An American dream.
“Had a long talk with Daimler.”
22 August 1888: Gottlieb Daimler and William Steinway met to discuss in detail the possibility of licensing production of Cannstatt engines in the United States. “Had a long talk with Daimler,” noted Steinway later in his travel diary. On 29 September 1888, piano manufacturer Steinway subsequently established the Daimler Motor Company on Long Island, New York. Thus began the history of Daimler in North America, 125 years ago – just two years after the birth of the automobile. The aim was to produce static and marine engines. Innovation, in the form of the high-speed internal combustion engine, was at the heart of the automobiles that Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz invented, independently of one another, in 1886. Yet these novel machines were capable of more than simply powering a four-wheeled (the Daimler Motor Carriage) or three-wheeled (the Benz Patent Motor Car) road vehicle.
Gottlieb Daimler demonstrated just what the novel machines were capable of by using his single-cylinder unit – referred to as the “Grandfather Clock” due to its characteristic appearance – as a static engine and also as a means of propulsion in a variety of different vehicles, from a two-wheeled riding car (1885), the motor boat “Marie”, a four-seater railway trolley and a motorised narrow-gauge “waggonet” or tram (all 1887), through to Wölfert’s motorised airship (1888). Piano manufacturer William Steinway was particularly interested in the use of Daimler engines as static power sources and marine drive systems. Born Willhelm Steinweg in Seesen near Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, in 1835, the instrument maker had emigrated to North America in 1850 and met Daimler on a visit back to Germany in 1888. The two men were probably brought into contact with each other by Wilhelm Maybach, who Steinway had known since 1876.
The first operational motor vehicle in the USA.
In August 1890, Daimler shipped the first Wilhelm Maybach-designed four-cylinder engine to New York. The 451 kg power plant boasted a displacement of 6 litres and delivered 9 kW (12.3 hp) at 390 rpm. This was followed 10 days later by a 2.4-litre variant, developed in parallel, which weighed in at 153 kg and had a power output of 4 kW (5.9 hp) at 620 rpm. Both models were intended for installation in boats. During the following year in Hartford (Connecticut), William Steinway commissioned production of the first operational vehicle engine in the United States, built under licence for the Daimler Motor Company on the basis of original plans from Gottlieb Daimler. Sales of the American Daimler engines were boosted by DMG’s participation in the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
The Cannstatt company showed a modified version of the wire-wheel car, which was also its first working automobile to be displayed to the American public. Gottlieb Daimler attended the World’s Fair in person during his honeymoon with second wife Lina.
William Steinway had ambitious plans for the motorisation of the United States, as he explained in an 1895 newspaper interview: “The cars which we intend to produce for the American market will be capable of carrying between two and four people and will be driven by engines of between 2½ and 3½ hp. Each car will have four different speed settings: 3½, 6, 9 and 14 miles per hour. The fuel – petroleum – costs about one cent per hp and hour, making the automobile considerably less expensive than horse power.” He considered Daimler’s wire-wheel car too lightly-built for the “rough cobblestone streets we have in this country” and as such intended that the Daimler Motor Company would “create a model that will be adapted to conditions in America”.
In fact, Steinway died in November 1896, and his heirs sold their shares in Daimler Motor Company to General Electric Company, and from 1898 onwards the manufacturing operation became the Daimler Manufacturing Company. The first “American Mercedes” was produced in 1905.