Wilhelm Maybach: the king among engineering designers.

As business partner and kindred spirit to Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach provided input that was a determining factor in the development of the automobile.

  • Wilhelm Maybach: the king among engineering designers.

  • Close associate of Daimler and inspired engineer.

    “He can invent things on command”, said Emil Jellinek of Wilhelm Maybach. With these words Jellinek, auto enthusiast and major customer of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (Daimler Motor Company) in the latter part of the 19th and the early 20th century, as well as the originator of the name “Mercedes”, hit the nail absolutely on the head. For Wilhelm Maybach was not only for many years a close business associate and friend of Gottlieb Daimler (1834 to 1900), but also an inspired engineer and automotive designer.

    Maybach's career began in Reutlingen.

    Maybach had a tough childhood. The son of a carpenter, he was born in the German city of Heilbronn in 1846. His parents died young, leaving Maybach an orphan at the age of ten. At the instigation of family friends, he was taken in by the “Bruderhaus”, or “House of Brothers” in Reutlingen, a charitable institution whose manager soon recognized and encouraged his technical ability. Maybach took up an apprenticeship in the design department of the organization’s engineering works in 1861, while Gottlieb Daimler came on board in 1863 as a factory workshop inspector.

    Maybach's career began in Reutlingen.

    Maybach had a tough childhood. The son of a carpenter, he was born in the German city of Heilbronn in 1846. His parents died young, leaving Maybach an orphan at the age of ten. At the instigation of family friends, he was taken in by the “Bruderhaus”, or “House of Brothers” in Reutlingen, a charitable institution whose manager soon recognized and encouraged his technical ability. Maybach took up an apprenticeship in the design department of the organization’s engineering works in 1861, while Gottlieb Daimler came on board in 1863 as a factory workshop inspector.

    Maybach became chief design engineer at Deutz in 1873.

    It was here that Gottlieb Daimler met and grew to appreciate the abilities of Maybach, twelve years his junior. The pair would remain friends and partners until Daimler’s death. Maybach followed Daimler, for example, to the Deutz gas engine factory in Cologne, where Daimler became Technical Director in 1872. Maybach’s career advanced rapidly at Deutz, and he was appointed chief engineering designer in 1873. Privately, too, the two men’s lives were closely intertwined, since Maybach married a friend of Emma Daimler, Gottlieb Daimler’s wife, in 1878.

    Hothouse of invention.

    Maybach's first son, Karl, who would also later make his name as an engineering designer, was born in 1879. Two more children followed. Gottlieb left Deutz in 1882 and moved to Cannstatt, just outside Stuttgart, where he bought a villa that had a summerhouse in which he set up an experimental workshop.

    Once again, he was followed there by Wilhelm Maybach. Their collaboration gave rise to the lightweight and high-speed combustion engine, the first prototype of which was tested in 1883.

    The world's first motorbike is built.

    The horizontal position of its cylinder meant that the experimental engine offered only limited suitability for installation in vehicles, for which reason Maybach then developed a version with a vertically mounted cylinder, the so-called “grandfather clock”. This was fitted to a two-wheeler in 1885 – so creating the world’s first motorbike. In 1886 the engine was then fitted to a carriage. Maybach, meanwhile, was continuing to refine the principle of the hot-tube ignition, a system that made higher engine speeds possible and so marked a major step forward in automobile development.

    The trailblazing wire-wheel car of 1889.

    Maybach’s spirit of ingenuity continued to shine through over the ensuing years. The wire-wheel car launched in 1889 was the first automobile to have been completely developed in Daimler’s workshop. To power it, Maybach used the first two-cylinder gasoline engine. The geared manual transmission used for the first time in this vehicle would also go on to revolutionize automobile design. The two-cylinder unit was soon being built under license for installation in models by Panhard & Levassor as well as Peugeot, so establishing the foundations of the French automotive industry.

    Maybach drives automotive development forward.

    With the establishment of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in 1890 Maybach was appointed as the company’s chief engineering designer, but made the decision to leave again soon afterwards, in 1891. Financed secretly by Daimler, he set up his own engineering design office in his private apartment in Cannstatt, and would later even hire a complete hotel function room for himself and his team. This is where groundbreaking inventions such as the belt-drive system, the first four-cylinder engine and the spray-nozzle carburetor first saw the light of day.

    Maybach as technical director of DMG.

    After a long dispute – even Daimler was meantime forced out of the DMG by his shareholders – the pair finally returned to the company in 1895. As Technical Director, Wilhelm Maybach could now develop the wire-wheel car, the first automobile to be built by the DMG in significant numbers. It was followed in 1897 by the tubular radiator with fan, and then in 1900 by the improved version thereof, which became known as the honeycomb radiator. The same basic principle is used to this day for automobile radiators.

    The first Mercedes makes its debut in 1901.

    Gottlieb Daimler did not live to see the success of the first Mercedes, named after the daughter of the wealthy automobile enthusiast Emil Jellinek. Jellinek competed in numerous races under the pseudonym 'Mercédès', insisting on ever more powerful vehicles from the DMG.

    1901 therefore saw the launch of the Mercedes 35 hp developed by Maybach, the first modern automobile. It had a particularly low center of gravity and marked the final departure from the carriage-based design.

    1907 sees Maybach leaves the DMG.

    The tremendous successes enjoyed by the Mercedes cars soon led to the French designating Wilhelm Maybach as the “king among engineering designers”. But with the death of Gottlieb Daimler in 1900, his protégé lost the support that he needed from DMG. A series of intrigues led to Maybach losing his position as Technical Director, and he left the company in 1907. He and his eldest son, Karl, subsequently found a new outlet for their energies in the construction of airship engines. Wilhelm Maybach died, a much revered man, in Cannstatt in 1929.

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