A future with a past: 85 years of Mercedes-Benz Classic archives

A future with a past: 85 years of Mercedes-Benz Classic archives

Dec 8, 2021
  • Important services based on the extensive inventory
  • Digital offerings have been an integral part for around 25 years
  • Foundation of the Mercedes-Benz Archive by administrative order of 9 December 1936
  • Vibrant memory of the worldʼs oldest car manufacturer
  • One of the largest and most traditional private business archives in Europe

Stuttgart. History must be alive and tangible – this is what the archives and the collection of Mercedes-Benz Classic with their services stand for in particular. The archives are the memory of the worldʼs oldest car manufacturer and offer – digitally as well as on site – important services for the company itself as well as for users from science, media and other fields. The tradition of todayʼs archives goes back 85 years: on 9 December 1936, the then Daimler-Benz AG publishes its Administrative Order No. 1145, which instructs engineer Max Rauck to “collect and examine our historical literature and photographic material for the purpose of establishing and managing an historical archive”.

For many years now, Mercedes-Benz Classic has maintained one of the largest business archives in Europe, and one of the most rich in tradition. In addition to the considerable holdings of classical archival materials, digital media have long been of great importance. These facilitate research via fast and worldwide access and make the archive holdings perfectly utilisable for todayʼs uses – whether as text documents, photos, films or sound files. The corporate institution has been engaged in digital indexing for a quarter of a century: “Classic M@RS: the digital archive” began some 25 years ago and, constantly keeping pace with advances in information technology, continues to set database standards.

Historical competence for the company

The archive holdings also form an important basis for the work of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. This is because they create the context for the presentation of cars from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection of more than 1,100 vehicles and other exhibits. The sources are also essential for the historical communication of Mercedes-Benz Classic and for the work of the Classic Center: communication uses sources such as price lists, brochures, posters and press kits, but also Board minutes and technical logs, for example, to bring the history of a vehicle model series to life in the context of its time. Historical photographs, illustrations, artifacts and films from the archives also serve to let the fascinating stories in the long history of the Group shine. The products of this multimedia historical work include, for example, the DVD series “Magic Moments” on the motorsport history of Mercedes-Benz.

The Classic Center draws on the knowledge contained in the archives for authentic restorations and repairs, among other things, as well as for its expert opinions. These document the individual history of particularly high-quality Mercedes-Benz classics. The expert reports are recognised in the market for classic cars as documents with a high degree of significance regarding the originality and authenticity of vehicles from the brand with the three-pointed star. The documents include information from the data cards, which make it possible to trace the original state of delivery for almost every Mercedes-Benz car produced since 1946. For vehicles built before the Second World War, there is corresponding information in the commission books.

History in constant change

Based on their sources, the experts answer around 1,600 enquiries on product and company history each year from academia and the media as well as from other groups of people interested in classic cars. In the process, there is always new information. Because 85 years after its foundation, the archives of Mercedes-Benz Classic are constantly changing.

The ongoing indexing of the holdings contributes to this: last year, for example, signed autograph cards of famous racing drivers from Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang to Luigi Fagioli, Louis Chiron and Manfred von Brauchitsch were newly recorded. Previously unknown photographs of the racing driver Sir Stirling Moss, who died in 2020, and his contemporary Juan Manuel Fangio are also among the archival material currently being made accessible. In the current year 2021, the organisational adjustment of the archives is pending due to the division of Daimler AG into Mercedes-Benz AG and Daimler Trucks AG.

High value from the beginning until today

The order signed by the companyʼs Board of Management makes the high value of the new facility 85 years ago very clear: the archivist is to be supported by “all agencies of our company”, also by “pointing out material still available in their field of work and procuring access to it”. There is an important historical occasion for the date of the archiveʼs foundation, as in 1936 Mercedes-Benz celebrated the 50th anniversary of the invention of the car in 1886 by Carl Benz. Daimler-Benz AG itself, created in 1926 by the merger of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft with Benz & Cie. in 1926, was only ten years old at the time. The new archive will provide sources which help document the pioneering roles of Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler as automotive inventors as well as the development of the company and its products since 1886. The responsibility for the archive is given to the Exhibitions Department.

In the year the archive was founded, the company also set the course for todayʼs Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection: the existing stocks of historic vehicles and engines are collected and presented in newly created rooms at the Untertürkheim plant. In 1938, the first “Guide to the Untertürkheim Museum of Daimler-Benz AG” was published. The current Museum in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, the archives in nearby Fellbach and the collection depots are physically separate. However, close cooperation links the institutions.

One of the most important business archives in Europe

From its foundation until today, the former Mercedes-Benz Archive has developed into one of the largest private business archives in Europe, and one of the most rich in tradition. The holdings in the corporate, product and media archives include documents from the company and product history, which take up around 17 kilometres of shelf space. Other archival materials are housed in special cabinets as well as in display cases.

