Gottlieb Daimler could not have chosen better words when he coined the famous Mercedes-Benz motto “Das Beste oder Nichts.” Meaning “the best or nothing”, the world renowned brand has lived up to this mission statement throughout the decades, consistently delivering groundbreaking innovation and superior automotive design.
Headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, Daimler AG is the German automotive corporation behind the highly successful Mercedes-Benz brand today. One of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world, Mercedes-Benz is one of five business units operated by the Daimler Group, which include Mercedes-Benz Cars, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Daimler Trucks, Daimler Buses and Daimler Financial Services. Daimler AG is one the largest manufacturers of commercial vehicles, with a proud history of excellence across its private and commercial vehicle production.
The Mercedes-Benz brand was founded by automobile pioneers Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in 1926 as Daimler-Benz. Benz built the first gasoline-powered automobile, while Daimler patented the first motorcycle and later built his own automobile, both of which were designed with the help with Wilhelm Maybach, who also has a number of automotive technology breakthroughs to his name. The Mercedes-Benz brand has continued the legacy of its pioneering founders over its long history, continually at the forefront of innovation across performance, styling and safety.
Although today Mercedes-Benz has offices in almost one hundred locations across the globe, it came from humble beginnings like so many other successful businesses that have stood the test of time, with nothing more than a bold vision. In this case, that vision was to build the world’s first gasoline-powered car.
Mercedes-Benz: A Timeline
1834: Gottlieb Daimler is born on March 17 in Schorndorf, Germany. He trains as a gunsmith and attends the Stuttgart Polytechnic School, going on to work as a draftsman before entering the world of gas engine manufacturing.
1844: Carl Benz was born on November 25 in Karlsruhe, Germany. Although his father died just two years later, his mother was able to send him to grammar school followed by mechanical engineering school to become an engineer.
1846: Wilhelm Maybach is born on February 9, 1846 in Heilbronn. Orphaned at ten years old, he is adopted into the Reutlinger Bruderhaus. Here during his schooling, he meets Gottlieb Daimler in 1864.
1871: Benz founds his first company with August Ritter in Mannheim, Germany, however, the partnership does not work out and Carl is forced to buy Ritter out. He continues his development of a gas-powered two-stroke engine, which runs successfully for the first time in 1879. Benz starts a new shareholding company ‘Gasmotorenfabrik Mannheim’ (Mannheim Gas Engine Factory) in 1882, however, with shareholders more interested in stationary gas engines, he leaves the company the following year.
1872: Daimler becomes Technical Director of Deutz Gasmotorenfabrik, and is followed to the company by Wilhelm Maybach. He works at Deutz for four years before leaving to set up a workshop to focus on designing four-stroke engines. Wilhelm goes with him.
1884: Daimler and Maybach design an internal combustion engine known as the Grandfather Clock, a compact, light engine designed to power an automobile.
1883: Benz establishes the company Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik Mannheim’ (Benz & Co. Rhine Gas Engine Factory Mannheim) with new partners Friedrich Wilhelm Esslinger and Max Rose. Benz goes on to design the first gasoline-powered automobile.
1885: Daimler and Maybach develop the bicycle-inspired Daimler Reitwagen (Riding Car). It is the world’s first motorcycle with a single-cylinder internal combustion engine. It is also patented this same year.
1886: The Benz Motorwagen is officially patented and introduced to the world. Powered by an internal combustion engine, it is regarded as the world’s first automobile.
1889: Daimler and Maybach build their first automobile.
1890: In need of financing, Daimler founds ‘Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’ (DMG) with business partners Max Duttenhofer and Wilhelm Lorenz. The company sells its first automobile in 1892. Although Maybach and later Daimler leave DMG due to differences with the shareholders, both eventually return to the company. During his time away from DMG, Maybach designed significant concepts including the Phoenix engine and the belt drive. Reinstated at DMG, Maybach becomes Technical Director and Daimler sits on the Technical Board, later becoming the Inspector General of the Supervisory Board.
1894: Benz introduces the Velocipede, which becomes the first large-scale production automobile. Known as the Velo, it was the breakthrough that saw Benz & Cie become the second-largest engine manufacturer in Germany.
1896: Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft builds the world’s first truck for the British Motor Syndicate, Ltd., fitted with a 2–cylinder Phoenix engine that delivers 4 horsepower and a cargo capacity of 1.65 ton. The company would go on to build trucks for the German market in the lead up to World War I.
1900: Gottlieb Daimler dies of heart disease on March 6, 1900.
1901: The first Mercedes is released by DMG. The design of the pioneering 35hp vehicle is credited to Wilhelm Maybach and Emil Jellinek. It is also the first vehicle featuring the Honeycomb Radiator.
1906: Carl Benz establishes the new company Carl Benz Söhne (Carl Benz & Sons) in order to focus solely on automobile production.
