Karl Friedrich Benz (November 25, 1844 – April 4, 1929) was a German engine designer and car engineer, generally regarded as the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile, and together with Bertha Benz pioneering founder of the automobile manufacturer Mercedes-Benz. Other German contemporaries, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach working as partners, also worked on similar types of inventions, without knowledge of the work of the other, but Benz patented his work first, and, subsequently patented all the processes that made the internal combustion engine feasible for use in an automobile. In 1879 his first engine patent was granted to him and in 1886 Benz was granted a patent for his first automobile.
Karl Benz was born Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant, in Karlsruhe, Baden, which is part of modern Germany, to Josephine Vaillant and a locomotive driver, Johann George Benz, whom she married a few months later. When he was two years old, his father was killed in a railway accident, and his name was changed to Karl Friedrich Benz in remembrance of his father.
Despite living in near poverty, his mother strove to give him a good education. Benz attended the local Grammar School in Karlsruhe and was a prodigious student. In 1853, at the age of nine he started at the scientifically oriented Lyceum. Next he studied at the Poly-Technical University under the instruction of Ferdinand Redtenbacher.
Benz had originally focused his studies on locksmithing, but eventually followed his father's steps toward locomotive engineering. On September 30, 1860, at age fifteen, he passed the entrance exam for mechanical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe, which he subsequently attended. Benz was graduated July 9, 1864 at nineteen.
During these years, while riding his bicycle, he started to envision concepts for a vehicle that would eventually become the horseless carriage.
Following his formal education, Benz had seven years of professional training in several companies, but did not fit well in any of them. The training started in Karlsruhe with two years of varied jobs in a mechanical engineering company.
He then moved to Mannheim to work as a draftsman and designer in a scales factory. In 1868 he went to Pforzheim to work for a bridge building company Gebrüder Benckiser Eisenwerke und Maschinenfabrik. Finally, he went to Vienna for a short period to work at an iron construction company.
Benz's first factory and early inventions (1871–1882)
In 1871, at the age of twenty-seven, Karl Benz joined August Ritter in launching the Iron Foundry and Mechanical Workshop in Mannheim, later renamed Factory for Machines for Sheet-metal Working.
The enterprise's first year went very badly. Ritter turned out to be unreliable, and the business's tools were impounded. The difficulty was overcome when Benz's fiancée, Bertha Ringer, bought out Ritter's share in the company using her dowry.
On July 20, 1872 Karl Benz and Bertha Ringer married. They had five children: Eugen (1873), Richard (1874), Clara (1877), Thilde (1882), and Ellen (1890).
Despite such business misfortunes, Karl Benz led in the development of new engines in the early factory he and his wife owned. To get more revenues, in 1878 he began to work on new patents. First, he concentrated all his efforts on creating a reliable gas two-stroke engine. Benz finished his two-stroke engine on December 31, 1878, New Year's Eve, and was granted a patent for it in 1879.
Karl Benz showed his real genius, however, through his successive inventions registered while designing what would become the production standard for his two-stroke engine. Benz soon 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.
Benz & Cie. and the Motorwagen
Benz's lifelong hobby brought him to a bicycle repair shop in Mannheim owned by Max Rose and Friedrich Wilhelm Eßlinger. In 1883, the three founded a new company producing industrial machines: Benz & Company Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik, usually referred to as, Benz & Cie. Quickly growing to twenty-five employees, it soon began to produce static gas engines as well.
The success of the company gave Benz the opportunity to indulge in his old passion of designing a horseless carriage. Based on his experience with, and fondness for, bicycles, he used similar technology when he created an automobile. It featured wire wheels (unlike carriages' wooden ones) with a four-stroke engine of his own design between the rear wheels, with a very advanced coil ignition and evaporative cooling rather than a radiator. Power was transmitted by means of two roller chains to the rear axle. Karl Benz finished his creation in 1885 and named it the Benz Patent Motorwagen.
It was the first automobile entirely designed as such to generate its own power, not simply a motorized-stage coach or horse carriage, which is why Karl Benz was granted his patent and is regarded as its inventor.
