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  • Milestone in the history of mobility: in 1888 Bertha Benz boldly set out on the world’s first long-distance journey by automobile with her sons, Eugen and Richard. They drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim in the Benz patent motor car.
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    Spirit of 1888.

    130 years ago: Daimler and Benz give a spur to mobility with their start-up spirit.

130-year success story.

Young companies, just bubbling over with ideas. With small, agile teams doing their utmost to develop new applications for their high-tech inventions.

Does that sound like today’s start-ups in Berlin or Silicon Valley? In fact, we’re talking here about a more than 130-year-old success story. For, back in the late 19th century, it was precisely the same pioneering spirit that inspires today’s young start-ups that provided the driving force behind the highly innovative companies of two automotive pioneers: Carl Benz in Mannheim and Gottlieb Daimler in Cannstatt near Stuttgart.


Start-up founders from the 1880s: automotive pioneers Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.

Start-up founders from the 1880s: automotive pioneers Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.


The world’s first automobiles, here at the Mercedes-Benz Museum: the patent motor car of Carl Benz from 1886 (right) and the motorised carriage of Gottlieb Daimler.

The world’s first automobiles, here at the Mercedes-Benz Museum: the patent motor car of Carl Benz from 1886 (right) and the motorised carriage of Gottlieb Daimler.


A brief look back.

A brief look back: it was in 1886 that Benz unveiled the world’s first automobile, the patent motor car. In the same year, Daimler was granted an operating permit for his motorised carriage. Its single-cylinder engine was nicknamed the “grandfather clock” owing to its characteristic shape.

The two inventors did not know one another and developed their trailblazing vehicles entirely independently of each other. Yet, with its climate of industrial transformation and innovation, the age in which they lived represented a veritable milestone: the 1880s belonged to the second phase of rapid industrial expansion in Germany.


The bold start-up spirit extends.

The bold start-up spirit extended as far as the family. The world’s first long-distance journey in an automobile was undertaken not by either of the inventors, but by Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl.

At the wheel of the further-developed patent motor car, the production version, known also as the Model 3, she set off in August 1888 on an around 110-kilometre-long journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim. She was accompanied by her sons, Eugen and Richard. The world premiere with 1.8 kW (2.5 PS) under realistic conditions demonstrated the huge potential of the automobile. In this way, the long-distance journey of 1888 was of similar importance to today’s tests of autonomous and electric vehicles.

In 1888 there were still no filling stations. So Bertha Benz and her sons had to obtain their supply of petrol from a chemist’s shop.

In 1888 there were still no filling stations. So Bertha Benz and her sons had to obtain their supply of petrol from a chemist’s shop (the photo from 1988 shows the first version of the patent motor car from 1886; in actual fact, the journey took place in the production version from 1888).

Brochure for the “Benz patent motor car” with extras: removable half-size canopy and splash guard. The graphic shows Carl Benz in person on the right.

Brochure for the “Benz patent motor car” with extras: removable half-size canopy and splash guard. The graphic shows Carl Benz in person on the right.


The new means of transport called the automobile.

But why should the new means of transport called the automobile and the innovative petrol engine be reserved exclusively for carrying passengers on the road? As early as 1886, Gottlieb Daimler in Cannstatt experimented with the first boats powered by his engine. In 1888 he went even further and simultaneously in many different directions. Among other things, he worked on the motorisation of a fire-fighting vehicle and on a combustion-engined tram. In 1888 he even installed his engine in an airship.


One after the other.

One after the other: Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach delivered a systematic series of important innovations. In 1883 their first high-speed gas engine was ready – that was just the start. It was followed in 1885 by the first high-speed petrol engine, which, installed in the “riding car”, showed in the same year that it could be used to power a vehicle. In 1886 the engine with the nickname “grandfather clock” was tested in the motorised carriage.

Why the reference to high speed? This was of fundamental significance, because the first internal combustion engines had an extremely low rotational speed and therefore a very low power output.


It was only higher engine revolutions that made the power sufficient for a wide range of applications – and this brought the breakthrough.

On 29 July 1888 Gottlieb Daimler filed a patent application for a motorised fire engine. Even so, the engine was not intended as a drive for the heavy vehicle, but as a power source for the fire pump.


Daimler fire engine from 1890. The patent for this technology was filed by Daimler on 29 July 1888.

Daimler fire engine from 1890. The patent for this technology was filed by Daimler on 29 July 1888.


Perfect alternative.

With this, Daimler solved the problem of the previously used pumps at a stroke: gas pumps, running on carbon dioxide, were too quickly drained, while steam pumps were much too slow to start. The high-speed internal combustion engine was the perfect alternative. With a small additional gearbox, the 0.74 kW (1 PS) engine operated in the ideal rpm range for a fire pump. Still in the same year, Daimler made further improvements and presented a more powerful version with a two-cylinder engine at the 13th German Fire Brigade Day in July 1888.


High-profile platform.

Gottlieb Daimler was not the only one to successfully unveil his products at major exhibitions and trade fairs. Benz, too, won important prizes for his engineering achievements. For example at the first Exhibition of Engines and Machines for the German Empire. The trade fair took place from 1 August until 15 October 1888 at Isartorplatz in Munich. Benz was awarded a Gold Medal for the world’s first series-produced automobile with internal combustion engine. Making clever use of the high-profile platform, he also publicly presented his automobile in the Bavarian capital.


Advertisement for the series-produced version of the Benz patent motor car (Model 3) at the Exhibition of Engines and Machines in Munich in 1888.

Advertisement for the series-produced version of the Benz patent motor car (Model 3) at the Exhibition of Engines and Machines in Munich in 1888.


Authentic reconstruction of the gondola on Wölfert’s motorised airship with original Daimler engine in the “Mythos 1” exhibition area of the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Authentic reconstruction of the gondola on Wölfert’s motorised airship with original Daimler engine in the “Mythos 1” exhibition area of the Mercedes-Benz Museum.


New uses.

Meanwhile, Gottlieb Daimler was opening up more new uses for his engine. One of the most spectacular was the first motorised flight by airship pioneer Dr Friedrich Hermann Wölfert on 10 August 1888. On that day, his dirigible balloon, powered by a Daimler single-cylinder engine, covered a distance of four kilometres: from Cannstatt to Aldingen Parade Ground near Kornwestheim. Established as a highly innovative garage start-up in Daimler’s summer house, the company showed great vision with this experiment.

There are parallels with today’s mood of optimism in the mobility sector: Daimler AG holds a stake in Volocopter. The aviation start-up from Bruchsal aims to bring out autonomous, electric air taxis (eVTOL) in just a few years.


Passion for innovation.

A new rail-bound vehicle was also powered by the Daimler engine: the premiere of a miniature motorised tram at the Cannstatter Volksfest of 1887 was followed one year later by a fully fledged tram car powered by a 2.9 kW (4 PS) single-cylinder engine. It was capable of carrying up to 20 people.


Passion for innovation, commitment to new forms of mobility: that was the credo of company founders Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz. And that is the credo today of Daimler AG with its CASE strategy for the intuitive mobility of the future: Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric.