Start-up spirit in 1888: Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz advance mobility

Oct 24, 2018

The parallels are striking: the start-up spirit is as relevant today as it was in the early days of the car. An 1888 example: after the invention of the car two years earlier, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler appear with further pioneering achievements. Their innovative ideas make way for a new world of mobility. Visionary power and agile handling – these features characterise the then young company.

Stuttgart. A fresh wind is blowing through the economic world: young companies are competing with revolutionary ideas in order to change the future. They are typical start-ups with small teams and high levels of agility and innovative strength. Their particular emphasis is on new technologies. This sounds very current but is actually a look back at the end of the 19th century. In the second phase of the Gründerzeit (founders’ period), there is a start-up spirit similar to that of the high-tech industries today. The automotive pioneers Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz find themselves in the middle of this fast-moving technology scene 130 years ago.

By 1883, the two have already attained pioneering achievements independently of one another: together with investors, Carl Benz founds Benz & Cie. in Mannheim and there begins production of the two-stroke engine developed by him, which offers many opportunities for use as a stationary drive source. At the same time, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach develop the high-speed four-stroke engine in Cannstatt. The pioneers hereby create the basis for the first cars: the profits from the sales of his two-stroke engines allow Benz to develop the car, and with their innovative engine, Daimler and Maybach also have the drive source for their motorised carriage. In 1886 Benz unveils the world’s first automobile: the patent motor car. At the same time, Daimler receives an operating permit for a motorised carriage and installs his single-cylinder engine in the four-wheel vehicle.

Then, two years later, in 1888, they use many innovative ideas in connection with the high-speed combustion engine to advance mobility. Daimler and Benz have two concerns: on the one hand, new uses for the engine. On the other, effectively demonstrating the reliability of the machine as a drive of the new-style car to the public.

Gottlieb Daimler emphatically explores the use of the combustion engine, developed with Wilhelm Maybach, in new applications. After the first motorbike in the world, the “Reitwagen” of 1885, and the motorised carriage of 1886, there are several innovative concepts in 1888.

At the start there is a motorised fire extinguisher: in the fire engines drawn by horses, the Daimler engine takes over the drive of the fire pump. The concept is impressive. The new engine is – unlike steam engine, which was difficult to start – immediately ready for use. Furthermore, it has much longer performance than the fire extinguishers that were then operated with muscle power or the so-called gas extinguishers, which briefly convey the extinguishing water with carbon dioxide gas.

On 29 July 1888, Daimler registers a patent for his motorised fire extinguisher. On 15 April 1889, he receives Patent No. 46779, Class 59. For use in fire protection, Daimler adjusts the 0.74 kW (1 hp) engine with a small auxiliary gearbox in such a way that the fire pump works in a particularly efficient engine speed range of 180 rpm. In the same year, the fire extinguisher is developed further: at the XIIIth German fire brigade day from 28 to 31 July 1888 in Hanover, Daimler presents a better-performing version with a two-cylinder engine, which now already has 2.9 kW (4 hp).

Whilst Daimler creates new areas of use for his combustion engine in Cannstatt, in Mannheim the revolutionary invention of the first car in the world is about to have its first great practical test: in August 1888, Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl Benz, undertakes the first long-distance journey in automotive history with the standard version of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, also known as Model 3. She drives more than 106 kilometres from Mannheim to Pforzheim.

The 1.8 kW (2.5 hp), three-wheel vehicle is driven by Bertha Benz, with her sons Eugen and Richard accompanying their mother on the journey. The successful world première is at the same time a test drive under realistic conditions. It shows the everyday suitability of the invention and gives Carl Benz tips for further improvement of the Patent-Motorwagen on the way to the upcoming series production.

The next success follows shortly thereafter: automotive pioneer Benz presents the Patent-Motorwagen together with several stationary engines at the first engines and machines exhibition for the German Reich, which takes place from 1 August to 15 October 1888 at the Isartorplatz in Munich. He also publicly presents his car in Munich. On 12 September 1888, he is awarded a Gold Medal for the world’s first series-produced automobile with an internal combustion engine.

Whilst Bertha Benz demonstrates the suitability of the car for travel on the road over longer distances and Carl Benz successfully introduces the Patent-Motorwagen to the public, 130 years ago, Gottlieb Daimler found even more new areas of use for his engine.

Particularly spectacular amongst them is the first engine-powered flight in history on 10 August 1888: on this day, at 9 o’clock in the morning, the airship belonging to Dr Friedrich Hermann Wölfert begins a journey spanning more than four kilometres starting from Daimler’s factory courtyard and ending at the Aldingen parade ground near Kornwestheim.

Whilst the floatation panel of the airship, filled with hydrogen gas, mainly overcomes gravity, the 1.8 kW (2.5 hp), high-speed Daimler single-cylinder engine powers the two propellers (horizontal and vertical) and is therefore responsible for propulsion and trimming. On this morning, it becomes clear that the four-stroke engine has great potential as an aircraft engine.

By 1888, it has only been a few years since the beginnings of Daimler’s company as a highly innovative “garage company” in the summer house of the Daimler villa in Cannstatt. However, the start-up spirit from back then is just as alive today as it was 130 years ago. This is shown, amongst other things, by the current involvement of Daimler AG in Volocopter. The aviation start-up from Bruchsal aims to launch autonomous, electric air taxis (eVTOL) in just a few years.

In 1888, however, Gottlieb Daimler’s engine does not just go up in the air, but also powers a new rail vehicle: after Daimler presents a miniature tram with a petrol engine as part of the Cannstatter Volksfest in 1887, a fully fledged tram car follows in 1888. On 7 October 1888, the “Schwäbische Kronik” daily newspaper of Stuttgart reports on the test drive of the “Daimler motor vehicle of the new tram” of the previous day. The vehicle, powered by a 2.9 kW (4 hp) single-cylinder engine and belonging to the Stuttgart horse-drawn railway company, can transport up to 20 people.

At the core of the innovations and initiatives of 1888, there is a passionate striving to rethink the possibilities of mobility. Today, this passion is called CASE. It is the Daimler AG strategy for intuitive mobility of the future: connected, autonomous, shared and electric. Starting today – and on the world’s roads by tomorrow.

Back home: The original Benz patent motor car of 1888, on loan by the Science Museum in London, as a temporary exhibit in the Dr. Carl Benz Automotive Museum in Ladenburg.
In 1888, the same year as Bertha Benz´s epic drive, the first contemporary pictorial report about a drive with the Benz Patent-Motorwagen Model 3 was published in the September issue of the Leipzig "Illustrierte Zeitung".
On 10 August 1888 Leipzig-based bookseller Dr Karl Wölfert took off in a motorised airship from the factory yard of the Daimler Motor Company at the Seelberg in Cannstatt for a flight to Kornwestheim. The drive system was the famous single-cylinder Daimler engine with an output of 2 hp (1.5 kW) which powered two propellers: one in a vertical position and the other horizontal.
Motorised Stuttgart horse-drawn railway with Daimler engine from 1888.
Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Mythosraum 1. Authentische Rekonstruktion der Gondel des wölfertschen Motor-Luftschiffs mit originalem Daimler-Motor.
Motorised Stuttgart horse-drawn railway with Daimler engine from 1888.