Made in Germany

When it comes to building and designing products, Germans are known for their exacting standards. Basically, whenever you see a “Made in Germany” label, you know you’re looking at a high-quality product. Some of the world’s greatest inventions originated in Germany, ranging from the mind-blowing theory of relativity to the humble aspirin that eases a headache. And we have many famous Germans, and Americans of German origin, to thank for them.

German-Americans have made their mark in many fields, like science and technology, culinary arts, and transportation. Find out which inventions originated in Germany, and which Germans and German-Americans are behind them.

Hungry for more? When German emigrants ventured across the Atlantic to the New World they brought with them an appreciation of fine food and drink and a cornucopia of festive holiday recipes that are just as delicious today. Browse our collection of traditional German recipes and serve up a plateful of Germany for dinner tonight.

German Inventions

Imagine the world without beer. Without the computer, television or automobile. Pretty scary, right? Thankfully, German inventors and founders really came through, and we have all of these life-changing products today. Brush up on your knowledge of German inventions right here.

1971 | Rocket application for safety Thirty milliseconds are often decisive. In an accident, the airbag should have opened by then. The idea for the first “air protection” for motor vehicles was already being developed in the 1960s. However, the compressed air system tested worked too slowly. In 1971, Mercedes-Benz made a technical breakthrough. Triggered by an electronic sensor, a small rocket engine fills the airbag in milliseconds. However, the pressure is so high that restraining straps still have to hold the air pillow. Since the gases produced were soon found to be harmful, the fuel was replaced by a tablet that released only harmless substances as they burned. It, too, had to stand aside for new systems that combine pressure gas and pyrotechnics. Used for the first time in 1981 as optional equipment for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the airbag has now become standard in vehicles around the world. And it has helped save lives ever since.
Bayer AG started in 1863. The German chemical and pharmaceutical company was founded by Friedrich Bayer and Johann Friedrich Wescott. Bayer AG launched aspirin, once called the “drug of the century” in 1899, developed by Felix Hoffman, a synthesized white powder – acetylsalicylic acid. In addition to relieving pain, pure salicylic acid also causes intense nausea and corrodes the mucous membranes. Hoffmann developed the first pain remedy with a minimum of these side effects. After testing within the company, the sales figures were sensational. The medication became the best-selling preparation on the market. Aspirin is one of the world’s most-favored medications for pain, fever and inflammation. About 12,000 of the 50,000 tons of acetylsalicylic acid produced annually still come from Bayer.
1886 | Karl Benz & Gottlieb Daimler Finally, freedom of movement! The idea for a vehicle that would permit rapid, independent locomotion came to two German inventors almost simultaneously. In the year 1886, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler made humankind mobile: with a motor-driven tricycle and a motorized carriage. At first, Germans were unenthusiastic about the new invention. “Too loud, too fast, too dangerous” was the judgment. Despite that criticism, the automobile conquered the world in the 1920s.
1870 | Robert Koch When herds of livestock were stricken by a dangerous disease throughout Europe in 1870, Robert Koch, a country doctor from Posen, decided to search for the cause. He saved a large proportion of his money to buy a microscope and examined the animal samples. He soon made a find. Bacteria were the cause of the disease. With this discovery, Koch founded a new branch of science: bacteriology. Whether epidemics or gangrene: the new findings were a call to battle against many infectious diseases and advanced hygiene as the foundation of human health. The discovery of the tuberculosis bacillus in 1882 brought international fame to Robert Koch and drove the scientist to further studies. His commitment to combating epidemics took Koch around the world.
