Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler

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Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler


Automobile manufacturer


Early Career. Forever linked in the public mind and in historical memory with Karl Friedrich Benz (1844–1929), whom he never met, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler was born in Schorndorf, Baden–Wurttemberg. He trained to be a gunsmith before studying engineering at the Stuttgart polytechnic institute. In 1872, after working for several engineering firms, Daimler became technical director for a company founded by Nikolaus A. Otto (1832–1891), who in 1876 invented the four–stroke internal-combustion engine. In 1882 Daimler founded his own firm and sought to develop an engine that could propel road vehicles.

Horseless Carriages. In 1886 in Karlstadt, Daimler and his chief engineer, Wilhelm Maybach (1846–1929), added a one–cylinder engine to a conventional four–wheeled carriage. By 1889 they had developed a carburetor that used gasoline as fuel, a four–speed gearbox, and a belt–driven mechanism to turn wheels. Their vehicle incorporating these devices traveled at eleven miles per hour. Daimler developed a booming business based on sales of engines to power airships and armored cars, but, once his firm shifted from producing engines to manufacturing automobiles, he was not an effective businessman. Despite the impressive performances of its cars in early road races, Daimler auto production remained relatively small compared to some of the larger French and American automobile manufacturers, for whom high quality was a less significant selling point than low price. In 1926, when Daimler’s company merged with Benz’s, total German auto production was only 50,000 per year, compared with 4.5 million in the United States.

The Mercedes. Daimler is chiefly remembered for development of the Mercedes, which was inspired by Emil Jellinek, an Austrian diplomat in France. Jellinek wanted a higher–powered automobile engine front–mountedon a longer, lower, and wider frame. Daimler manufactured a vehicle based on this design in 1901, after Jellinek promised to purchase the entire production of thirty–six cars. Jellinek insisted that the model be named after his daughter Mercedes because he was concerned that the German–sounding name Daimler would harm sales in France. Eventually, all Daimler cars were called Mercedes.

High Quality. Daimler’s and Benz’s success in developing the automobile was based on the impressive quality of German parts, made by a skilled German labor force using precision cutting machines. Their engineering achievements, however, were not matched by equivalent economic success until long after both men had died. After the merger in 1926, and particularly after World War II, changing market conditions created a major demand for high–quality cars, and Daimler–Benz finally became a major worldwide car manufacturer, producing the Mercedes–Benz automobile. In 1998 Daimler–Benz, the largest industrial firm in Germany, merged with American Chrysler Corporation to form DaimlerChrysler.


Anthony Bird, Gottlieb Daimler: Inventor of the Motor Engine (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1962).

David Burgess–Wise, William Boddy, and Brian Laban, The Automobile: The First Century (London: Orbis, 1983).

Beverly Rae Kimes, The Star and the Laurel: The Centennial History ofDaimler, Mercedes, and Benz, 1886–1986 (Montvale, N.J.: Mercedes–Benz of North America, 1986).

Friedrich Schildberger, History of Mercedes-Benz Motor Vehicles and Engines, fifth edition (Stuttgart: Daimler-Benz, 1972).