1907: Wilhelm Maybach resigns from DMG and starts his own car manufacturing company with his sons, Maybach Motorenbau.
1909: The DMG Board of Management registers two logos as trademarks of the Mercedes brand: a three-pointed star logo and a four-pointed star logo.
1912: Carl resigns as Managing Director of Benz & Sons, leaving the running of the company to his sons.
1926: The competing car manufacturers enter a joint venture in 1924 in order to survive the extremely poor economic state in the aftermath of World War I. DMG and Benz & Cie begin marketing the newly founded Mercedes-Benz brand, and in 1926, a full merger is undertaken forming Daimler-Benz AG. Carl Benz also joins the Daimler AG supervisory board. The company unveils its first Mercedes-Benz passenger car bearing the three-pointed star logo at the 1926 Berlin Motor Show. The merger is highly successful with 7,000 cars produced by the following year.
1929: Carl Benz dies in Ladenburg, Germany, on April 4. Wilhelm Maybach dies on December 29 in Cannstatt, Germany.
1931: The Mercedes-Benz W15, also known as the Typ 170, debuted at the Paris Motor Show to great acclaim. It featured the first 4-wheel independent suspension system and new hydraulic braking technology. The W15 was sold in sedan, cabriolet, sports roadster and military-vehicle styles from 1931-1936, and Mercedes-Benz becomes one of the leading automotive manufacturers.
1936: Mercedes-Benz releases the W136 model and the first diesel passenger car. In the following years, the W135 roadster and W138 limousine were introduced before production was halted by World War II. Passenger safety also became a priority for the car builder with research and testing of rigid floors, side impact protection and collapsible steering columns.
In the lead up to and during the war, Daimler-Benz was co-opted by the Nazi regime to build engines and military vehicles. Unable to keep up with production demands, the company employed women and later forced labor, which included prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners in the tens of thousands.
After the war, many of the company’s assets were confiscated for use in the payment of war reparations, reducing the company to its four original plants in southern Germany. The company board changed dramatically through ‘denazification’ and after receiving production approval by the American occupation authorities, the company slowly rebuilt operations.
1949: After extensive effort, the company balance sheet is in the black, and Daimler-Benz AG is on a path to regaining its former position as a leading automotive manufacturer. Mercedes-Benz receives a patent for the conical-pin door lock.
1951: Research by Bela Barenyi sees the launch of the crumple zone-series production, although it was not patented for eight years. Mercedes-Benz focuses on safety, performing crash tests on each new model. Performance and styling are not overlooked either, resulting in huge sales of models like the 190 and 300 SL, the latter being the first production car to use fuel-injection technology.
1952: Importation of Mercedes-Benz cars to the United States began, and the success of the 300SL Gullwing in the American market was a large factor in the company’s success during the 50’s. Mercedes-Benz also re-entered the motorsport scene, winning prestigious races like the Carrera Panamericana and Le Mans. The brand would go on to become a dominating force on the motorsport scene. The company also begins to expand its sales network worldwide and establishes production plants overseas.
1960’s: The W110 is introduced in sedan and station wagon models, and the first SL with an automatic transmission is introduced in 1963. A separate high-performance division, Mercedes-AMG, is founded in 1967. Mercedes-AMG introduced the famous ‘Red Sow’ 300SEL 6.3 V8 Saloon.
1970’s: The success of Mercedes-Benz continued in the 1970’s with the production of the popular SL and SLC 107 series, followed by the G-Class and S-Class series. More safety features were introduced, including the important Antilock Braking System (ABS) in 1978.
1980 & Beyond: The groundbreaking technological developments continue with the 5-arm rear multilink suspension on the 190-Class in 1982 and the 4MATIC all-wheel drive on the AWD E-Class. Mercedes-Benz became one of the first car brands in the early 90’s to remove harmful CFC chemicals from the air conditioning systems of its vehicles, and over the following decades it would introduce technology like the Controller Area Network (1992) offering more precise control, the electronic stability program ESP (1995), which is now required by law on all cars, and the SmartKey (1997) for convenience and theft protection. Other developments include their PRE-SAFE safety system (2002) and the driver monitoring system ATTENTION ASSIST in 2010.
Daimler-Benz also underwent several business changes over the decades like the merger with the Chrysler Corporation in 1998, which saw the company change its name to DaimlerChrysler AG and solidify its global position. The merger ended just nine years later, however, when the company sold the majority of its stakes in the Chrysler group and eventually severed cooperative links with Hyundai Motor Company and Mitsubishi Motors. It was in 2007 that the company was renamed simply Daimler AG.
To watch videos of the latest models and view other content from Mercedes-Benz, head over to their YouTube channel here. And of course, if you ever find yourself in Stuttgart, Germany, drop in to the Mercedes-Benz Museum. It covers some 178,000 square feet of collections dedicated to the iconic car manufacturer’s prolific history and features over 160 display vehicles.