Undoubtedly, Mercedes-Benz is one of the biggest, most influential names in automotive history. The history behind the German auto manufacturing company is complicated and twisted with many names like Daimler, Maybach, Emil Jillinek, etc. But arguably, the most important face behind Mercedes-Benz is the creative engineer, inventor, and businessman Karl Benz (also written as Carl Benz with a “C,” as he himself would sign his autographs).
Karl Benz is widely credited as the inventor of vehicles with internal combustion engines. However, how the first car came to be and how the company thrived from the 19th century to today holds many exciting stories of collaboration, support, and perseverance. Here’s how Karl Benz changed the world of transportation for good.
Karl Benz’s Early Life
On November 25, 1844, in the city of Mühlburg, Karl Benz was born. His father, one of the first railway engine drivers, died about two years later in July 1846. Although her financial means were limited, Karl’s mother ensured he went to a decent grammar school for a promising future. However, Carl’s enthusiasm for engines convinced him to leave grammar school to go to the Karlsruhe Polytechnic to pursue his education in mechanical engineering.
Karl’s graduation as a mechanical engineer was followed by his first job at the engineering works of Maschinenbau-Gesellschaft Karlsruhe, where he gained his first practical experience by working on locomotives for two years. After he departed from his first role, he joined Waagen- and Maschinenfabrik Schweizer. After about six to eight months of working in the workshop, Karl was promoted to ‘first administrative officer.’ Nearly a year later, in 1869, he joined Gebrüder Benckiser engineering works in Pforzheim.
How Karl Benz Formed His First Company
Karl was too ambitious not to attempt to make his own company. So, after gaining experience for a few years, he partnered up with a mechanical specialist named August Ritter to start an iron foundry factory in 1871. Ritter did not seem to be a reliable business partner. Hence Karl decided to buy him out with the financial support of his bride Bertha Ringer. Karl later married Bertha Ringer in 1872.
The first few years of business didn’t go that well for Benz. After making compromises in what the company was doing, Benz started to worry about the future of his business. He needed to work on something new and innovative that could move the business forward. Benz began to work on internal combustion engines with the vision of utilizing them and omitting the need for horses in vehicles.
He started focusing on two-stroke engines, for they had more potential for development. After a lot of trials and errors, Karl Benz ultimately landed on a successful formula. On New Year’s Eve 1879, his engine operated successfully for the first time.
In 1882, with the help and support of new partners, Karl and Bertha Benz converted the business into a joint-stock company under the name of Gasmotoren-Fabrik Mannheim. Since Karl’s share was not more than five-percent, other investors had the power to influence his designs. Because of that, Benz left his own company after a year in 1883.
Forming Benz & Co
Soon after leaving his own company, two businessmen financially supported Karl Benz to start Benz & Co. Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik.
The company started expanding, and soon it was granted licenses for producing gas engines. Benz devoted himself to developing his automotive engine. He started working on the design of a four-stroke gasoline engine vehicle. Finally, in 1886, Karl Benz was granted a patent for his car and publicly presented his first Patent Motor Car, which was a three-wheeler.
Benz’s first car had three models. Benz gifted the first model to the German Museum in 1906; the second model was modified a handful of times; the third model was equipped with wood-spoked wheels, and Bertha Benz used it for the world’s first long-distance drive in an automobile in 1888.
Benz & Co. faced immense success after a few years, primarily due to their moderately priced Velo, a lightweight vehicle manufactured between 1894 and 1901. The Velo is considered the world’s first series-produced car. Benz & Co. manufactured about 1200 units of the Velo.
The Heritage Of Automotive History
Benz & Co. had become the world’s dominant automobile producer with increasing employees by the end of the 19th century. But the story for Karl Benz didn’t stop here. Nor did it for other competitors to Benz’s automobile-making company. The story gets even more twisted from here, Karl leaves Benz and Co. to start a new company with his sons, the name ‘Mercedes,’ which was Emil Jillinek’s daughter’s name, is added to the company’s title, and many more stories that lead to today’s Mercedes-Benz.
But one thing is for sure; much of today’s automotive industry is as it is thanks to Karl Benz and his dedication to innovating vehicles that ran with gasoline engines.
Source: Mercedes-Benz Public Archive
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