Field emission is certainly one of the oldest surface science techniques, its roots reaching back about 250 years to the time of enlightenment. An account of very early studies and of later work is given but mostly restricted to Leipzig and to pre-Müllerian investigations. Studies of field emission from metal tips were carried out in the 18th century by Johann Heinrich Winkler who used vacuum pumps built by Jacob Leupold, a famous Leipzig mechanic. A short account of the career of Winkler will be given and his field emission experiments are illustrated. Field emission was investigated again in Leipzig much later by Julius Edgar Lilienfeld who worked on the improvement of X-ray tubes. He coined the terms ‘autoelektronische Entladung’ of ‘Äona-Effekt’ in 1922, and developed degassing procedures which are very similar to modern ultra-high vacuum processing. A pre-quantum mechanical explanation of the field emission phenomena was undertaken by Walter Schottky. Cunradi (1926) tried to measure temperature changes during field emission. Franz Rother, in a thesis (1914) suggested by Otto Wiener, dealt with the distance dependence of currents in vacuum between electrodes down to 20 nm. His habilitation in 1926 was an extension of his early work but now with field emission tips as a cathode. We might look at his measurements of the field emission characteristics in dependence on distance as a precursor to modern tunneling spectroscopy as well.