1516 | Dukes Wilhelm IV & Ludwig X of Bavaria Purely a matter of definition. Pitch. Ox bile. Snake root. Thirsty? These are the ingredients that "refined" beer in the middle ages. And even though they made its enjoyment a dangerous adventure, they were quite beneficial. Sometimes these unusual ingredients made it last longer. And sometimes they increased the intoxicating effect. Aromatic additives also made it easier to sell beer that had gone sour. But it didn’t last long. On April 23, 1516 the Ducal brothers Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X issued a decree known as the “Reinheitsgebot,” or “Purity Law.” This put an end to the adulteration of beer. From then on, only barley (and the malt made from it), hops and water could be used to produce it. The law was advantageous because it not only provided people with a reliable, wholesome beer, but it also secured wheat crops that were used to bake bread. Therefore it is no surprise that it is the oldest food regulation in the world still existing today.
1969 | J. Dethloff, H. Gröttrup At the start of the 1960s, large financial service providers were already betting everything on a card made of plastic. However, since neither signature nor magnetic strip met the security requirements of cashless payments, there was soon a call for an intelligent card. Jürgen Dethloff and Helmut Göttrup listened. In 1968 they applied for a patent for a card with integrated circuitry. In 1977, Dethloff outdid his first invention with the microprocessor card. In contrast to the memory card, which only has writable and readable data memories, the microprocessor card can be programmed freely. Today, everyday life is inconceivable without the chip card: telephone, credit, debit and patient card – all important data packaged neatly in plastic – which fits into our wallet.
1941 | Konrad Zuse Equipped with three logical circuits and 2,600 relays, the first fully functional, programmable computer was used in 1941. The inventor of the electro-mechanical, binary calculator Z3, Konrad Zuse was a construction engineer from Berlin. Since the tinkerer hated doing math, he began in 1936 to construct a purely mechanical calculator. The memory of the Z1 consisted of metal platelets that pushed pins into two different positions – zero and one. However, the rough components got stuck easily, resulting in repeated imprecise results. As World War II began, resources became scarce. By using relays of the widest variety of shapes and voltages, he still succeeded in making the leap to an electro-mechanical computer, called the Z3, which could carry out the four basic types of calculation in three seconds.
Whether fantasy or children’s film: flapping arms lift people into the air. Curious, because Otto Lilienthal had already shown in 1894, that this movement copied from the flight of birds cannot overcome gravity. The research of the inventor, who was born in Anklam, Mecklenburg , showed that the actual achievement is due to the curvature of the wing. Thanks to his skilled craftsmanship, he became in 1894 the first flyer in the history of mankind with his glider. As a leading expert in the area of flight technology, Lilienthal wrote articles and corresponded with other flight pioneers around the world. In 1896, he died tragically during a test flight. His findings led the Wright brothers in the USA to the discovery of the motorized airplane. (Information taken from “German Stars – 50 innovations,” produced by the Federal Foreign Office, the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, Invest in Germany, and the Goethe Institut.)
1936 | Henrich Focke The seed of maple tree showed how it could be done: rising by turning on its own axis. Since the 4th century A.D., people have been investigating vertical ascent using horizontal rotors. The first fully controllable helicopter was demonstrated in Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle in 1936. The inventor of the Fw 61 was the engineer Heinrich Focke. By tilting the rotor blades, the helicopter can execute movements in all directions. It can even hover. It is different from the airplane in that the pilot needs both hands and feet for the precision work of flying this technology. The left hand is responsible for the angle of inclination of all rotor blades; the right controls the angle of each individual blade. Two pedals are used to control the rear rotor. As a vertical takeoff aircraft with a minimal airport footprint, the helicopter is used where pinpoint landings are needed.
1936 | Hans von Ohain Finally, a driving force! The physicist Hans von Ohain and his assistant Hahn breathed a sigh of relief in 1935 as entrepreneur Ernst Heinkel offered to provide support for the two financially exhausted aviation pioneers. A new propellerless engine technology was needed – everyone had agreed on that. Eighteen months later the time came: the first prototype, which was all hydrogen-powered, was tested; it worked on the principle of reaction. This success motivated Ohain. His designs reached their pinnacle with the HeS-3 jet engine, which was installed in the Heinkel He 178 and designed especially for that purpose. The propulsion principle is similar to that of a four-stroke engine: air is taken in, compressed, burned and exhausted. The thrust provides the propulsive power. In August 1939, Heinkel and Ohain proudly presented the result of their studies: the first jet plane took off in Rostock .
Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler was born in Schorndorf near Stuttgart in southwestern Germany. In 1865, Daimler became the director of a factory in Wuerttemberg . There he met Wilhelm Maybach, who became his lifelong friend and business partner. In 1872, Daimler became technical director in the company of Nikolaus A. Otto, who invented the four-stroke internal-combustion engine. In 1882, Daimler and Maybach left the firm to start their own engine-building shop. Three years later, they patented one of the first successful high-speed internal-combustion engines and developed a carburetor that made the use of gasoline as fuel possible. They used their gasoline engines on a bicycle, which was perhaps the first motorcycle in the world. In 1890, the partners founded the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG), and in 1899 the first Mercedes car was built. Starting in 1910, the three-pointed star appeared on every car produced. It was designed by Gottlieb Daimler to show the ability of his motors for land, air, and sea use. In 1926, DMG merged with Benz & Cie and became Daimler-Benz AG.
1987 | Fraunhofer Institute Favorite T-shirt, bikini and 800 songs: converted to MP3, today you can take along an entire music collection. By eliminating all the frequencies that the human ear cannot perceive, the MP3 format shrinks the data volume to one-twelfth of its original size. In 1987 researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) succeeded in compressing audio files to MP3 format for the first time. Initially conceived as a way to improve the quality of telephony, the invention soon revolutionized the entire music industry via the internet. Despite abuse through illegal trading, the new technology was developed further to enrich our everyday lives by providing new multichannel capabilities and possibilities for an even greater reduction in file size. Players with storage functions make it possible to enjoy this compressed musical pleasure even while out and about.
1938 | Otto Hahn The end product had to be heavier than uranium. That was the result hoped for by chemist Otto Hahn, his assistant Fritz Strassmann, and the physicist Lise Meitner, as they began to bombard the radioactive element uranium with neutrons in 1938. The outcome of the test was a puzzle. Although the trio of researchers was counting on a new element, they now found that the much lighter barium was among the byproducts of the reaction. The scientists came to a spectacular conclusion: they had not created a neighbor of uranium but had split the atom; the bombardment of neutrons had produced barium and krypton. The energy released was equivalent to 200 mega-electron volts and had released neutrons that triggered a chain reaction. The splitting continued; the energy released was a million times greater than that from anthracite coal.
1958 | Arthur Fischer As long as it holds, nothing else matters. That’s probably what a British building contractor was thinking in 1919 when he stuffed a rag soaked in pig’s blood into a hole in the wall of the British Museum to fix a screw. Much more hygienic and long-lasting is the fischer plug, developed in the 1950s by Artur Fischer, In 1956, Fischer’s former master asked his apprentice to create a special plug. Made of weathering-resistant nylon, the small plug has everything to provide a secure hold. Because it has no stop collar, the plug can be used in holes of any depth. The screws spread it open as they are turned in, and the unmistakable little “plug fins” prevent the plug from turning along with the screw. A stroke of genius that has kept its promise ever since.
1990 | Junghans Uhren GmbH As punctual as Father Christmas. German punctuality is a source of both amusement and admiration abroad. The Junghans brand carries this German virtue to the entire world. With the discovery of the digital radio-controlled wristwatch in 1990, and an analogue variant in 1991, being late is practically impossible. The watches use a radio signal to set the exact time continuously and won’t lose a second even after a million years. The switch from normal to daylight savings time is also fully automated. This precision is made possible by the European time transmitter DCF 77 and microelectronic circuitry. After inventing the first radio-controlled table clock in 1985, Junghans designed punctuality for the wrist as the latest highpoint of clock technology. The radio-controlled wristwatch was developed within a period of two years.
