Plenty of factory owners had been waiting for this man for a very long time: “It is my pleasure to state that I was well received,” he wrote in his original manuscript. “In fact, some boiler owners awaited me impatiently the way an invalid longs for a physician and asked my opinion about this and that.” This was a report from Germany’s first TÜV engineer Carl Isambert after an inspection trip in the year 1868. He had been traveling for two months through the Grand Duchy of Baden and the Black Forest, had inspected nearly one hundred boilers and found many of them in very poor condition – leaky pipes, rusted safety valves, porous metal hulls. Yet the most serious problem he found was a human one: hardly any plants had qualified personnel to operate and service the steam boilers.
Starting in 1830, the Industrial Revolution had spread from England to the European continent. In areas of high population density, such as Saxony and the Rhineland, but also in Baden, goods were being produced in modern factories. The energy needed for this was generated with boilers. But this new technology was increasingly a cause for concern: boilers had a tendency to explode, killing and injuring people, as in the center of Mannheim in 1865. It was feared that every new accident might lower the public’s acceptance of steam technology – and therefore bring industrialization as a whole to a grinding halt. This was the reason the first TÜV on German soil was founded in 1866. The Association for Inspecting and Insuring Steam Boilers, a forerunner of TÜV SÜD, was a federation of 22 businessmen in Mannheim dedicated to making steam technology safer. About two years later, in October 1868, the first full-time engineer started his work for the society. Twenty-nine-year old Carl Isambert, who had previously worked as an engineer at the Mining and Metallurgical Society in Hörde (near Dortmund) and had gained experience with steam technology during his time there, would spend the next several decades of his career in the service of technical safety.
Carl Isambert (1839–1899) not only explained safe handling to boiler operators, he also inspected the boilers—inside and out.
For almost thirty years Isambert inspected thousands of boilers, trained employees on how to properly handle the machinery and advocated for better working conditions for technical personnel. He also played a significant part in setting the first uniform standards for the safety of technical equipment. Isambert returned from a trip to England in 1869 bringing important findings for equipment safety and, in 1881, the so-called Würzburg Standards were adopted, the first principles of materials inspection for the construction of steam boilers. Isambert also spent years involved with the International Union of Boiler Inspection Associations, founded in 1888. Through his work, the first TÜV inspector ensured that new technologies became safer. When Isambert died in 1899, the world was at the cusp of the Second Industrial Revolution. Since then, his successors at TÜV SÜD have monitored every significant technological development. And even today there are innovations that in several years will perhaps be shaping our world like the steam-powered machines of the nineteenth century—if they’re safe. Because Carl Isambert was committed to today’s TÜV SÜD credo: Only safety and security can turn innovation into progress.