In addition, there are more than 4.5 million photos, over 10,000 film documents and the large archive library. Highlights include, for example, the first car driving licence in world history and early patent specifications as well as commission books dating back to the early days of the company. Holdings on outstanding historical personalities such as Mercédès Jellinek, who gave her name to the Mercedes brand, add further highlights.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic collection comprises more than 1,100 vehicles from the entire history of the company. These cars, ranging from series-production passenger cars to racing cars, can be experienced in the permanent exhibition and special exhibitions of the Mercedes-Benz Museum, among other places, as well as time and again in driving action at international classic automotive events.

Social responsibility

The establishment and operation of the Mercedes-Benz Classic archives is also social responsibility in action for the company. As the worldʼs oldest car manufacturer has been preserving key documents of mobility, industrial and social history since 1886 for future generations. In 2011, Carl Benzʼs patent for his pioneering “vehicle with gas engine operation” was included in the Memory of the World of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Here, the patent of 1886 ranks right next to testimonies such as the Gutenberg Bible, the Nibelungenlied and the Magna Carta.

The first steps towards building an archive were taken in 1933. At that time, Dr Wilhelm Kissel, member of the Board of Management of Daimler-Benz AG since 1926 and later Chairman of the Board of Management from 1937 to 1942, ordered the collection of historical material. The advertising centre in Untertürkheim was to take care of the storage. Three years later, the decision was made to establish an archive in the true sense of the word. As examples, the then Daimler-Benz AG also uses company archives of other renowned companies that have been documenting their history in this way since the beginning of the 20th century – e.g. Krupp (since 1905) and Siemens (since 1907).

The archive holdings are initially stored on the ground floor of the canteen building at the Untertürkheim plant from 1936. After the temporary closure of the Historical Department during the Second World War in 1942, the documents are housed in rented rooms at the J. F. Schreiber company in Esslingen. On 30 April 1944, parts of the historical archive are relocated to the “Karl” ore gallery near Geislingen/Steige, among other places, for additional protection against the effects of war. Parts of the vehicle collection are also housed in mine tunnels. The archival holdings are returned to Untertürkheim in 1948. At that time, the archive – since 1 January 1947 – was once again under the control of the Exhibitions Department, which was headed by Paul Siebertz from 1947 to 1953. In November 1953, the archive is attached to the companyʼs main secretariat.

The path of history into the future

In January 1953, Dr Friedrich Schildberger joined Daimler-Benz AG as an employee of the archive, and then took over its management after Siebertzʼs death in February 1954. Schildberger, a historian of technology, presents neutral, technology-orientated, factual arguments, and asserts a scientific claim. In 1954, the archive is placed under the management of Dr Hanns Martin Schleyerʼs Central Administration Division. In 1957, the archive and the Museum were finally merged organisationally.

Since then, the archives of Mercedes-Benz Classic have been developing continuously and together with the company. Among other things, eyewitness interviews with retired executives were conducted from 1979 onwards. To mark the centenary of the car in 1986, the documentary “Daimler-Benz AG in the years 1933 to 1945” is shown. With the scientific investigation of its own history during National Socialism, Daimler-Benz is one of the first companies to dare to take this courageous step into the public eye at the time. In 1991, the Mercedes-Benz Archive launched the “Stuttgart Days on Automotive and Corporate History”. They promote historical debate in the automotive industry through an interdisciplinary dialogue between academics, publicists, experts, journalists and those interested in history.

The great constant in 85 years of dealing with the history of Mercedes-Benz is the vibrancy of the story. This is also made clear by newly opened archival records in 2021, which provide fresh perspectives on the past: e.g. a photo album of racing driver Hermann Lang and a cigarette case of boat racer Hermann Weigand with a picture of the Daimler racing boat “Lieselotte” as well as other original vehicle brochures, which are now available in the archives’ holdings.

Daimler-Benz AG administrative order of 9 December 1936 on the establishment of the historical archive under the direction of Max Rauck. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: 2008DIG460)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Exterior view of the building in Fellbach. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: D335482)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. View along a roller rack system. In total, the archive holdings comprise 17 kilometres of shelves. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: D335478)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. View into a roller rack system of the film archive. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: _TSC0652)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Card cabinets with historical race posters (right) and illustrations. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: _TSC0662)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Patent specification for the Benz Patent Motor Car from 1886 with the signature of Carl Benz – the birth certificate of the car. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: _TSC0643)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Founding balance sheet of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft as of 1 March 1890, close-up image. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: 2003M24-72)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Commission book with orders from Emil Jellinek from 1902. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: A92F1148)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Documents on the 1955 Mille Miglia, which Mercedes-Benz wins overwhelmingly – the overall victory is taken by Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson with the 300 SLR (W 196 S) in the best time ever achieved at the Mille Miglia. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: D335303)
Mercedes-Benz Classic archives in Fellbach. Collective volume of the automotive journal “Motor”, 1914 issue, from the archive library. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archives: D335282)