Why West 64th Street?

View of 109-123 West 64th Street from West.  Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive.

Why West 64th Street?

by Claudie Benjamin

When German engineer and industrialist Robert Bosch expand his business in 1906 bringing it to the United States, he opened the US sales office for the company, then known as Bosch Magneto, at 123 West 64 Street

Why this location for the company he had founded in Stuttgart, Germany in 1886?  West 64th Street made sense. It was at the hub of what was happening already NYC’s “automotive row.” [1] Bosch was the inventor and developer of the spark plug, a magnetic-based ignition system.  Founder Bosch was the international king of spark plugs; an innovative device necessary to start cars, trucks, motor boats, and tractors and keep them running. [2]

The 12-story neoclassical office building housing the US Bosch sales office and other businesses was designed by architect Walter Haefeli. [3]  It replaced five brownstones 119-123 that had previously occupied the location. [4]

A Bosch billboard topped the office building. And, billboards were just one way Bosch propelled the company making “spark plugs” to become part of daily life for a multitude of drivers.

Founder Bosch was the international king of spark plugs

The company dove deeply into print advertising often containing an image of the nifty little invention that was essential to driving and was selling like no tomorrow.

Though the quality of the spark plug itself was a key selling point, Bosch invested significantly in advertising after a successful publicity campaign for its spark plugs unmistakably increased sales. Well-known commercial artists were then commissioned to design posters. [5] 

Striking examples of these posters and a description of their popularity in the US is described on the Bosch website. The creation of the Red Devil motif featuring a flamboyant, red-caped devilish-looking character wearing driving goggles, who appeared on early posters, was inspired by the famous Belgian racing driver Camille Jenatzy. He had won the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup race with his audacious driving and Bosch Magneto ignition. [6] 

Even today with the increasing prevalence of low-emission electric vehicles, traditional cars, trucks, buses, and machines, like lawnmowers, employing internal combustion engines depend on spark plugs.

Bosch’s activities demonstrated conflicting allegiances.  “Bosch did not wish to profit from armaments contracts awarded to his company during WWI. Instead, he donated several million German marks to charitable causes. A hospital that he gave to the city of Stuttgart opened in 1940.” [7] 

Bosch Sales Office

Image Courtesy Robert Bosch LLC, ca. 1921

Robert Bosch

Image Courtesy Robert Bosch LLC, ca. 1930s

Bosch Advertisement

Image Courtesy Robert Bosch LLC, ca. undated

Then, during the Nazi regime in Germany, “the Bosch company accepted armaments contracts and employed an estimated 20,000 slaves, including some 1200 concentration camp inmates who were brutally abused at the Langenbielau plant during WWII.” [8] It’s also noteworthy that “behind the scenes, Bosch pumped millions into schemes to protect Jews or smuggle them out of Germany till the very eve of World War II and provided work for the Jews who could no longer make a living anywhere else in Germany.” [9]

Decades later, the company was involved in a scandal related to accusations that the “Thepio Bosch plant in Hatvan, Hungary, had been altering the engine software inside Volkswagen diesels to help the vehicles evade emissions standards.” [10]

The matter, including the resolution, was widely covered by the media, which reported that “…the illegal software installed on 580,000 Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles in the United States…has forced the carmaker to plead guilty to fraud and pay more than $20 billion in fines and settlements.” [11]   

Recovering from this crisis, Bosch continues to thrive today, enjoying a robust reputation throughout the world. Its website highlights products including state-of-the-art dishwashers and other kitchen appliances. [12] “As of December 31, 2021, Bosch generated consolidated sales of $13.6 billion in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.” [13]

“the Bosch company accepted armaments contracts and employed an estimated 20,000 slaves” 


[1] https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10./D85B08SN/download

[2] https://wrench.com/blog/types-of-spark-plugs–their-importance/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwl92XBhC7ARIsAHLl9amQ3YjT00ilYG4VB3nGq6ApCq__SKTY4ifeWpHIc8x25bM-M6IFsnEaApV_EALw_wcB

[3] https:/:www.emporia.com/companies/101468/Walter-haefeli-new-york-city-ny-usa

[4] https://pastvu.com/p/750759?hl=comments

[5] https://www.bosch.com/stories/history-bosch-advertising/

[6] IBID

[7] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bosch

[8] https://ellencmyers.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/robert-bosch-giant-of-industry-and-enemy-of-hitler-30/

[9] https://ellencmyers.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/robert-bosch-giant-of-industry-and-enemy-of-hitler-30/

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/business/bosch-vw-diesel-settlement.html

[11] IBID

[12] https://www.bosch-home.com/us/?cid=US_Bosch_MDA_Range_GS_AlwaysOn_nd_SparkFoundry~sear~~cpc~goo~~~text~~C-828998539_P-44145940258_A-&gclid=Cj0KCQjwl92XBhC7ARIsAHLl9akkmOA64sJf-0vfJ575B8RLdbn0VT-utXCEctzWk9dMcRnAqVPIgHYaAmeEEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

[13]  https://us.bosch-press.com/pressportal/us/en/company-page.html

Claudie Benjamin is journalist who writes for LANDMARK WEST!

Let's Keep in Touch!

Let's Keep in Touch!

Want the latest news?
Care to share about something in the neighborhood?
Be the first to hear about upcoming events?

Join the LW! email list!

You're Subscribed!

Share This