Karl Friedrich Benz (Carl Friedrich Benz) was
a German engineer and automobile pioneer, widely acknowledged as being the
creator of the first successful internal combustion motor car. His Patent Motor
Car No. 1 of 1885 is regarded as the first automobile.
Karl Benz was born on November 25, 1844 as Karl
Friedrich Michael Vaillant, the illegitimate child of Josephine Vaillant,
a house servant, and locomotive engineer Johann George Benz, at 22 Rhine Road,
Karlsruhe district, in Muehlburg. His parents were later married at St.
Stephan’s Catholic Church on November 16, 1845 and moved to 13 Prince Street in
Muehlburg. Johann Georg, an engineer at the Baden Railway, contracted pneumonia
due to the Steam Engine's open cab and died in the summer of 1846.
Karl's name was changed to Karl Friedrich Benz
in remembrance of his father.
Josephine, at the cost of great sacrifices and hardships, was able to provide an
exceptional education for Karl. He began his studies at Karlsruhe grammar Karl
was a good student and September 30th, 1860, the 15-year-old passed the entrance
examination at the Polytechnic Institute. . Four years later, under the
instruction of Ferdinand Redtenbacher, he graduated as an engineer, on July
His apprenticeship began in Karlsruhe with two years of varied jobs in a
mechanical engineering company. He then relocated to Mannheim where he worked as
a draftsman and designer in a scales factory. In 1868 he went to work for
Gebrüder Benckiser Eisenwerke und Maschinenfabrik, a bridge building company in
Pforzheim. Finally, he went to Vienna for a short period to work at an iron
construction company. This to Karl and August Ritter launching an Iron Foundry
and Mechanical Workshop in Mannheim. During this period Karl met Bertha Ringer
who, after their engagement, invested in the workshop buying out Karl's
On July 20th, 1872, he married Bertha Ringer and together they had five
children: Eugen (1 May 1, 1873 - March 9, 1958), Richard (October 21, 1874 -
September 19, 1955), Clare ( August 1,1877 - ?) Thilde (February 2, 1882 - ) and
Ellen (March 16, 1890 - ).
Karl Benz turned to the development of combustion engines. He finished his
two-stroke engine on December 31, 1878, New Year's Eve, and was granted a patent
for it in 1879. This design would become the production standard for future
two-stroke engines. Benz also patented the speed regulation system; the ignition
using white power sparks with battery, the spark plug, the carburetor, the
clutch, the gear shift, and the water radiator.
Due to the high production costs, the banks at Mannheim demanded that Bertha and
Karl Benz's enterprise be incorporated and capitalized with more private equity.
The Benzes were trapped and they hastily formed an association with the Bühler
Brothers, in order to get additional bank support. The company became the
joint-stock company Gasmotoren Fabrik Mannheim in 1882.
After all the necessary incorporation agreements and capital requirements Benz
was left with merely five percent of the shares and a modest position as
director. Moreover, his ideas were ignored when designing new products, so he
withdrew from that corporation in 1883.
Benz interest in bicycles led him to a repair shop in Mannheim owned by Max Rose
and Friedrich Wilhelm Eßlinger. Together they founded Benz & Company Rheinische
Gasmotoren-Fabrik (Benz & Cie ) that began to produce industrial machines. The
company prospered and it began producing static gas engine.
Thanks to the company’s success, Benz returned to working on “horseless
carriages.” His bicycle experience enabled him to adapt that tricycle design
to his new engine technology creating the first automobile. The vehicle featured
wire wheels powered by a four-stroke engine of his design. The engine was
mounted between the rear wheels and equipped with a very advanced coil ignition.
He cooled then engine with an evaporative system rather than a radiator.
Power from the engine was transmitted to the wheels by means of two roller
chains to the rear axle. The vehicle was completed in 1885 and named the Benz
The vehicle was not just another motorized stage coach or horse carriage. Its
design was revolutionary and hence he was granted a patent on January 29, 1886
as DRP-37435: "automobile fueled by gas". The first successful tests of the
DRP-37435 on public roads were carried out in the early summer of 1886. The
engine was a horizontal single cylinder with a vertical crankshaft, which had a
large horizontal flywheel. The engine developed ¾ hp, and a speed of eight mph
is recorded for one of the very first trial runs. Benz, by virtue of this
tricycle design and patent, is regarded the inventor of the first automobile.
