Zeiss IV Planetarium Projectors in Operation in 1980

   By Glenn A. Walsh, Friends of the Zeiss – 2008 January


The Zeiss II Planetarium Projector produced in 1938 by the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany, for The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in Pittsburgh, was the last Zeiss planetarium projector constructed before the onset of World War II (and the last Zeiss Model II ever built). It was also the first planetarium projector placed on an elevator (a custom-built “worm-gear” elevator, utilizing four huge worm-gears, built by the Westinghouse Electric Company). Once World War II began in September of 1939 (Buhl Planetarium’s official dedication was actually 1939 October 24), the Carl Zeiss Optical Works was converted to making bomb-sights for German military aircraft and tanks. This facility was bombed and heavily damaged by the U.S. 8th Air Force in the Spring of 1945.


In addition to Buhl Planetarium’s Zeiss II Planetarium Projector (which was the oldest operable major planetarium projector in the world, prior to its dismantling and storage in October of 2002), Buhl Planetarium had also ordered a 4-inch Zeiss Refractor Telescope from the Carl Zeiss Optical Works. This was Buhl Planetarium’s first telescope, before completion and dedication of the 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope (manufactured by Chicago’s Gaertner Scientific Corporation) on 1941 November 19.


Of course, Buhl Planetarium had ordered an astronomical refractor telescope (i.e. one which is better suited for viewing celestial objects, even though the image is inverted, or “upside-down”). However, by mistake the Carl Zeiss Optical Works had sent a terrestrial refractor telescope (i.e. one where the image is not inverted, in other words a “right-side-up” image to view objects on the Earth).


Buhl Planetarium management would have liked to send this telescope back to the Zeiss Optical Works, in exchange for an astronomical refractor. However, with the outbreak of World War II, such an exchange was impossible. So, Buhl Planetarium learned to live with a terrestrial refractor telescope, and now the City of Pittsburgh (legal owner of both the Zeiss projector and Zeiss telescope—this telescope is presently used by The Carnegie Science Center) has a Zeiss telescope with a very unique history!


After World War II, the Yalta Agreement was implemented including the partition of Germany into eastern and western sectors. The Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena found itself within Communist-controlled Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany).


However, upon the U.S. Third Army encountering the Carl Zeiss plant, after entering Jena in April of 1945, they immediately started evacuating manufacturing assets and documents to the American zone of occupation, before implementation of the partition. Further, about 130 Carl Zeiss managers, engineers, and technicians were also evacuated (most of them voluntarily) to Heidenheim (near Stuttgart), where a temporary factory was set-up before a permanent factory was constructed in the small town of Oberkochan.


War damage to the Carl Zeiss Optical Works in Jena was repaired, but much of the facility was relocated to Moscow upon Russian control of Jena. However, eventually Carl Zeiss Jena restarted, producing planetarium projectors again, but primarily for Communist-bloc countries; a few also found their way to Canada.


A second Carl Zeiss optical company was created in Oberkochan in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which started manufacturing planetarium projectors and other optical devices for America, Europe, and other western nations.


Neither Zeiss company was able to produce planetarium projectors for several years after the end of World War II. Consequently, the California Academy of Sciences commissioned the production of, what is now, the oldest American-built planetarium projector for the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco. This one-of-a-kind planetarium projector was dedicated on 1952 November 6.


Also, in 1949 the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill dedicated a new planetarium, utilizing a Zeiss II projector that had been originally installed in Stockholm, Sweden in 1930. The projector had been in storage for several years and was sold to the University after World War II.


No further Zeiss II planetarium projectors were produced after World War II. However, several Zeiss II projectors (including Adler Planetarium’s Zeiss II in Chicago, but not including Buhl Planetarium’s Zeiss II) were upgraded to, what was then designated as, the Zeiss Model III. These upgrades occurred at the new Oberkochan plant.


The first new Zeiss planetarium projectors, produced at the Oberkochan plant, were designated the Zeiss Model IV. Their production began in the mid-1950s.


The following is a list of the Zeiss Model IV Planetarium Projectors that were in operation as of 1980. Few continue in operation as of 2008; most have been replaced with more modern projectors. Information for this list came from the following book:


  • Hagar, Charles F. Planetarium, Window to the Universe. Oberkochan, West Germany: Carl Zeiss, 1980.


Athens, Greece 1966


Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A. – 1967: Zeiss IV; 1968: Zeiss IV converted to Zeiss V.


Bangkok, Thailand 1964


Berlin (West Berlin), Germany1926: Zeiss II; 1965: Zeiss IV; 1967 Zeiss IV converted to Zeiss V.


Bochum, West Germany1964


Buenos Aires, Argentina1967: Zeiss IV; 1971: Zeiss IV converted to Zeiss V.


Caracas, Venezuela1961


Hamburg, West Germany1930: Zeiss II; 1957: Zeiss IV.


London, England -  1958


Los Angeles, California U.S.A.1935: Zeiss II; 1964: Zeiss IV.


Mexico, D.F. Mexico – 1967


Milan, Italy1930: Zeiss II; 1959: Zeiss II converted to Zeiss III; 1968: Zeiss IV.


Montreal, Quebec Canada1966: Zeiss IV; 1967 (in time for Expo ’67 World’s Fair): Zeiss IV converted to Zeiss V.


Morelia, Mexico1975


Munich, West Germany1925: Zeiss I (very first Zeiss projector); 1960:  Zeiss IV (Zeiss I became permanent exhibit in Deutsches Museum).


Nagoya, Japan1962


New York City, New York U.S.A. (original Hayden Planetarium) – 1935: Zeiss II; 1960: Zeiss IV; 1969: Zeiss VI.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S.A.1933: Zeiss II; 1962: Zeiss IV.


Rosario, Argentina1962: received delivery of Zeiss IV; 1970: opened astronomical observatory; 1982: planetarium was expected to open.


Tokyo, Japan1938: Zeiss II (destroyed in World War II); 1957: Zeiss IV.


Vienna, Austria1927: Zeiss II (destroyed in World War II); 1964: Zeiss IV.