The Motorwagen was patented on January 29, 1886 as DRP-37435: "automobile fueled by gas". The 1885 version was difficult to control, leading to a collision with a wall during a public demonstration. The first successful tests on public roads were carried out in the early summer of 1886. The next year Benz created the Motorwagen Model 2, which had several modifications, and in 1887, the definitive Model 3 with wooden wheels was introduced, showing at the Paris Expo the same year.
Benz began to sell the vehicle (advertising it as the Benz Patent Motorwagen) in the late summer of 1888, making it the first commercially available automobile in history. The second customer of the Motorwagen was a Parisian bicycle manufacturer Emile Roger who had already been building Benz engines under license from Karl Benz for several years. Roger added the Benz automobiles (many built in France) to the line he carried in Paris and initially most were sold there. Early customers could only buy gasoline from pharmacies that sold small quantities as a cleaning product. The early 1888 version of the Motorwagen had no gears and could not climb hills unaided. This limitation was rectified after Bertha Benz made her famous trip driving one of the vehicles a great distance and suggested to her husband the addition of another gear.
An important part in the Benz story is this first long distance automobile trip, where entrepreneurial Bertha Benz, supposedly without the knowledge of her husband, on the morning of August 5, 1888, took this vehicle on a 106 km (66 mi) trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother, taking her sons Eugen and Richard with her. In addition to having to locate pharmacies on the way to fuel up, she repaired various technical and mechanical problems and invented brake lining. After some longer downhill slopes she ordered a shoemaker to nail leather on the brake blocks. Bertha Benz and sons finally arrived at nightfall, announcing the achievement to Karl by telegram. It had been her intention to demonstrate the feasibility of using the Benz Motorwagen for travel and to generate publicity in the manner now referred to as live marketing. Today the event is celebrated every two years in Germany with an antique automobile rally. In 2008 Bertha Benz Memorial Route was officially approved as a route of industrial heritage of mankind, because it follows Bertha Benz's tracks of the world's first long-distance journey by automobile in 1888. Now everybody can follow the 194 km of signposted route from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim (Black Forest) and back.
Benz's Model 3 made its wide-scale debut to the world in the 1889 World's Fair in Paris; about twenty-five Motorwagens were built between 1886 and 1893.
Toward Daimler-Benz and the first Mercedes-Benz in 1926
The German economic crisis worsened. In 1923 Benz & Cie. produced only 1,382 units in Mannheim, and DMG made only 1,020 in Stuttgart. The average cost of an automobile was 25 million marks because of rapid inflation. Negotiations between the two companies resumed and in 1924 they signed an "Agreement of Mutual Interest" valid until the year 2000. Both enterprises standardized design, production, purchasing, sales, and advertising—marketing their automobile models jointly—although keeping their respective brands.
On June 28, 1926, Benz & Cie. and DMG finally merged as the Daimler-Benz company, baptizing all of its automobiles, Mercedes Benz, honoring the most important model of the DMG automobiles, the 1902 Mercedes 35 hp, along with the Benz name. The name of that DMG model had been selected after ten-year-old Mercédès Jellinek, the daughter of Emil Jellinek who had set the specifications for the new model. Between 1900 and 1909 he was a member of DMG's board of management and long before the merger Jellinek had resigned.
Karl Benz was a member of the new Daimler Benz board of management for the remainder of his life. A new logo was created, consisting of a three pointed star (representing Daimler's motto: "engines for land, air, and water") surrounded by traditional laurels from the Benz logo, and the brand of all of its automobiles was labeled Mercedes Benz. Model names would follow the brand name in the same convention as today.
The next year, 1927, the number of units sold tripled to 7,918 and the diesel line was launched for truck production. In 1928 the Mercedes-Benz SSK was presented.
On April 4, 1929, Karl Benz died at home in Ladenburg at the age of eighty-four from a bronchial inflammation. Until her death on May 5, 1944, Bertha Benz continued to reside in their last home. Members of the family resided in the home for thirty more years. The Benz home now has been designated as historic and is used as a scientific meeting facility for a nonprofit foundation, the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation, that honors both Bertha and Karl Benz for their roles in the history of automobiles.
In popular culture
In 2011 a dramatized television movie about the life of Karl and Bertha Benz was made named Carl & Bertha which premiered on 11 Mayand was aired by Das Erste on 23 May.A trailer of the movie and a "making of" special were released on YouTube.