Bausch, John Jacob

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Bausch, John Jacob

Bausch & Lomb Incorporated


John Jacob Bausch, a German immigrant, came to the United States in 1849 and, in 1853, started one of the first optical companies in Rochester, New York. This company became the international company Bausch & Lomb Incorporated, a maker of contact lenses and related products. Bausch stocked his first store with $62.00 he borrowed from his friend, Henry Lomb, who later became his partner.

Personal Life

John Jacob Bausch was born July 25, 1830, in Gross Suessin, Wurttemberg, Germany. He was one of seven children born to George Bausch, a baker, and Annie Schmidt. Annie died when John was six. Bausch immigrated to America in 1849 and married Barbara Zimmerman six months later. They had three sons, Edward, Henry, and William. Bausch was married a second time in 1902 to Caroline Zimmerman.

As a young man, Bausch learned the optical trade and the trade of wood turning from his older brother, who had served apprenticeships in both occupations. Bausch was more interested in the grinding and polishing of lenses, and at the age of 18, he heard of a job in an optical shop in Berne, Switzerland. He traveled there by stagecoach, and received the job and began work for $.36 a day.

Because of the poor economy and political unrest in Switzerland, Bausch decided to go to America and immigrated in April of 1849. Landing in New York City after a tempestuous sea journey, the ship's passengers were told New York was overcrowded and were immediately advised to travel west. They went to Buffalo, where Bausch worked at odd jobs for a few months and then headed for Rochester to try to find optical work. Instead he found work as a wood turner for a dollar a day.

Career Details

Seven weeks after his marriage, Bausch hurt his hand in a buzz saw and had to have two fingers amputated. He was incapacitated for four months and was unable to go back to wood turning. It was then that he decided to start his own optical business. He obtained some optical materials from his brother and set out as a peddler of spectacles. He managed to sell the goods in six months and then he finally obtained some space in a shoemaker's store. During most of the winter, they used old shoes for fuel. Along with odd jobs, he was able to make four dollars a week.

In 1853 Bausch established a modest optical shop in the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester. After a year of struggling, Bausch borrowed $62 from his friend, Henry Lomb, with the promise of taking him on as a partner if the business took off. With this loan, Bausch expanded the business. He traveled back to Germany to obtain materials, rented a better store, and stocked his shop with a variety of products such as spectacles, thermometers, microscopes, telescopes, magnifiers, and field glasses. He also began grinding lenses by hand.

The partners struggled for seven years, during which time Lomb lived at Bausch's home, and both had other jobs. Still they made no profit and by this time Bausch owed Lomb $1000. When the Civil War began and Lomb went into the army, he sent Bausch part of his pay as a soldier, which carried the business through four years. The two remained friends and partners throughout a series of ventures until Lomb's death in 1909.

During this time, a turning point was reached when Bausch noticed a piece of vulcanized rubber while walking down the street. He had an idea that this was good material for making frames. Until then frames were imported from Europe and were made of horn or metal and sawed by hand. Volcanite frames were a great deal less expensive than other frames and more durable as well. He began to make frames out of the new material and was thus one of the pioneers in manufacturing plastics. These frames became so popular that Bausch and his two sons had to work seven days a week, often into the night, to make enough frames to meet the demand. When Lomb came back from the war, Bausch paid off his debts and had a bank balance of $800.

Bausch became less interested in the retail store and turned it almost entirely over to his younger brother, Edward E. Bausch, who had come to New York State with another brother, George. Bausch now bought power equipment for grinding and polishing lenses. From the India Rubber Comb Company, he secured the exclusive rights to manufacture optical instruments out of vulcanite and thus formed the Vulcanite Optical Instrument Company, incorporated in 1866. Later he changed the name to Bausch & Lomb Optical Company. The business required Lomb to move to New York, where he stayed for 10 years.

Bausch told an interviewer that it was only in 1890 that the business began to make any real money. By that time he was 60 years old he had been in business for 37 years. In 1893, the Zeiss Works of Jena developed a new type of binoculars, and Bausch & Lomb acquired the American rights to these patents. The Bausch & Lomb instruments became the standard for the United States' Army and Navy. The company continued to expand, opening offices in Chicago in 1896; Boston in 1903; San Francisco in 1904; and London in 1908. In that year, the company incorporated in New York. Bausch also acquired a manufacturer of fire-control instruments, George N. Saegmuller.

After the death of Henry Lomb in 1909, Bausch continued to expand the business and began to develop equipment for "testing" eyes for vision and disease. During the latter part of World War I the company's products were sold almost exclusively to the military. Dr. Arthur L. Day, director of the Carnegie Institute in Washington, supplied several scientists to assist in the project of producing glass to be used in range finders, binoculars, telescopes, periscopes, and other instruments for the armed forces. In 1915 Bausch introduced motion picture lenses for the new movie industry. In 1918 at the end of the war, the company had 6,000 employees and sales of more than $14 million. John Jacob Bausch lived to the age of 96—long enough to see the business he had started from scratch as a poor immigrant grow to be the largest optical company in the world.

Chronology: John Jacob Bausch

1830: Born.

1848: Went to work in an optical shop in Switzerland.

1849: Immigrated to America.

1853: Established an optical shop in Rochester, New York.

1865: Started making optical frames from vulcanized rubber.

1866: Incorporated the Vulcanite Optical Instrument Company (later renamed Bausch & Lomb Optical Company).

1893: Acquired the American rights to a new type of binoculars.

1896: Expanded the business by opening offices throughout the United States.

1912: Developed equipment for testing eyes.

1915: Introduced motion picture lenses for the young movie industry.

1926: Died.

Social and Economic Impact

When Bausch died in 1908, the company was producing more than 20 million lenses annually. One of its most successful products was Ray-Ban sunglasses. Bausch & Lomb went public in 1938, won an Oscar for its Cinemascope lens in the 1950s, and made it onto the Fortune 500 list in 1975. Since the 1970s it has been a leader in contact lenses, medical products, and research, having acquired several other companies in the 1960s through the 1990s.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Bausch & Lomb Incorporated
1 Bausch & Lomb Pl.
Rochester, NY 14604-2701
Business Phone: (716)338-6000


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Hoover's Handbook of American Business 1997. Austin, TX: Hoover's Business Press, 1997.

Randall, Michael, "Do You Think That Luck Is Against You?" American Magazine, September 1922.

Who Was Who in America. Chicago: A. N. Marquis, 1943.