History

100 years of mobility for people

It all began in 1919 with the founding of a startup by Otto Bock – but through the intervening years, it has fundamentally changed the field of orthopaedic technology.

Black-and-white photo of Otto Bock wearing a hat, and Marie Bock
Otto Bock and his wife, Maria

From startup to global market leader

In 1919, Otto Bock founded Orthopädische Industrie GmbH – a bona-fide startup in today’s terms – in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood of Berlin. By introducing the fabrication of components for prostheses, the company succeeded in quickly and reliably treating the numerous victims who had returned from World War I.

Due to political unrest in Berlin, Otto Bock relocated the young company to his hometown, Königsee in Thuringia, the same year it was founded. Over the next 30 years or so, the company workforce grew to more than 600 employees.

Black-and-white photo of Otto Bock and his son-in-law Dr Max Näder
Otto Bock and Dr Max Näder

German separation: both an end and a beginning

During the period of Soviet occupation, the family decided to establish another location as close as possible to Königsee but in the neighbouring British zone for strategic reasons. The aim was to ensure ongoing deliveries to customers from this location by trading materials for finished products. Dr Max Näder was the founder of what was the “branch” at the time and is now the company headquarters. Son-in-law to Otto Bock, Dr Näder and his wife Maria Näder started in 1947 with practically nothing and built up the location in Duderstadt.

The Königsee location is expropriated

After what was probably the most severe misfortune in the company’s history, the expropriation of the Königsee site without compensation, the family also had to rebuild production in Duderstadt from the ground up together with a group of dedicated employees.

During the Cold War, the family took first steps towards internationalising the company. They secured the company’s future by establishing multiple locations around the globe. In 1958 Dr Max Näder founded the first Ottobock foreign subsidiary in Minneapolis in the US.

Ground-breaking technology

Dr Max Näder with a Jüpa knee
Technological milestones

Jüpa knee

Following a somewhat difficult start, the Jüpa knee – which featured a brake mechanism and offered a high level of stance stability – brought a business breakthrough in 1949. This, together with an innovative balance device and two additional prosthetic alignment apparatuses, was in high demand on the American market. Max Näder exported the first 500 units of the Jüpa knee to the US in 1955.

Dr Max Näder standing in front of a blackboard with his hands raised as he gives a presentation on myoelectrics.
Technological milestones

Myoelectrics

Max Näder introduced myoelectric arm prostheses to the market in 1965. For the first time, people could grasp light and fragile objects as well as heavy items.
Myoelectrics make it possible for weak electric voltages to control the prosthesis. Every contraction of the residual limb produces muscle action currents, which are used as control signals for the artificial hand with the help of electrodes.
Close-up of a friction brake knee joint with lock
Technological milestones

Modular system

Dr Max Näder coined the phrase “humanising prostheses” by further expanding the Ottobock component system to include a modular lower limb prosthesis. The pyramid patented in 1969 joins the prosthetic foot, knee joint and socket, making it possible to carry out static corrections and exchange the modules. It remains an integrative element for innovative joints to this day.
A Paralympic athlete holding his prosthetic leg next to his amputated leg in front of a large audience in a sports stadium.
Passion for Paralympics

Paralympic Games – the beginning of a decades-long partnership

Four O&P professionals from Australia started the ball rolling when they provided technical assistance to athletes at the Summer Paralympic Games in Seoul 1988. This laid the foundation for a commitment that has now lasted more than three decades, and today is known under the motto “Passion for Paralympics”. Ottobock has been attending and supporting the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games with their technical service ever since.

Growth through globalisation and internationalisation

The fall of the Berlin Wall was another turning point in Ottobock’s history. This enabled the company to repurchase its production location in Königsee, where cutting-edge wheelchairs are now produced. The group’s international growth also continued around the globe.

A forward-looking company

In 1990, Dr Max Näder handed over management to his son Professor Hans Georg Näder. The entrepreneur took a dynamic approach to expanding the global network, driving research and development as well as marketing and sales. He was appointed Honorary Professor of the PFH Private University of Applied Sciences in Göttingen in 2005.

Trendsetting innovations

Curtis Grimsley standing on an escalator and holding his leg prosthesis while wearing a suit.
Technological milestones

C-Leg

Hans Georg Näder recognised the potential of a groundbreaking innovation – a computerised (C) leg designed by Canadian Kelly James – and acquired the patent. After five years of development work, he was able to present the C-Leg, the world’s first microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knee joint, at the Prosthetics World Congress in Nuremberg. The C-Leg opened up a new dimension in walking in 1997.
Man with a Genium X3 leg prosthesis riding on a red and grey jet ski in the water.
Technological milestones

Genium

Thanks to advanced development work on the C-Leg 4, Kenevo and Genium X3 electronic knee joint components and on mechatronic prosthetic feet, the prostheses can now be highly customised – regardless of the user's age and level of mobility. In 2011, new developments meant that people were able to walk backwards safely with their prosthesis for the first time. They could also step over obstacles and negotiate stairs step-over-step.
Man wearing a C-Brace on his leg uses a tablet while standing next to solar cells in a meadow.
Technological milestones

C-Brace and Paexo

The new generation of the C-Brace® orthotronic mobility system revolutionised treatment for people with symptoms of paralysis in 2018. It uses innovative sensor technology to control the stance and swing phase of the leg during the entire gait cycle. As a result, the user can walk with a nearly natural gait pattern. The Paexo exoskeleton, the first product from the new Ottobock Industrials business area, takes the strain off overhead work.