Mechanical engineering at OHM – Historical development and notes

The question of whether the technical school system accompanied or played a pioneering role in the first “Industrial Revolution” can, at least in the case of southern Germany and our region, be answered in the fact that,

by founding the “Polytechnische Schule [Polytechnic School]” in 1823, forward-thinking Nuremberg politicians were one of the triggers of a development that set industrialization in motion and which ultimately led to the establishment of the technical colleges/universities and – at the end of the 20th century – the universities of applied sciences.

Looking further back into the history of this development brings us to the dispute between the old mining cities of Freiberg in Saxony and Banská Štiavnica in Upper Hungary (now in Slovakia) over the copyright for establishing the first technical college (in this case for mining) in the 18th century. “Polytechnik [Polytechnic]” was the catchword used at a time during which efforts were being made to bring natural and (later) engineering sciences under the curriculum of the “Hohe Schulen [advanced schools]”. The “Ecole Polytechnique” in revolutionary Paris and the similar “Polytechnische Institut” in Vienna a little later, for example, played a pioneering role in furthering this development.

At the turn of the 19th century, Nuremberg was in political agony and economic impoverishment and could no longer adequately maintain its university in Altdorf. In an act of self-help, the “Gesellschaft zur Beförderung vaterländischer Industrie [Society for the promotion of national*) industry]” was founded in 1792, which, just one year later, would go on to found an “Industrial School for Girls” as a model “institution” – the “Industrial School for Boys” followed 10 years later. Shortly afterwards, in 1806, Nuremberg’s independence – and with it, its school system – came to an end. Even the “Polytechnische Institut”, by now founded in the Kingdom of Bavaria as the highest level of the Nürnberger Realstudienanstalt [Nuremberg Educational Institution], only enjoyed a few years of existence.

Johannes Scharrer was the Nuremberg politician who, as the city’s second mayor, pushed through the foundation of a municipal “Polytechnic School” in 1823. The Bavarian king liked this institution so much that he elevated this one in Nuremberg and two more in Munich and Augsburg to the title of Royal Bavarian Schools 10 years later.

The period up to 1868 was a golden age for the Nuremberg “Technical Educational Institutions”. Renowned scientists and artists (the most famous being Georg Simon Ohm, after whom the university is named) worked here in the middle of the 19th century and were partly involved in the construction of the first railway on German soil and in the construction of the canal between the Main and Danube rivers:

The industrial age dawned and, as the decades passed, Nuremberg became the most important industrial city in Bavaria, a status it did not relinquish to Munich until the 1960s.

The next phase in the history of the “Technical Educational Institutions” in Nuremberg was full of change. In 1868, they were downgraded to the title of “Königliche Bayersichen Industrieschule [Royal Bavarian Industrial School]”, while the royal seat of Munich was given the Technical University. In 1906, the Nuremberg Institution was transformed into the “Technikum [Technical School]”, and in 1919, it became the “Höhere Technische Staatslehranstalt [State Higher Technical Education Institute]” (HTS). Following a further, albeit short, period of prosperity in the 1920s, it was given the name “Ohm-Polytechnikum [Ohm Polytechnical College]” on its 100th anniversary. During the Third Reich, teaching activities were thinned out and the duration of studies was shortened to give priority to fostering “fitness for military service” among young men. It was not until the aftermath of the war, post 1945, that renewed efforts were made to establish a high-quality engineering school, which was given the name “Akademie für angewandte Technik [Academy for Applied Technology]”.

Following long political disputes about the future of the many polytechnics, mechanical engineering institutes, academies etc., a breakthrough came in the early 1970s, which led to the founding of the universities of applied sciences. In Nuremberg, a new university for engineering, business administration, social services, and design was established, formed of various traditional and well-established municipal higher education institutes. Within just a few years, the number of students rocketed. Both the state and society struggled to find the means to cope with this “overload” of students. The number of lecturers was likewise insufficient to keep pace with the rapid growth in student numbers, as were the measures implemented to expand the infrastructure.

In 1983, on the institute’s 150th anniversary as a state institution, the name “Georg-Simon-Ohm” was again awarded by a decision of the Bavarian Parliament. By the end of the century, all fields of study and faculties had been relocated to the new buildings at Wöhrder Tal, the place where Nuremberg’s industry had been established at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era. The Georg-Simon-Ohm University of Applied Sciences strives to maintain its tradition as a progressive educational institution and its good reputation – and the outlook is good.



Nuremberg, July 1999


Prof. Ekkehard H. Wagner



*) “national” was used in reference only to the “Free Imperial City of Nuremberg”.