Mercedes-Benz: The Luxury Motorwagen’s History

The slogan for the Mercedes brand is “the best or nothing”. Mercedes is one of the best-known and long-standing automotive brands in the world. In May 2022, Mercedes-Benz announced that it has recently sold the most expensive car at the price of $142 million (17,018,700,000.00 Kenya shillings). The 67-year-old car is a very rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz SLR that has been kept in the German automakers’ collection and bought by a private owner. It is a prototype car that was built for the 1956 Race season. Mercedes in an announcement said, that the sale will be used to establish the Mercedes-Benz Fund.

The history of this reputable brand began way back in the 1840s in the town of Mannheim in Germany. Karl Friedrich Benz was born on 25th November 1944 in Mannheim, Germany. He grew up in the rustic and fun 19th century to become a brilliant boy who joined engineering school in the 1860s. By 1870, he enthusiastically began searching for inventive engineering stints he would be part of after clearing school. He was employed in several engineering firms but the employment duration wasn’t as fulfilling as he had anticipated. He started an invention company together with his friend and they set out to come up with new engineering technologies in the field of automobiles. Theirs was more of a trial and error that only led to frustration upon frustration. Amidst the confusion, he met Cäcilie Bertha Ringer later famously known as Bertha Benz.

Bertha also had immense love for engineering and admiration for the invention sector that Karl had ventured into. Bertha came from an upper-class sect of society and therefore her parents raised issues with her getting engaged to the struggling and upcoming Karl Benz. But what has love got to do with societal class? Nothing.

‘Your dream is my dream, Karl. Let’s do this.’ Bertha said as they got united in marriage.

The first point of action that Bertha undertook as Mrs. Benz was to let go of Karl’s partner in the company they had formed. She did this by granting his part of the company’s shares. This was made possible by Bertha’s request to her parents that they give her the sum assured of the dowry paid to them by her husband Karl. An altercation ensued but her parents gave in since they didn’t need the money anyway. With capital at hand and Karl’s partner gone, Bertha would be in charge of running the company while Karl focused on inventions.

In 1885, Karl comes up with a first-of-its-kind invention that he called a horseless carriage. The norm at the time was that horses would be the ones to pull carriages and that served as the primary mode of transportation. The horseless carriage was made of a one piston engine and used a detergent known as ligroin as its fuel in the combustion chamber. The horseless carriage comprised of two tanks; the water tank and the ligroin tank. Once the carriage was powered up by a pulley system, the combustion chamber was ignited by a spark. The electricity generated by the spark would push the piston upward and then the piston would come down by gravity in a continuous process that caused explosions. The explosions would push the piston up and down at a certain rate per second that would transfer power to the rear wheels which in turn propelled the carriage forward. This unique invention was the first of its kind in Mannheim and the talk of the town.

The excitement of Karl and Bertha Benz was untold as a result of this invention. They endeavored to improve their invention to globally acceptable standards. It is at this time that Bertha’s parents passed on. She was left with the entire inheritance her parents had. She invested a huge chunk of the inheritance in their company’s activities and Karl came up with a second and third prototype of the horseless carriage. Each subsequent prototype formed an improvement of the previous. Bertha’s excitement couldn’t be contained and her only thoughts revolved around how to publicize, patent and mass produce their invention for use by the masses.

The government of Germany at the time was vehemently against inventions and especially the invention of the horseless carriage. The church was equally against the inventions. They were comfortable with horse carriages as their means of transport. Karl being an obedient and timid citizen, succumbed to the government and church ban on inventions. Bold Bertha insisted that their invention had to be out there. Against the wishes of Karl, Bertha planned to test drive their latest prototype from Mannheim to Pforzheim Baden Wurttemberg, a distance of 106kms.

Bertha woke up one morning together with her two sons, powered up the one piston horseless carriage, and set off to Pforzheim Baden Wurttemberg. This journey was significant in that she made several realizations and documented each of them and made the journey a publicity event.

Her first realization was that the ligroin/fuel got depleted after a certain number of miles covered each time. This formed the basis for the building of fuel-economy vehicles.

Her second realization revolved around the braking system. The horseless carriage braking system worked by wood rubbing against metal to cause friction that would slow down the carriage and this was extremely ineffective. She introduced a piece of leather material between the wood and the metal and it worked perfectly. This served as the invention of the first brake pad and lining.

Her third realization was the instantaneous jerks that the carriage had after a while of movement. She discovered that the fuel line was clogged. The clogging was a result of particles that found their way into the fuel line after every addition of ligroin. She used her hairpin to unclog the fuel line. This led to the development of the need for a fuel filter.

Her fourth realization was on how the carriage lost power ascending hills and on tough terrains. The horseless carriage was designed with only two gears. Upon ascending hills, she would engage the low gear of the two and alight leaving the youngest son to control the carriage. This realization led to the creation of the first gear as the most powerful gear with the lowest speed.

Her fifth realization was that the spark plug was overheating as a result of the combustion process in the engine. She used an element known as a gutter that was commonly on female stockings to cover the spark plug since there were no insulating tapes at the time.

These are but among the many realizations she made on her journey which led to inventions that have been enhanced and are useful to this day. She documented every stoppage as well as the improvements or changes she did to the horseless carriage.

Her famous journey gained worldwide fame. As a result, one France billionaire began buying Karl’s and Bertha’s engines and made modifications to them for mass production.

In 1902, two gentlemen realized Karl was uniquely skilled in automobiles but lacked the business expertise. Daimler and Maybach made a proposition to Karl that they would come in with the business expertise for the sale of their merchandise. Karl and Bertha unanimously agreed. They settled on a company name Daimler Benz. The company flourished.

Soon after, an Australian tycoon called Emil Jellinek noticed the Daimler Benz company and their work. He requested the company makes him a fast car that he would use for races in France. Daimler Benz company obliged. They made Jellinek a masterpiece car that did well until it caused an accident that killed its driver instantly. Jellinek cited an accident that killed its driver instantly. Jellinek cited the heavy nature of the car as having been the main cause of the accident and requested a lighter car to be made. Daimler Benz company went ahead to make an award-winning sportscar. The company asked Jellinek to name the car. When the car was delivered to him, he asked his wife to join him for a road test but she refused. Her daughter however agreed to ride with him for the car’s maiden test. To him, his daughter exhibited a great leap of faith in him. He chose to name the car after her daughter in a bid to honor her. The daughter’s name was Mercedes.

A year later, Mercedes Benz was registered as a trading name. Henceforth, any product from Daimler Benz company came with the trade name Mercedes Benz. The rest of the story of Mercedes Benz is history. Who wouldn’t want to own a Mercedes of any kind?

“Asking someone else to drive your Mercedes is like asking someone else to kiss your girlfriend.”

Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words

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