Georg Friedrich von Reichenbach

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Georg Friedrich von Reichenbach, around 1825, lithograph by Joseph Karl Stieler

Bust of Reichenbach in the Hall of Fame, Munich

Georg von Reichenbach (right) next to Joseph von Fraunhofer (center, demonstrating the spectroscope), painting by Rudolf Wimmer

Grave (remains of the former arcade grave) of Georg Reichenbach at the Old Southern Cemetery in Munich Location

Georg Friedrich Reichenbach, from 1813 von Reichenbach (* 24 August 1771 in Durlach; † 21 May 1826 in Munich) was a Bavarian inventor and engineer. With the entrepreneur Josef von Utzschneider and the precision mechanic Joseph Liebherr he founded an optical-mechanical workshop in 1804, which produced the best theodolites and astronomical telescopes for decades.


Reichenbach was the son of a locksmith, he did his apprenticeship in Mannheim and was allowed to travel to England with electoral sponsorship. After his return, he designed machines for a rifle factory. In 1802 he built a circular dividing machine in Munich and in 1809 developed optical precision instruments together with Joseph von Fraunhofer.

Together with Joseph Liebherr (1767-1840) and Utzschneider, he founded the famous Mathematisch-Feinmechanische Institut in Munich. It produced the best astronomical telescope lenses, measuring instruments and theodolites of the time.

Reichenbach developed numerous technical and measuring instruments, including a metal planing machine, accurate distance threads for theodolites and the Reichenbach distance meter with an accurate altitude circle.

Reichenbach is not only considered a co-founder of the Bavarian optomechanical industry, but also a pioneer of the steam engine in Bavaria. In 1810, under his direction, the brine pipeline from Bad Reichenhall to Traunstein was technically revised and extended to Rosenheim. It was in operation until 1958 and parts of it are still (inactive) today. In 1804 he developed and in 1817 built the 25 km long first brine pipeline from Berchtesgaden to Bad Reichenhall. In order to overcome the 356 m incline, he used a water column machine, developed by him in 1810, to pump the brine with water power. For this he was raised to the peerage by the Bavarian King Max I Joseph. Using the same principle, he also developed machines that pumped water into water towers, from which the drinking water was distributed in the supply area, initially through wooden pipes and later through iron pipes.

His theory of cast-iron tubular bridges[1][2] inspired Antoine-Rémy Polonceau to build the Pont du Carrousel in Paris, which was followed by other tubular bridges.

In 1808, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences appointed him an associate member, followed by his appointment as a full member in 1808.[3] On 11 December 1815 he was admitted as a corresponding member of the Académie des sciences in Paris.[4] When Reichenbach became director of the Ministerial Building Office for Bavaria in 1820, the precision engineer Traugott Ertel from Saxony took over the company.

Reichenbach died in Munich on 21 May 1826 at the age of 54. The cause of death is presumed to be the consequences of an accident in 1824 at the Augsburg waterworks.[5] His grave is on Alte Südliche Friedhof in Munich (Alte Arkaden Platz 11 at Gräberfeld 25) Location. The optician and physicist Joseph von Fraunhofer, with whom he had worked and who died only two weeks after Reichenbach, is buried immediately to the left (plot 12).[6]


Memorial plaque in Berchtesgaden

The Reichenbach threads developed by Georg Reichenbach are named after him. Since then, they have been built into every theodolite as distance lines, as well as the special Reichenbach distance meter with an exact altitude circle.

The lunar crater Reichenbach received its name in his honour. In Munich, the Reichenbachbrücke, the Reichenbachstraße and the Reichenbachplatz were named after him. The Reichenbachstraße in Bad Reichenhall and in Mannheim were named after him.

The former HOECHST AG in Burgkirchen/Gendorf acquired an original Reichenbach pump and was able to operate it in real life (for visitors and interested parties) – without an external electric drive. It feeds a fountain in the outdoor area at the pump house.


  • Karl Maximilian von Bauernfeind: Reichenbach, Georg von. In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol. 27, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1888, pp. 656-667.
  • Juliane von Åkerman: Georg Friedrich von Reichenbach. In: Jürgen Wurst, Alexander Langheiter (eds.): Monachia. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-88645-156-9, p. 166.
  • Stephan Kellner: Georg von Reichenbach, Industriespion und Erfindergenie. In: Rainer A. Müller (ed.): Lebensbilder der Frühzeit der Industrialisierung in Bayern. Oldenbourg, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-486-52772-X, pp. 81-91.
  • Mathias Döring: Power generation underground. The Reichenbach – Jordan water column machines. Deutsche Wasserhistorische Gesellschaft DWhG, Schriften 19/2012, 39-59.
  • Walther von Dyck: German Museum, biographies and documents: Georg von Reichenbach. Own publication of the Deutsches Museum Munich, Munich 1912, description of the working method and sectional drawings (Fig.39 u. 40) of both simple-acting water column machines of Ilsank and Pfisterleite of Georg von Reichenbach, pp. 72-74.
  • Mathias Döring: 400 years of Upper Bavarian brine pipelines. Water Management 4/2020, 12-18.
  • Dirk Götschmann: Georg von Reichenbach (1771-1826). Master of precision, innovative military technician and pioneer of industrialization in Bavaria. Pustet, Regensburg 2021, ISBN 978-3-7917-3216-9.


  • From “industrial spy” to inventive genius. Georg Friedrich von Reichenbach. Documentary, Germany, 2005, 45 min., Written and directed by Georg Antretter, Produced by Bayerischer Rundfunk, BR-alpha, Series: Bavarian Industrial Pioneers, First broadcast: August 1, 2005,@1@2Template:Dead link/ no longer available, search web archives: Inhaltsangabe von
    Reichenbach’s portrait as the “pioneer of the machine age” and as the “most important engineer of early industrialization in Germany”.

Web links

Commons: George Frederick of Reichenbach– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. Georg Reichenbach: Theorie der Brücken-Bogen und Vorschläge zu eisernen Brücken in jeder beliebigen Größe. Lindauer, Munich 1811(full text in Google Book Search).
  2. Karl-Eugen Kurrer: History of structural analysis. In search of balance. Ernst & Sohn, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-433-03134-6, p. 80ff.
  3. Prof. Dr. Georg Friedrich von Reichenbach, Members of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities
  4. List of members since 1666: letter R.Académie des sciences, retrieved 20 February 2020 (French).
  5. Carola Zinner: Georg von Reichenbach and the salt production in Berchtesgaden.(Memento from February 10, 2013 in Web Archive
  6. Carola Zinner Josef von Fraunhofer – “That’s the man we’re looking for!” In: Bayern 2, PDF file, p. 15