Where it all started

The girl, the cat and the anvil

Let's go back to the beginning: The drawing of a girl with a cat under her arm represents a momentous turning point in the life of creative mind Emil Ziehl. One of six brothers and sisters, Emil grew up in the surroundings of his father's smithy and coachworks in Brandenburg and, in time, he followed his father into the family business as an apprentice in the forge. Having recognised his talents, Emil's form master sought out the child's father with the picture of the girl in hand to try to see what could be done for the boy. He was successful in his attempt - Emil's father could see that his son was not born for a life wielding a hammer and tongs and working the anvil. He packed him off with his freehand drawing talents to the Rackowsche School of Drawing in Brandenburg. At this time, Emil inscribed the drawing of the girl that brought about this momentous turnaround in his life with the initials "EZ"; in the style he would use for the rest of his life.

Having successfully graduated from the drawing school, Emil, who also had an aptitude for technical subjects, spent time at the Technical University. On completing his studies, on the recommendation of his professor, he entered in his first position as a draughtsman with AEG. However, his technical aptitude and inventiveness soon led him on to bigger things, in the field of electric motor development where Emil Ziehl did pioneering work for AEG in the measurement and testing of generators developed by the company. After moving to Berliner Maschinenbau AG, formerly L. Schwartzkopff, in 1897 he was involved in the development of an electric gyroscope for the company. The Imperial Navy gave him his very own torpedo boat to use when testing the gyroscopic compass. And so, the first electrically driven gyroscope held in gimbals came into being at the turn of the century. Emil Ziehl was granted the patent for the new invention as an employee of Berliner Maschinenbau AG in 1900. Even back then Emil Ziehl was using the external rotor he had drawn at the turn of the century for his electrical gyroscope. The published and patented gyroscope design took him all over the world, including to the USA. While employed by Berliner Maschinenbau AG he registered further patents, one of which he was able to sell at a good profit in the USA. The Berliner Maschinenbau AG thanked him with a large bonus. With the money he saved, Emil Ziehl bought the Rolandwerke premises in Berlin-Weißensee in 1909. Together with a Swede by the name of Abegg, who wanted to participate in the company financially, Emil Ziehl founded ZIEHL-ABEGG on 2 January 1910. So far so good:

The blue era had begun

Unfortunately, in the year of its foundation Abegg decided to part company with the firm and so the promised financial resources to set the company up were not forthcoming and his wind motor patent proved unusable. However, since all designs, business documents and signboards had been drawn up as ZIEHL-ABEGG and were already in circulation, Emil Ziehl decided to keep the name of ZIEHL-ABEGG for reasons of cost. The "Z A" logo, designed by Emil Ziehl, was also used for the first time in the year of the company's foundation. The design that incorporates the letter Z with an A below in the form of a triangle, is still in use to this day, more than a 100 years later, and has lost none of its distinctive impact. In the subsequent years Emil Ziehl continually expanded and consolidated his company through his outstanding success in designing and developing special electric motors. Emil, who in the meantime had become the father of four children – three girls and the long-awaited first son and heir Günther Ziehl (born 5 September 1913), followed three and a half years later by Heinz Ziehl – continued to work tirelessly on new ideas for direct current machines, generators and three-phase alternating current motors. Despite international political crises and war, Ziehl bought new industrial premises on the works railway in Berlin-Weißensee and successfully expanded his company. His successful inventions brought him worldwide respect and recognition. He published numerous specialist articles about the type series, generators and motors he designed. In 1914 he set up a plant in Berlin-Weißensee to manufacture electric motors in series for the first time. The first pole-changing elevator motors were also developed here.

The first airships to cross the Atlantic were fitted out with transformers manufactured by ZIEHL-ABEGG. The F.-T. generators, also developed at ZIEHL-ABEGG, would later run in all Zeppelin airships and Lufthansa machines. In 1920 a devastating fire destroyed a large part of the new factory. Nonetheless, Emil was able to overcome this reversal in the company's fortunes – in part thanks to the outstanding efforts of his loyal employees. His good contacts, but primarily the company's outstanding successes, meant it had become a major supplier to Telefunken, with more than 90% of overall production being accounted for by Telefunken at times.

Further trend-setting products made their appearance, such as a direct current dynamo with an output of 10,000 V DC voltage at 10 kilowatts – a sensation in its time –, submersible motors with centrifugal pumps, transformers, power units and much more. A letter of appreciation still in the company archive reveals the reputation for reliability and quality of ZIEHL-ABEGG products even back then. Written by airship manufacturer Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, the letter refers to the outstanding performance of the F.-T. high-voltage generators for the Graf Zeppelin airship.