During 1886 and 1887 Benz spent a great deal of his time developing and
improving the Motorwagen. His first real sale occurred in 1887 when he sold one
to Emile Roger, a Parisian bicycle-maker who had already been building Benz
engines under license from Karl for several years. Roger added the Benz
automobiles (many built in France) to the line he carried in Paris and initially
most Motorwagen’s were sold there. This made the Motorwagen, the first
commercially available automobile in history. Later in 1887 Benz improved the
automobile with his Model III introducing its wooden wheels.
The early customers of automobiles could only buy gasoline from pharmacies that
sold small quantities as a cleaning product. At this time, motorized excursions
were merely very short trial drives made with mechanical assistants.
Bertha Benz believed that practice hampered the marketability of Karl’s
invention. On August 5, 1888, to demonstrate the practicality of the
automobile, Bertha took one of the newly constructed Motorwagen automobiles on
an excursion with her sons Richard and Eugen to visit their grandmother. This
66 mile historic trip from Mannheim to Prforzheim is notable because in addition
the distance (having to locate pharmacies along the way to fuel up), she
repaired various technical and mechanical problems along the route that resulted
in important improvements on the invention. For example, the long downhill
slopes presented difficulties in slowing down the vehicle to stop and turn.
Along the route Bertha found and paid a shoemaker to nail leather on the brake
blocks thus inventing the first brake lining. Climbing hills was also difficult
with the boys often dismounting and pushing the vehicle. This resulted in Karl
developing gears for later models.
Bertha and sons arrived at Pforzheim just at nightfall, reporting the
achievement to Karl by telegram. Her intention to demonstrate the feasibility of
using the Benz Motorwagen for family travel was a success and it generated
publicity which increased automobile sales. Bertha’s trip to Pforzheim is
celebrated every each year in Germany with an antique automobile rally along
what is now called the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, the first long distance trip
by an automobile.
Benz's Model 3, after Bertha’s trip, was improved by adding gears for climbing
hills and improved brake linings. To further publicity, Karl Benz sought and was
issued the first driver's license in the world by the Grand Duke of Baden's
district office. The car was then driven 200 miles, by its legally licensed
driver, to attend the Munich International Exhibition where it was awarded the
Gold Medal. The newly improved Motorwagen then was driven south where it made
its wide-scale international debut at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris.
In 1899 Friedrich von Fischer and Julius Ganß joined the Benz & Cie’s Board of
Management with the later member being put in charge of the commercialization
department. The new “marketing” department convinced Benz to create a less
costly automobile suitable for mass production. In 1893, he created a
two-passenger automobile with a 3.0 hp engine. The Victoria was able to reach
the top speed of 11 mph and had a pivotal front axle operated by a
roller-chained tiller for steering. 85 units were sold in 1893. In 1894 Benz
produced a new model called the Velo This was produced on such a remarkably
large scale for the era - 1,200 total from 1894 to 1901 and it is considered as
the first production automobile.
The Benz Velo participated in the first automobile race, the 1894 Paris–Rouen,
Le Petit Journal Competition for Horseless Carriages. The first driver across
the finishing line at Rouen was Jules-Albert, Comte de Dion but his steam
vehicle was declared ineligible because it needed a 'stoker.' The fastest
petrol powered car was driven by Albert Lemaître, a 3 hp Peugeot. Émile Roger
in the Velo finished 14th, after covering the 127 km (79 mi) in 10 hours 01
minute at an average speed of 12.7 km/h (7.9 mph).
In 1895, Benz also designed the first truck and after some modifications
introduced the first motor bus. The Netphener Company operated the first bus
service in the world using Benz's petrol engine driven vehicle. The bus route,
between Siegen and the then independent municipality Deuz, was launched on March
Karl Benz was granted a patent for the first flat engine design in 1896. The
design had corresponding pistons that reached top dead centre simultaneously,
thus balancing each other with respect to momentum. These horizontally opposed
pistons with four or fewer cylinders were commonly called boxer engines. This
engine is still used by Porsche, Subaru, and some high performance racing cars.