1887 | Emil Berliner 90 degree zigzag. Today’s youth hardly know them; the 40-year olds mourn them. With the invention of the record player in 1887, Emil Berliner brought music into the living room for more than 100 years. He changed the angle between the needle and carrier foil by 90 degrees. From then on, vertical vibrations from a zigzag groove were the sound of a century.
1951 | Rudolf Hell When the morning paper already has photos of the late goal at the soccer match the night before, the gratitude for this sight is due not only to the responsible player but also to the idea of one of the most important German inventors. In 1951, the electro-technician Rudolf Hell developed the prototype for digital image processing: for the first time the Klitschograph made it possible to scan images electronically and engrave them on a metal plate in order to produce finished printing plates. That cut the production time of newspapers substantially. In the following years, Hell was responsible for additional decisive advances in electronic reproduction technology. His work hit a high point in 1963, with the invention of the Chromograph, the first scanner for color images.
1925 | Oskar Barnack Tabloids, daily newspapers, vacation memories and family photos: without photographs, life would be missing some lasting visual impressions. In 1925, Oskar Barnack’s pocket camera laid the cornerstone for spontaneous snapshots. As usual back then, the professional precision mechanic and hobby photographer initially utilized the bulky bellows camera. Very soon, he made a noteworthy discovery: the pictures on the plates showed more detail than necessary – for Barnack an indication that a smaller format would also satisfy the eye of the viewer. The use of a 35-mm cinema film proved to be the optimal solution. Wrapped around a spool, the new medium made it possible to expose 24x36 mm segments in rapid succession. The smaller size of the film cartridges also made the housing more compact; the camera became a handy companion.
1881 | Otto von Bismarck The Kaiser himself gave the starting signal: on September 17, 1881 Wilhelm I addressed the Reichstag asking for material insurance for working people. Of course, his demand was not completely selfless. He wanted to weaken the Social Democrats; to win the workers back for the state. Chancellor Bismarck was also firmly convinced that a health, accident, old age and unemployment insurance law could solve many social problems and win the good will of laborers. His health insurance law provides for financial contributions by employees and employers. The contributions for accident insurance were financed solely by the companies, which initially brought resistance from the industrialists. Bismarck’s social laws became the basis for a modern state based on social justice, and were the forerunners of legislation enacted in the U.S. during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
1928 | Fritz Pfleumer An undesired hiss disturbs any tape recording. Today, digital recording technology can silence any unwanted noise quite simply. In 1928, however, tape recording was an innovation. The inventor of this groundbreaking technology is Fritz Pfleumer. Instead of the usual wire for sound recording, the engineer used a band of paper, which was coated with magnetisable metal. With an exciting test Pfleumer convinced the experts: after an initial presentation he tore the tape into pieces and then pasted them back together. The only difference between the newly constructed tape and the original recording was a slight popping at the cuts. Pfleumer’s tape not only extended the length of recordings, it also provided the basis for perfect recordings.
1930 | Manfred von Ardenne An eye-catcher for the living room. In 1953, as Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, a large number of Germans participated in the event. Live – thanks to television technology, which was slowly but surely conquering the living room. On Christmas Eve 1930, Manfred von Ardenne made the first successful electronic television transmission. The principle was already known: on the transmission end the images are broken down and the reassembled at the receiving end. To scan the image, von Ardenne used the luminous spot of a Braun tube, which made the electric beams visible. In 1935, the first regular television program was broadcast; however, this new form of entertainment did not make its breakthrough until after the Second World War. Formerly, people got together at the cinema; now they gathered around the television. Since the early 1990’s, transmissions have been available around the clock. Viewers can now select from hundreds of programs.
1905 | Albert Einstein A pop star usually gets to be one by serving up easily digestible fare that is easy to sing along with. Albert Einstein enjoys this status, although practically no one can sing his greatest hit, the Theory of Relativity. The man with his tongue stuck out knew how to market himself and his inventions even at the start of the 20th century. In 1905 he questioned the absoluteness of time and space. Time, he claimed, always depends on the speed of the moving body. Consequently, time measurements are always relative to their system of reference. As a result, clocks in planes or express trains always run slower than the watch of a pedestrian. Together with his formulation of the General Theory of Relativity in 1915, Einstein changed the understanding of time and space worldwide.
