History of Technology and Science

Gyro and inertial technology, aerospace engineering


The historical projects on technology and science are based in their subjects on the other scientfic areas of the chair. They include not only technical but also equally biographical and social aspects.

The work takes place in cooperation with the Institute of History of the University of Stuttgart, departments History of Science and Technology and History of the Impact of Technology.

Historical gyro instruments (c) Christoph Hoeger
Historical gyro instruments

Understanding the dynamics of the gimbal-mounted gyro and its derivatives is considered to be particularly demanding both physically and mathematically. To illustrate teaching and research content in this area at the former Institute of Mechanics, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Stuttgart, Kurt Magnus and his assistant Helmut Sorg built a collection of gyroscopes between 1961 and 1990. In 2005, the responsibility for the collection was transfered to Prof. Jörg F. Wagner.

The aim of the project "Gyrolog" (from Greek γύρος rotation and λόγος teaching) is –  based on this collection, i.e. in the form of technical gyroscope – to free inconspicuous and yet highly complex objects of a today's ubiquitous key technology –  the inertial sensors – with digital methods from their "encapsulation" ("Black Box"). Thus, this technology will be prepared for use in the history of technology, technology didactics, museum education etc., for research and university teaching, as well as for school and adult education.

Methodically, a combination of photogrammetry, endoscopy and computed tomography creates 3D models of historical gyroscopes.

Gyrolog is a project of the BMBF funding line eHeritage, grant 01UG1774X.


  • Fritsch, D. et al.: Gyrolog – Towards VR Preservations of Gyro Instruments for Historical and Didactical Research. In: 2018 Pacific Neighborhood Consortium Annual Conference and Joint Meetings (PNC) (San Francisco, CA, October 27-30, 2018). Piscataway: IEEE, 2018, S. 13-19
  • Fischer-Wolfarth, J. (Hrsg.): Gedenkschrift zum Wirken und zu den Verdiensten von Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Kurt Magnus. Berlin: Stiftung Werner-von-Siemens-Ring, 2018
  • Wagner, J.F; Perlmutter, M.: The ISS Symposium Turns 50: Trends and Developments of Inertial Technology during Five Decades. In: European Journal of Navigation 13 (2015), Nr. 3, S. 13-23
  • Broelmann, J.: Intuition und Wissenschaft in der Kreiseltechnik - 1750 bis 1930. München: Deutsches Museum, 2002

Project Page

Machine of Bohnenberger and its inventor (c) Jörg F. Wagner
Machine of Bohnenberger and its inventor

The "Machine of Bohnenberger", invented around 1810, is regarded as the first gimbaled gyroscope and formed the basis for L. Foucault's important work on gyroscopic technology. It became the ancestor of all gyroscopes and other gyro instruments. Applications range from inertial navigation to the stabilization of satellites using reaction wheels.

The inventor of the device Johann Gottlieb Friedrich Bohnenberger (1765-1831) was Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics at the University of Tübingen. He became known especially as the scientific director of the land surveying of the young Kingdom of Württemberg from 1818 and was, therefore, a counterpart to C.F. Gauss in southern Germany. Besides geodesy, his academic credentials include work on astronomy, mathematics and physical instruments, including electroscopes and barometers.

In Johann Wilhelm Gottlieb Buzengeiger (1778-1836), Bohnenberger had a congenial instrument maker who not only decisively shaped his scientific work, but who was also engaged in a Europe-wide trade with his instruments. Both persons are quite typical representatives of the science of Württemberg in the early 19th century.

The investigations into the origin of the Machine of Bohnenberger are characterized by a close interweaving of science and technology history with social, Württemberg state and Tübingen city history.


  • Baumann, E. (Hrsg.): Johann Gottlieb Friedrich Bohnenberger - Pionier des Industriezeitalters Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2016
  • Wagner, J.F.; Trierenberg, A.: The Machine of Bohnenberger. In: Stein, E. (Hrsg.): The History of Theoretical, Material and Computational Mechanics, Heidelberg: Springer, 2014, S. 81-100
  • Trierenberg, A.: Die Hof- und Universitätsmechaniker in Württemberg im frühen 19. Jahrhundert. Stuttgart, Univ., Diss., 2013
  • Wagner, J.F.: From Bohnenberger’s Machine to Integrated Navigation Systems - 200 Years of Inertial Navigation. In: Fritsch, D. (ed.): Photogrammetric Week '05. Heidelberg: Wichmann, 2005, S. S. 123-134
  • Broelmann, J.: Intuition und Wissenschaft in der Kreiseltechnik - 1750 bis 1930. München: Deutsches Museum, 2002

Bicentennial of the Machine of Bohnenberger

Stamp with portrait and signature of E. Stuhlinger (c)
Stamp with portrait and signature of E. Stuhlinger

No period in human history was more influenced by science and engineering than the 20th century. In search of the scientific sub-disciplines that are particularly characteristic of the named development, one inevitably encounters two areas: aerospace engineering and atomic physics. There are only a few people who were able to experience advances in the first line in both areas, and in some cases were able to participate in shaping them spectacularly. Ernst Stuhlinger is one of them.

He was born in 1913 in Niederrimbach, attended school and university in Tübingen, ans spent his doctorate under H. Geiger, one of the inventors of the Geiger-Müller counter tube, with whom he went to the Technical University of Berlin in 1936. He joined the "Uranverein" and got to know the then leading German nuclear physicists. It followed the participation in the Russian campaign from 1941 and finally the transfer to Peenemünde to Wernher von Braun in 1943. From this point on, his scientific work is closely linked to the pioneering era of space technology.

With the team headed by Wernher von Braun, he moved to the USA after the Second World War and took over the management of the Research Projects Division in Huntsville, AL. From 1968, he was Associate Director for Science. He was involved in the development of the first American satellite Explorer 1, as well as the Apollo lunar landing program, the Hubble telescope and electric space propulsion systems. From 1976 he was Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

When he died in Huntsville in 2008, friends and former NASA colleagues characterized him with the words: "If von Braun was the Columbus of the 20th century, then Ernst Stuhlinger was his navigator and confidant."


  • Wagner, J.F: Öffnet das Tor zum Himmel – Ernst Stuhlinger, ein Schwabe als Pionier der modernen Raumfahrt. In: Wiegmann, K.; Niepelt, M. (Hrsg.): Hin und Weg – Tübinger in aller Welt. Tübingen: Stadtmuseum, 2007, S. 138-149
  • Stuhlinger, E., Ordway, F.: Wernher von Braun, crusader for space, an illustrated memoir. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 1994
  • Stuhlinger, Ernst et. al: Projekt Viking, die Eroberung des Mars. Köln: Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 1976
  • Stuhlinger, E. Mesmer, G. (Hrsg.): Space science and engineering. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965
  • Stuhlinger, E: Ion propulsion for space flight. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964



Chair of Adaptive Structures in Aerospace

Pfaffenwaldring 31, D-70569 Stuttgart

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