of a “Weaving School” in Reutlingen (later to become a “Textiles Technical School”). Second “Exposition Universelle” in Paris.

1856: King Wilhelm I of Württemberg awards Steinbeis a life peerage. The first State Exposition of industrial produce takes place to coincide with the main annual agricultural “Volksfest” festival in Cannstatt. Steinbeis is appointed Director of the Central Office.

1858: The exposition at the Cannstatter Volksfest becomes the “Progress Exhibition.”

1860: Establishment of an “Exchange” in the Königsbau edifice in Stuttgart at the instigation of Steinbeis.

1861: Opening of the “Department for Girls” at the Stuttgart School of Industrial Education.

1862: Introduction of freedom of trade in Württemberg.

1865: Steinbeis is appointed President of the Central Office. Establishment of a gypsum and wood model turnery for the Collection of Industrial Models.

1867: World Exhibition in Paris (Steinbeis is a member of the jury).

1868: Establishment of a “Steinbeis Foundation” by men in Württemberg’s industry in appreciation of contributions made by Steinbeis and the Central Office. Establishment of a “Women’s Training School” in Reutlingen.

1869: Steinbeis is invited to the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal as an “outstanding representative of industrial life.” Construction of the calorimeter by Julius Robert von Mayer.

1871: Establishment of a Württemberg Central Bank. Following the introduction of the German Empire, the Central Office is removed from some of its previous duties. Instead these are assumed by the imperial government: attendance at international exhibitions, patent processes, customs and trade law. The Industrial Exhibition in Ulm attracts major acclaim for the Central Office, and, in appreciation, the City of Ulm awards honorary citizenship.

1878: Disagreement with Bismarck’s policies regarding protective import duties result in heavy criticism of Steinbeis in the Chamber of Representatives.

1880: Application to enter retirement. Steinbeis moves to Leipzig.

1881: Württemberg State Industry Exhibition in Stuttgart.

1893: Steinbeis dies on February 7, in Leipzig.

(Source: Haus der Wirtschaft archives, Stuttgart)

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