1961 | Schering AG Outwitted! With 50 micrograms of estrogen, Schering succeeded in 1961 in simulating a pregnancy in the female body. The market launch of the first pill in Germany had far-reaching consequences: sexual lust no longer needed to result in the blessing of children. The new self-determination of women split society into two camps: one side celebrated sexual freedom; the other sensed moral decay. As a result of the latter, the pill was initially not prescribed without a good reason. It was reserved only for mothers with at least two children and, furthermore, it was prescribed prudishly as a medication against menstrual complaints, the idea being that young women were not supposed to have sexual relations before marriage. It was the movement of 1968 that finally helped the pill make its breakthrough – a pill that is now available in much lower and more tolerable dosages.
1907 | Ottomar H. von Mayenburg The flavor may be a matter of taste, but not the effect. Whether herb, mint or sports gel, at least twice a day toothpaste provides refreshing oral hygiene. The person responsible for healthy teeth is the pharmacist Ottomar von Mayenburg. In his Leo Laboratory, a small attic laboratory above the “Löwen-Apotheke” pharmacy in Dresden , he experimented in 1907 with tooth powder, mouthwash and ethereal oils. Von Mayenburg tried to produce a mouth-cleansing paste that guaranteed the best possible protection for teeth if used regularly. The result of the experiments is Chlorodont toothpaste. With a little peppermint added for good taste, he filled the paste directly into pliable metal tubes. At the first International Hygiene Exhibition, which was held in Munich in 1911, the Chlorodont toothpaste won a gold medal.
2002 | ThyssenKrupp Elevator AG New York, Singapore or Frankfurt am Main : without safe elevator systems, the skyline of many metropolises would look different today. The TWIN elevator developed by ThyssenKrupp in 2002 represents a milestone in the history of elevator technology. The new system has two cabins in each shaft, arranged one on the top of the other, which can move to the individual floors independent of one another using the same guide rails. When passengers call an elevator they indicate their destination outside the cabin using a touch screen and are directed to the appropriate elevator. The cabins do not interfere with one another and always maintain a minimum distance. With the TWIN elevator in a traditional four-shaft group, 40 per cent more people reach the desired floor sooner, and a significant reduction in building volume can be achieved.
1895 | Wilhelm K. Röntgen To see through something impenetrable, people often wish they had x-ray vision. This way, secrets, the unexpected, or undesirable can be uncovered. In 1895, in contrast, the inventor of the x-ray was not driven by the desire to look through anything. Simply by chance, the physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered light in a test setup, where, according to previous physical knowledge, there should have been none. The special thing about this light is its ability to penetrate matter. This gave him the idea to photograph the inside of people. In contrast to soft tissue, hard tissue absorbs the radiation especially well and leaves behind white shadows in the x-ray image. This makes it especially easy to diagnose broken bones. A medical revolution!
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was born in Konstanz in southwestern Germany. Zeppelin served with the Prussian army and fought in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, during which he was commended for bravery. Von Zeppelin was the first large-scale builder of the rigid dirigibles which eventually became synonymous with his name. Zeppelin first conducted balloon trials whilst in the U.S. as a military observer during the 1860s. He subsequently founded an airship factory in Friedrichshafen , and after his retirement, proceeded to devote the remainder of his life to the design and construction of engine-powered dirigibles. The first successful trial of one of his airships was on July 2, 1900. Eight years later, zeppelins were making routine commercial mail and passenger flights over Germany, with a remarkable safety record despite the risks in using highly flammable hydrogen gas to inflate the airships. Zeppelin successfully persuaded the German military of the potential of using airships during wartime. Their use was more or less discontinued in 1917 as Allied bombers demonstrated a consistent ability to destroy the airships.