1 1723-1743 Marbach / Esslingen: The prodigy in the orphanage


Annual feeding of the orphans. The annual highlight in the „Foundlings and Orphanage“ was a banquet of the Dannhauserschen Foundation for the children. Tobias Mayer, hand drawing, 1731, city archive, Esslingen.
1723 (Listen to Text)


Tobias Mayer, born on 17 February 1723 in Marbach, grew up in poor conditions. He is 1 year old when his family moves to Esslingen, where his father becomes an urban well master. Mayer is enthusiastic about his technical drawings early on and studies illustrated books, especially the Bible. He turns out to be a diligent autodidact, easily copies paintings and memorizes long biblical texts. In Esslingen, Mayer is known as a child prodigy from an early age: As a 5-year-old he can already read, write and draw. At first, he still has a hard time with the institution school.



After the sudden death of his father 8-year-old Mayer is housed in the orphanage. His academic achievements will soon be so extraordinary that he finds a sponsor in Mayor Schlossberg and is to visit the prestigious Latin School. His first drawings attract a lot of attention, some show the hospital where his mother works.

Esslingen Hospital


His mother and his sponsor Schlossberg die. Mayer is 14 years orphaned without financial means. Two years later he draws the first Esslingen city map and is commissioned by the city with further surveys. He delves into mathematics, martial arts and fortification, but the aspired career as an artillery officer fails. At the age of 18, he publishes his first mathematics book.

City Map of Esslingen, 1737.
Mayer drew the first surviving city map of the imperial city at the age of 16, which was then printed in Augsburg.


After the death of his father in 1731, Tobias grew up in the Esslingen „Orphanage“. Annual highlight was a feast, which was financed by the Dannhauserschen Foundation. It consisted of „white bread, wine and veal in a yellow broth“. The 14-year-old Tobias has drawn this scene in 1737; he belonged to the „poor boys“, who thankfully prayed kneeling in front of the „Orphanage Father“ . Next to the tiled stove is the Butcher with the veal pots and prepared soup plates. On the right table is the „sponsored bread“. From the hospital where his mother worked, Tobias made drawings on all four sides. These are today a significant contemporary document, since the hospital was demolished in the meantime and had to give way to a parking lot. Two years later he drew the first Esslingen city map. He was commissioned by the city with further surveys and at age 18 he published his first Geometry book. He remained in the orphanage, even when he was later given a place to live in the “ Collegium Alumnorum “ because he „did not want to be hindered in his study“.