BMW uses the design in its motorcycles and Honda in its Gold Wing.
In ten years the Benz Company grew from 50 employees to 430 in 1899 becoming the
largest automobile company in the world. 572 Motorwagens were produced in
Benz’s stiffest competition was with Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) of
Stuttgart. In October 1900 the main designer of DMG, Wilhelm Maybach, built the
engine to the specifications of Emil Jellinek under a contract for him to
purchase thirty-six vehicles with the engine. The contract also called for him
to be a dealer of the new series. The new engine was to be named
Daimler-Mercedes for Jellinek’s daughter. DMG's automobile sales took off due
to racing successes. The Production capacity was extended to Untertürkheim. In
1902, DMG produced the first Mercedes models and officially adopted Mercedes as
its automobile trademark. Capable of 75 mph, the 60 combined touring and racing
capacity, and was the top-status car to own.
Benz countered with Parsifil, introduced in 1903 with a vertical twin engine
that achieved a top speed of 37 mph (60 km/h). Then, without consulting Benz,
the other directors hired some French designers. France was a country with an
extensive automobile industry based on Maybach's creations. Because of this
action, after difficult discussions, Karl Benz announced his retirement from
design management on January 24, 1903. In 1904, sales of Benz & Cie. reached
3,480 automobiles, and the company remained the leading manufacturer of
During the “00s,” DMG and Benz & Cie. would put the best of their cars on the
track competing with each other. Daimler cars were able to beat Benz until 1908,
when a Benz achieved the land speed record.
There is no evidence that Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler knew each other nor
that did they know about each other's early achievements in automotive
development. Gottlieb Daimler, had died in March 1900, never seeing the great
success of his automotive partnership Wilhelm Maybach,
Although Benz was a director on the Board of Management, he founded another
company, C. Benz Söhne, with his wife and son Eugen. This company never issued
stocks publicly but built its own line of automobiles independently from Benz &
Cie. The Benz Sons became popular in London as taxis because their quality
required minimal repairs and maintenance. In 1912, Karl Benz liquidated all of
his shares in Benz Sons and left the family-held company in Ladenburg to his
sons Eugen and Richard.
In 1914, during his 70th birthday celebration, Karl was awarded an
honorary doctorate by his alma mater, the Karlsruhe University. Dr. Karl Benz,
remained on the Board of Management throughout World War I. During this period,
Benz & Cie, expanded there manufacturing to include engines and parts for planes
as well as boats.
After the war, Germany’s economy faltered and by 1923 Benz & Cie. produced only
1,382 units in Mannheim. DMG in made Stuttgart only sold 1,020 units in the
hyper-inflation economy with the average cost of an automobile at about 25
million marks. To avoid bankruptcy, merger negotiations between the two
companies resulted in an "Agreement of Mutual Interest”. Both companies
standardized their design, production, purchasing, and jointly marketing their
automobiles while keeping their respective brand names intact and separate..
Two years later, on June 28, 1926, Benz & Cie. and DMG merged forming the
Daimler-Benz company. All of its automobiles were named Mercedes Benz after
Karl Benz and Mercédès Jellinek, the daughter of Emil Jellinek, who had set the
specifications for the 1900 DMG model. Although Jellinek had resigned from
DMG’s board, Karl Benz became a member of the new Daimler-Benz board of
A new logo was created, consisting of a three pointed star around Daimler’s
motto: "engines for land, air, and water" which was surrounded by
traditional laurels from the Benz logo. The same logo and convention is still
retained for all Daimler-Benz automobiles.
Karl Benz died at home in Ladenburg, on April 4, 1929, at the age of eighty-four
from pneumonia. Bertha Benz remained in their family villa and was honored with
the title “Honorable Senator,” by the Technical University of Karlsruhe
in 1944. On May 5, 1944, Bertha at the age of 95, died at the villa. The house
now has since been designated as historic site and is now utilized as a
scientific meeting facility. Nonprofit corporation, the Gottlieb Daimler and
Karl Benz Foundation, owns the house that honors both Bertha and Karl Benz for
their roles in the history of automobiles.
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