Carl Benz was born in Karlsruhe on November 25, 1844, the son of an engine driver. His father died just two years after Carl’s birth. Despite her limited financial means, his mother ensured that he received a good education. Carl Benz attended high school, then studied at the Polytechnic College in Karlsruhe. This was followed by two years of practical study at Maschinenbau-Gesellschaft in Karlsruhe. Carl Benz was given his first paid employment as a technical draughtsman and designer by a manufacturer of weighing machines in Mannheim. On losing this position in 1868 he joined an engineering company which was primarily involved in bridge-building. This employment was followed by a short period in Vienna, likewise with a structural ironworking company.
In 1871 Carl Benz formed his first company together with the mechanical specialist August Ritter. Since Ritter was not a reliable partner, Carl Benz bought him out using the dowry of his bride Bertha Ringer, then managed the company alone.
Bertha Ringer and Carl Benz were married in 1872. Bertha Benz played a decisive role in the later success of the fledgling company. She undertook the world’s first long-distance car journey, and is acknowledged as the first lady motorist in history. Carl and Bertha Benz had five children.
At first business was very poor for Carl Benz. Some of the tools were even pawned in his Iron Foundry and Mechanical Workshop, later also named a Factory for Metalworking Machinery. In the search for new business Karl Benz intensively devoted himself to two-stroke engines during this time. After two years of development time, the first engine ran satisfactorily in 1879. This engine was built on the two-stroke principle, as a patent for the four-stroke engine had already been granted to Gasmotorenfabrik in Deutz in 1877. Benz was also granted several basic patents for the further development of his two-stroke engine, e.g. for the engine speed regulation system. Ignition was by means of his newly developed battery system.
With new sponsors and partners as well as the support of the banks, the couple converted the business into a joint stock company named Gasmotoren-Fabrik Mannheim in 1882. Karl Benz only held a five-percent share of the company himself, however. When the other partners attempted to influence his designs, Carl Benz left the only recently formed company in 1883.
In the same year Benz obtained financial support from the two businessmen Max Rose and Friedrich Wilhelm Esslinger, who founded Benz & Co. Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik together with Benz in October 1883.
The number of employees soon increased to 25, and licenses were even granted for the production of gas engines. Benz was now able to devote himself to the development of his automotive engine. Financially secure, he began on the overall design of a vehicle equipped with an integral four-stroke gasoline engine. In contrast, his competitor Daimler installed his first engine in a coach. In 1886 Carl Benz was granted a patent for his vehicle and presented the first Benz Patent Motor Car to the public.
Three versions of this three-wheeler were created between 1885 and 1887: Model No. 1, which Benz presented to the German Museum as a gift in 1906, Model No. 2, which was presumably modified and redesigned several times, and finally Model No. 3 with wood-spoked wheels, which Bertha Benz used for her first long-distance journey in 1888.
The constantly increasing demand for industrial engines obliged Benz & Co. Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik to move to a larger production building. In 1890 Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik became Germany’s second-largest engine producer, following the entry of the new partners Friedrich von Fischer and Julius Ganß. In 1893 Carl Benz introduced double-pivot steering into automotive engineering, and in 1896 developed the precursor to today’s horizontally-opposed piston engine.
Benz & Co. achieved a breakthrough to higher sales figures with the Velo, a favourably priced, lightweight vehicle which was produced between 1894 and 1901. This automobile is regarded as the first series-produced car, with a total production of approximately 1200.
By the end of the 19th century Benz & Co. had become the world’s leading automotive manufacturer. In 1899 the business was converted into a joint-stock company. In addition to Carl Benz, Julius Ganß became a member of the Board and Commercial Manager. Between 1890 and 1899 the number of employees engaged in vehicle production increased from 50 to 430. In 1899 Benz produced a total of 572 vehicles.
Carl Benz resigned from his position in the company on January 24, 1903, but became a member of the Supervisory Board. Carl Benz left the company because the management had summoned a group of French design engineers to the Mannheim factory to counter developments by its rival Mercedes. This resulted in internal wrangles and the resignation of Karl Benz, together with his sons Eugen and Richard. In 1904, however, Richard returned to Mannheim as the Plant Manager for passenger car production. No less than 3480 Benz automobiles had been sold by the end of that year.
In 1906 Karl Benz founded 'Carl Benz Söhne' in Ladenburg, with himself and his son Eugen as the registered owners. Having unsuccessfully tried their hand at producing naturally aspirated gas engines in the new company, production was switched to motor vehicles. Around 350 vehicles of the Carl Benz Söhne brand were produced during the first quarter of the 20th century. The family had meanwhile moved its residence to Ladenburg as well. In 1912 Karl Benz left the company and placed its management in the hands of his sons Eugen and Richard. The company continued to expand and opened up new sales channels, e.g. exporting to England. 'Benz-Söhne' vehicles were often used as taxis in England, where they were very popular by virtue of their reliability. The company produced its last vehicle in 1923, though one year later two further 8/25 hp models were assembled for personal and business use by Karl Benz. Both vehicles still exist today.
Gottlieb Daimler already died in 1900 and therefore did not live to see the success of his invention. Carl Benz was able to witness the upsurge in motorized transport and the final breakthrough of his idea, however. He died in his house in Ladenburg on April 4, 1929. Today this house is used as the headquarters of the Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler Trust, as well as for related events.