If ever there was a gene for technological innovation, it was passed from Philipp Moritz Fischer, inventor of the pedal bicycle, to his son, Friedrich Fischer, creator of the ball-grinding machine that spawned the rolling bearing industry.

Friedrich Fischer was born in 1849 in Schweinfurt, Germany. After working as an apprentice mechanic for a few years, Fischer opened his own bicycle and sewing machine repair shop. He soon began selling new bikes and sewing machines, and before too long began making bicycles himself.

In the 1870s, the surge of the bicycle industry heightened demand for ball bearings for wheels, sprockets, and fork assemblies. As a source, Fischer used English steel balls, but they were expensive and difficult to match, varying in size and shape. Sensing an opportunity, Fischer began experimenting with grinding technology and, after much trial and error, he built his first metal-ball grinding machine in 1883 — a device that produced many geometrically perfect, uniformly sized, hardened steel balls at one time.

What began as a side business grew quickly in response to the increasing industrial appetite for high-quality bearings. After outgrowing several buildings, Fischer bought a large piece of property and a new plant that produced 10 million balls per week. He took his company public in 1897, and two years later, at the age of 50, suffered a stroke and died. With no children to take the reigns, his company began to falter under constantly changing management, increased competition, and cheap imported bikes from the United States.

In 1905, the FAG brand (Fischers Aktien-Gesellschaft) was registered with the patent office in Berlin. It's now part of the Schweinfurt-based Schaeffler Group, which continues to develop specialized bearings for aerospace, machine tool, and other industrial applications.

Sources: FAG Press Office and Evelyn Hauser's International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 62 (1991).