Optician, inventor, and businessman Carl August von Steinheil was born in Alsace, Germany on October 12, 1801. The son of a well-to-do tax administrator, he first majored in law in Erlangen before switching his focus to science at Gottingen University. Relocating to Konigsberg in 1882, Mr. Steinheil studied physical science with Carl Friedrich Gauss and astronomy with Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel. He rejoined his parents who were now living in Munich, and in 1832 was appointed by the University of Munich to serve as professor of physics and mathematics. Three years' later, he became an active member of the Royal Bavarian Society, and for the next several years conducted several laboratory experiments that led to his invention of an electronic telegraph that could actually write with the use of two magnetic needles.
Dr. Steinheil's interest in photography began in 1839, shortly after learning of the daguerreotype and William Henry Fox Talbot's calotype. He conducted a series of experiments with his university colleague, Dr. Franz von Kobell. Dr. Steinheil designed his own camera, which he used to produced Germany’s first daguerreotypes and calotypes in the summer of 1839. In December of that same year, he created a pocket camera that made pictures that could be seen with a magnifying glass.
However, in the next decade, he temporarily abandoned his photographic research in order to accept an appointment by the Austrian government to serve as the head of telegraphy in its Ministry of Commerce. He was responsible for supervising the installation of a complex telegraphic system for Austria's royal family. But in the 1850s, Dr. Steinheil resumed his optical research, and along with his son Hugh Adolph (1832-1893), he opened a workshop, which later became C. A. Steinheil Sohne, one of Germany's leading lens manufacturers. Initially, the father-and-son team concentrated solely on astronomical optics, but in 1865 they applied for a joint patent for a wide-angle photographic lens they contended was distortion-free. This periscopic lens, however, was lacking in other areas (it was not achromatic, for example), and its popularity was short-lived. However, in 1866, Dr. Steinheil and his son introduced an achrormatic version of this lens they called the Aplanat, which was similar to the Rapid Rectilinear lens John Henry Dallmeyer had recently invented in England.
In 1866, Dr. Steinheil turned over his interest in the lens manufacturing business to his son Hugh Adolph, who also became a successful lens designer. Sixty-eight-year-old Carl August von Steinheil died in Munich on September 14, 1870. The C. A. Steinheil Sohne manufacturing company continued to be operated as a family-owned business until its acquisition in 1962.
2007 Astronomers at Work: A Study of the Replicability of 19th Century Astronomical Practice (Frankfurt, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag), p. 25.
1996 Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (London: Routledge), p. 1157.
1986 A Concise History of Photography (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 19.
2007 The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th Ed. (Burlington, MA: Focal Press/Elsevier), p. 133.
2003 The Worldwide History of Telecommunications (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), p. 52.
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