1935 – Emil Ziehl celebrated the company's 25-year anniversary and its many successes with his employees, customers, suppliers and local representatives. Around this time, Günther Ziehl, Emil's oldest son, commenced his studies at the Technical University in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Technically gifted like his father, with a keen interest from childhood in how the production processes and the company worked, he was called on to take up the reins of the business at an early age. On 1 June 1939, while Günther was in the middle of his examinations, his father Emil Ziehl, creative mind, multi-faceted maker, thinker and founder of ZIEHL-ABEGG, died.

Deeply shocked and awed by the loss of his father, Günther Ziehl took over the management of ZIEHL-ABEGG, with its workforce now numbering around 1,000 employees, at the age of just 28 years. Before his death, Emil Ziehl had transferred full power of attorney and all rights to the business on his death to his first-born son. Günther Ziehl felt a great sense of duty to discharge this enormous and remarkable trust and legacy responsibly.

Several weeks after these events, Günther took his state examination to qualify as an engineer and carried the company forward in the spirit of his father. With great determination and the support of his loyal employees, the young Günther expanded the company yet further. The start of electrical gyroscope production at ZIEHL-ABEGG did not come from nowhere, after all it was Emil Ziehl who registered the key invention for the gyroscope during the last century. However, this decision had profound consequences for the company in the ensuing war years, since manufacturing at the company did not go unnoticed by the British intelligence services. The British dropped incendiary bombs on the factory in 1943 and, in a major air raid on Berlin in 1944, 24 bombs fell on the ZIEHL-ABEGG works. To their great good fortune, Günther Ziehl and his employees were saved from the worst, as the bombs struck only the administrative buildings. The employees escaped without a scratch and the main production halls remained intact – the bombs had missed their mark.

Thanks to the hard work of the ZIEHL-ABEGG employees, production was able to start up again within a very short period. At the end of the war, Günther Ziehl had to dismantle the entire production facilities, pack the equipment onto rail wagons and hand it over to the Russians. He was at least able to safely hold onto the drawings of the ZIEHL-ABEGG designs needed for production and other important documentation. And so Günther Ziehl fled the Soviet occupation zone and, after an epic journey, reached Füssen in the West, where he settled with his young family. Fortunately, he learned that his younger brother Heinz and his family had also survived the war unscathed. Günther then worked in Füssen for the local transport service, and at the end of a day's work would travel by foot to outlying farms to repair any faulty electrical equipment they had in return for food. It didn't take long for news of his technical know-how to get round. His entrepreneurial spirit soon led Ziehl to start a new business based on this growing reputation. Günther Ziehl applied for an official trade permit for his electrical installation business and, having submitted his certificates and diplomas to TH Berlin, this was granted. Willing to take a risk, but also confident in his own capabilities, technical whizz-kid Günther took on his first big contract – the renewal of the winding for a 300 KVA transformer. The contract was completed successfully and the reputation of the special electrical installations workshop run by Günther Ziehl quickly grew. However, he never lost sight of his father's wishes – and so Günther asked his brother Heinz Ziehl to join him in Füssen so that together they could continue the life work of their father: ZIEHL-ABEGG.

ZIEHL-ABEGG must go on

After scores of problems re-registering and re-establishing the company, the first positive step was taken in 1947, when the brothers started their own motor production business following a move to Pfronten in Allgäu. In spite of the fact that they were not able to register the name ZIEHL-ABEGG in Kempten, the brothers continued to trade under this name.

However, the rural location of the growing business created problems in terms of proximity to suppliers and customers, and there was a need to find a new site with good links to a large metropolitan area. A lucky coincidence and Günther Ziehl's proven negotiating skills led to a decision in 1949 to move the new headquarters of ZIEHL-ABEGG to Künzelsau, close to the city of Stuttgart in the south west of Germany. Günther Ziehl was able to re-enter ZIEHL-ABEGG in the Schwäbisch Hall trade register as he had been the last sole managing director in charge of the ZIEHL-ABEGG works in Berlin up to the end of the war. He was able to submit comprehensive calculation notes on film reel and all the vital documentation he had kept safe during the family's flight. This meant the right to continue the company was first allowed and then recognised on the basis of the intellectual property and without the requirement for any money to change hands.